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BlueStar blues - Caveat Emptor!

Posted by Polenta (My Page) on
Sat, Apr 28, 12 at 14:48

We were smitten by the good looks of the BlueStar by Marcus range when it first appeared on their website. The infused copper finish was especially appealing. Since a limited run of two hundred was planned before the end of the year, we quickly placed an order for a six-burner version through our Toronto distributor. The range finally arrived in December and was hooked up by a licensed gas installer.

When I first turned it on, the top burners worked fine. But when I turned on the oven there was a strong smell of gas. I thought that was odd. A brand new unit, presumably checked at the factory before shipping should not leak gas. Never mind the fact that this was a premium item. The smell was still there after the oven came on and I had to turn on our Vent-a-hood to get rid of it. I turned the oven off, lifted the bottom plate and looked at the burner tube underneath. Next to it was a heating element. So, the top burners had spark ignitors, while the oven was equipped with a glow plug. It seemed like an odd design feature. Evidently it took a while for the plug to glow while the gas was coming in. Why not use a spark ignitor there as well and have a faster ignition?

The problem seemed intermittent, as far as the intensity and duration of the smell. I finally called our distributor and asked him to contact the factory about this. A couple of days later somebody from BlueStar called and inquired about the color of the flames. There were blue, with an occasional yellow flicker at the tip. He suggested that I could try to adjust the air-gas ratio. I told him that I didn't think this would solve the problem, which was a smell of raw, unburned gas. He told me to try anyway. Even though the procedure would be simple I decided against it. I didn't want to touch the range at all, to eliminate my input from whatever issue we were facing.

Then one of the ignitors developed a steady clicking sound. You would think that an ignitor should last longer than a few months. Also, sometimes with one top burner already on, if I turned on another burner, there would be a muffled PUFF sound inside the stove, as if a small pocket of gas had ignited somewhere.

Then one day I had a pot of curry simmering on a front burner. The plates were warming up in the oven and I put a pot with rice on one of the burners in the back. Suddenly my wife said: "There are flames down there!" I thought she was being funny. "Yes," I said, "I'm making rice." Suddenly there was a weird smell in the air. "LOOK!" she said. "Below the burner!" I looked and indeed I could see other flames, somewhere below the burner. I quickly turned everything off. The flames were still there. I snatched the pot off the stove, grabbed a fire extinguisher and blasted the top of the stove with it. Finally the flames went out. "I don't believe this!" my wife said.

Next day I called our distributor and told him to come over. He removed a cover plate from a metal box below the right burner in the back and we saw a jumble of burned wires. We also looked at the oven burner. He said the heating element was supposed to heat up first, and only then the gas should start flowing into the burner tube. While looking and poking around the range he found that here was no insulating material between the double walls of the oven compartment. He thought that was odd. Apparently the lower-priced Blue Star models had insulation in there. He took some pictures and promised to inform the factory of the situation.

The day after I tried to send a service call request to BlueStar over the Internet but the Submit button just wouldn't work. So I sent e-mail describing the problem to Steve Cramer, BlueStar Director of Service. He replied that "we are taking this very seriously". A few days later a box arrived from BlueStar via a parcel service. A label described the contents as a wire harness. I didn't open the box. A few more days passed, while I waited for something to happen. I didn't think that replacing the wires would solve the original problem, which was the range suddenly catching fire. And replacing the wires wouldn't explain why there was a fire in the first place. In any case, it wasn't my job. The range was still under a warranty and I was not going to touch it under any circumstances. So I waited.

Nothing happened. Finally I fired off a copy of my e-mail to Mike Trapp, the Vice President of Operations of Prizer Painter Stove Works, Inc., the maker of BlueStar. I asked him what I was supposed to do with their wire harness. I pointed out that they might want to pay attention to their quality control, because the product we received from them definitely was a fire hazard. I asked if their ignitors were made in China, because ours started failing after several months of service. I also asked him about our White Glove service call, which we were entitled to but never received. Finally I mentioned that maybe, in hindsight, I should've paid more attention to the various Web postings by a number of unhappy customers complaining about unsatisfactory BlueStar quality and service.

A couple of days later Steve Cramer from BlueStar called and said that the wire harness had been sent to our address by mistake. I was told that a local technician would arrive and repair the range on the floor, in our kitchen. I flatly rejected that idea. A repair by somebody local would not tell the factory what the cause of the fire was. I said the range we received from BlueStar should have never left their premises. As far as we were concerned, the only acceptable solution was a replacement. The next day an e-mail arrived from Steve Cramer, where he said that after speaking to the President they agreed to replace our Marcus range with a new one.

I told my wife. She was dubious about the solution. She wondered what would happen if the replacement unit developed a similar problem. That made me think about one posting I've read somewhere, where a BlueStar customer had experienced an ongoing problem, which despite numerous attempts never got properly fixed, and when his warranty had finally expired he was basically told that he was out of luck. It was clear that my wife was apprehensive about having another BlueStar in our house. I could see her point. It was only our blind luck that we were standing in front of the range when the fire started. I could have had a pot of stew going, which takes a couple of hours of cooking, and could have easily be away from the kitchen doing something else. Our range is built-in, with wood on both sides. Now imagine a gas fire with flames right at the gas supply line, with nobody around. We didn't want that to become a reality. I thought that probably the best solution for everyone concerned would be to ask for a refund. BlueStar wouldn't have to worry about producing a customized replacement unit and we would be free to get a different product, so that my wife could have a peace of mind. I quickly wrote to BlueStar and suggested that a refund would simplify matters for both sides. .

Their replay wasn't long in coming. Steve Cramer wrote: "I understand your wife being apprehensive on getting a replacement range but I want to ensure (sic) you that this problem has never happened before. To say it is an isolated issue is an understatement. Unfortunately we are not willing to issue a refund but will replace..., etc."

This went back and forth, with Mike Trapp steadily refusing to budge. Finally we thought, well, to hell with it. We were getting tired of eating takeouts and warming our plates in hot water. I asked the factory to skip the front towel bars on the replacement unit and told them to go ahead and build one, in infused copper finish, as before. The bars were nothing but a nuisance; a silly affectation at best. The ends would snag my clothes while I was cooking, and hanging towels over the bars wasn't a good idea because they would hide the knobs and obscure the access. Mike Trapp agreed to this and at the beginning of November I've received a notice from BlueStar that our replacement range should be ready to ship "this upcoming week".

Again, nothing happened. Weeks went by and finally we got fed up. I sent an e-mail to Mike Trapp and gave him a summary of our situation. I told him that after two months of dithering our patience was exhausted. If no satisfactory solution was to be found by the end of November, we would instruct our attorneys to initiate proceedings against Prizer Painter Stove Works and BlueStar. Shortly thereafter our distributor called with the news that our replacement range had arrived. We went to see it. What greeted our eyes was quite unexpected.

In my e-mails to BlueStar I had pointed out a couple of times that the color of our range was something called infused copper finish. The same information had to be in their files, together with our original order. What they had shipped to us as a replacement was nothing like what we had before. On their Website, in their Precious Metal collection BlueStar is showing our infused copper, together with five other colors. The range which had arrived had a finish described as Enchanted Sand. Now, how was that possible? Another innocent mistake? Well, thanks for nothing, BlueStar! We're done with this nonsense.

This whole fiasco requires a comment. From our point of view, our experience seems to have been generated by what looks very much like a classic case of corporate hubris. It starts and ends with people. When a company shows that it couldn't care less about the quality of their product or their customer service, when it hides behind lies and hopes that problems will go away after the warranty had expired, it usually is a sign that a downturn is at hand. To forestall such a scenario a complete management shakeup is usually required. BlueStar assertion that our gas leak type of problem "has never happened before" and "To say it is an isolated issue is an understatement." is nothing but a deliberate untruth. A Web search will quickly attest to the opposite, including a young girl, who put her hand through flames that came out of the closed oven door to turn the gas off. Reported problems related to BlueStar gas leaks date back at least five years, yet in our experience the attitude of the management seems to be to deny and deny. Okay, then. If that's how they wish to run business, that is their prerogative. BlueStar may wish to be a Porsche, but Porsche it ain't.

As for us, we've left the replacement item with our distributor and it is available for sale, by appointment only, in fetching Enchanted Sand finish, minus the front towel racks. In its place we've purchased a Culinarian by Capital and life couldn't be better. We smile every time we pat its shapely open burners. Putting to shame BlueStar inflated claims they offer 23k BTUs, with much better flame control. Not just one, but every burner can be turned down to a low simmer. The space under the spilltrays around the burners is neater, better protected and easier to clean. The electronic ignitors are hidden in metallic covers, which prevent the entry of liquids. And the oven has a removable rotisserie!

Our friends, who have followed our predicament with bemused smiles are happy as well. They know the food will be good. Needless to say, they're in no hurry to shop for a BlueStar product. Nor will their friends, and so on. But that's okay with us. As long as somebody else doesn't get burned, or worse.

Da Gastronomist

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