What to Do When Your Microwave Fails You

From reheating leftovers to making fresh bowls of popcorn in minutes, microwave ovens perform some of our favorite kitchen tasks in a fraction of the time and energy required by other appliances. Many might admit to being a little dependent on their microwaves -- which can spell trouble if they suddenly stop working.

Like all appliances, microwaves have their trouble spots and aren’t made to last forever. If yours is acting up, follow this advice to know what to do and what to expect.

DIY Decision

If you’re handy with electronics repair, you might be tempted to start disassembling your microwave in search of the problem. But anytime you’re working on appliances meant to draw electrical current, you’re dealing with danger. Mister Sparky recommends leaving this work to the professionals, especially when it comes to appliances that produce heat and could potentially spark a fire by malfunctioning.

Repair or Replace?

There are two main factors affecting whether or not it makes sense to repair a broken microwave or just replace it outright: the source of the problem and the value of the microwave.

Some microwave issues involve replacing parts that are cheap, simple and easily accessible. If you’re avoiding a service call fee by dropping your microwave at a repair shop, many of these cheaper issues can be resolved for $50 or less. On the other hand, the cost of more complex jobs can exceed the total purchase price of the microwave, in which case it’s best to start over with something new.

If you’re dealing with a cheaper microwave, perhaps one that costs $100 or less, it’s almost always most cost-effective in the long run to replace the appliance. But higher-end microwaves can approach purchase prices as high as $1,000, and these are sometimes worth fixing. Just keep in mind that more expensive microwaves often use pricier parts, and the repair bill could still equal a sizable portion of the total value.

What’s Wrong?

These are just a few of the most common microwave problems and their most likely causes:

  • Totally unresponsive: If your microwave won’t run at all, it’s possible you tripped the circuit breaker. Microwaves use a lot of power and are best used on a dedicated circuit. Check the circuit box for a flipped breaker first, and if that looks good, it could be any number of problems -- damaged power cord, blown microwave fuse or even a main control board gone bad.
  • Won’t heat food: When the microwave “runs” but doesn’t heat, it often means the failure of the appliance’s magnetron. Magnetrons can go bad prematurely if a microwave is run with nothing inside.
  • Won’t start, won’t stop or stops suddenly: Is your microwave acting like it doesn’t know whether or not the door is closed? If so, that may be the case -- the door switch can break, leading the microwave to think the door is open when it’s actually closed and vice-versa. This can even lead to the microwave cooking with the door open, which can be very dangerous.
  • Won’t spin: If your microwave features a rotating turntable that is suddenly motionless, it’s likely that the tray motor has burned out. This is often a cheap and easy part for a professional to replace.

If you think your microwave troubles may extend deeper into your household’s electrical system, or if you’re interested in setting up a dedicated circuit for your favorite cooking appliance, get in touch with your licensed, local electricians today.

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