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HDTVs are catching fire ... literally

By Gary Merson
HD Guru

Spurred by a spate of reader emails about Vizio HDTVs catching fire, HD Guru was inspired to look into a story about flaming television sets. Sure some consumers consider Vizio HDTVs hot deals, but a handful were apparently more literal about that than others. Sure enough, a search of consumeraffairs.com and some other websites turned up reports of Vizio-related fires.

Kellie of Stockton, Utah, posted:

I have had my 42-in. Vizio LCD flat screen for about three years. Monday May 9, 2011 we were watching TV when all of a sudden there was a loud pop and the screen went black. We unplugged the TV and plugged it back in turned it on and it started shooting flames out the back.

We found another recent complaint on consumeraffairs.com, from Melinda, posted on May 14. Her less-than-two-year-old Vizio shut down after producing a “burning smell.”

A Google search revealed other incendiary Vizio HDTV complaints. Posts dated October 2010, regarding three smoking and flaming Vizios, appear on Sears' website. (The company recently dropped the Vizio TV line, though we are not claiming the decision is in any way related to the fire issue.)

Malfunctions were not limited to Vizios. Samsung and Polaroid TV owners complained about smoking TV sets too, and some, like this one, aired their grievances on ehow.com:

Samsung TV Model UN46B8000XF, bought it Friday, April 29, 2010 the warranty expire April 29, 2011. This TV model starting a week ago making popping and creaking noises, when I turn on the TV for the first few minutes and when I turn the TV off the popping and creaking goes on for about a hour, I reside in a studio so this sound before going to sleep is annoying.

Another commenter posted: 

Samsung LN32A450 TV turns off and on. Sometimes will not turn on at all. Come back to it at a later time and it works. Problem is intermittent, but with increasing frequency.

And a third:

The (Polaroid) TDA-03211C model has had numerous issues with overheating. Many such models manufactured between 2007 and 2009 sold by Wal-Mart actually have false safety standard logos and questionable parts and construction (Reference 2). There have been reports of smoke coming from these TVs, and at least one report of a TDA-03211C catching fire.

Keep in mind we have had no firsthand experience with this. These are Internet posts and should be considered in that light. Also consider that this represents but a tiny fraction of sets sold.

Also remember that this isn't a new problem. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been keeping track of TV fires as far back as 1992. In that year, there were 1,400 television fires in the U.S., leading to the death of 20 people, with 120 injured. (For some reason, the CPSC no longer publishes TV-fire-specific data.)

Yet as rare as these problems may be, they are sometimes exacerbated by the owner. TVs are not computers. In the event of a malfunction, you do not simply turn one off, then turn it back on. If a TV shuts down or makes a popping sound, you need to consider the possibility of a severe malfunction, otherwise what happened to Kellie might happen to you.

How to avoid a fire and protect your warranty
Kellie’s initial problem — a loud pop followed by the set going black — is typical of a TV showing the first sign of component failure. If your TV shuts itself off (with or without a pop), the first thing to do is unplug the power cord. TVs should never shut off by themselves. There is an internal circuit breaker that’s activated as a safety precaution when a component is not functioning properly.

The next thing you should do is call the TV manufacturer’s customer service number and report that the TV shut itself off and needs to be repaired. Make sure you get a case number. This is extremely important if the set is within the warranty period as it establishes the problem's date of origin.

If you do what Kellie did, and plug the set back in, and it fails at later date, after the warranty expires, you will not be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Only repower the set if the customer service rep tells you it's okay to do so.

What to do if your TV catches on fire or smokes
After unplugging the TV and putting out the fire, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. According to CPSC spokesperson Patty Davis, the agency launched a new product safety complaints website on March 11. Here you can report an unsafe product such as a smoking TV as well as check out other recalled products. Make sure you know the exact model number before filing the report as the agency will need specific information to commence an investigation.

Davis explained the CPSC procedures require a maximum of five business days to contact the manufacturer and 10 business days for a product supplier or importer (depending on the product) to respond. The agency determines when a safety recall is needed, based on a number of factors the agency does not disclose.

Davis added that in the last several years, all safety recalls have been done voluntarily with a legal agreement between the product supplier and the agency. The intention of the agency agreement is for the consumer to receive one of three solutions: repair, replacement or refund.

HD Guru reported a voluntary recall by Best Buy of over 13,000 Insignia TVs that could catch on fire caused by the set’s failure-prone power supply that has already injured one set owner which necessitated the recall.

We called Vizio’s spokesperson for additional information about the smoke/fire issue, and received a response of “no comment.” Regardless of brand, readers following our recommendations can reduce the chances of fire or injury due to defective HDTVs and increase the likelihood of receiving a free repair or replacement. 

To steal a phrase from old Smokey the Bear: Only you can prevent TV fires.

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