The Thermador Saga

Thermador is a “top of the line” appliance manufacturer, and ten years ago we were pleased that our new kitchen included “top of the line” appliances. They weren’t new then, and they are older now: we recently discovered that our range is almost 20 years old. It is showing its age.

It started with the numbers: particularly the numbers indicating the oven temperature. Only the bottom half of the digital display, all of a quarter inch tall, were visible, and barely, at that. Then the timer display began to dim, leaving bright dots along the segments that used to be entirely bright. I looked into replacing the control unit, but it was no longer being made.

Then the sparkers that lit the gas burners on the stove top began to act up. They were supposed to spark a half-dozen or so times when you turned on the gas to ignite the burner, but they gradually decreased in number, now only sparking once, and that spark occurred before the gas came on. So, in order to turn on a burner, you had to turn the knob, then quickly turn one of the other knobs to get another spark. Surprise: a “spark module” was still available for this model. Alas, the service charge to replace it was over $400, with no guarantee that it would solve the problem.

If nothing else, I am resourceful…and persistent. I located a spark module for less than $100, and found a company that refurbishes range timers for around $250. If I could do the job myself, I could kill two birds for less than getting just one fixed. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to disassemble the stove top to access the parts that needed to be replaced.

Unfortunately, the folks at Thermador, though helpful, could only supply a user manual and a parts list with “exploded” diagrams of the various subassemblies, but the service manual was no longer available. Again, persistence paid off: after days of Internet searching, I finally found a place from which I could order a service manual for a small fee, around $15 as I recall. But within minutes after submitting a request for the manual, I found one I could actually download for free. That was a good thing, because the place that I “ordered” a manual from never responded to my request.

Armed with a service manual and the confidence that I could manage the tasks at hand, I ordered the control unit and the spark module (from different vendors, of course). They arrived within a week and I eagerly got out my tools.

Access to the spark module required removing the stove top. Removing the stove top required unscrewing the four “venturi tubes” that supply gas to the burners. A simple task, since they are hexagonal, and I have lots of wrenches. Naturally, I didn’t have the right size, but a 13/16” box end came close and I was able to remove two of the venturi tubes without a problem, but the other two remained stubbornly unturnable. And when I lifted the freed burner units from the stove top, a fine red dust remained where the burners had been, the remains of disintegrated 19-year-old “O” rings in the base of the burners.

Luckily, “O” rings are still available, at a cost of approximately $30 a set, including shipping. But I still couldn’t get the stove top off to do any work, and now we were down to two burners that still functioned while we waited for the “O” rings to arrive.

With the stove top resisting all efforts, I turned to removing the front panel in order to replace the timer unit. The service manual gave specific instructions on which screws to remove, and seemed to imply that the panel could be accessed without removing the stove top. It was not so. Stymied, I returned to the stove top problem.

Meanwhile, I discovered that the true size of the hex head of the venturi was 20mm. My largest metric wrench is 19mm, so I ordered one ($14), but it took a few days to arrive. Meanwhile, on an off chance, I found a 20mm socket wrench at Lowes ($4) and rejoiced all the way home, thinking that now I can finally remove the last two venturis.

The socket wrench fit perfectly, but the venturis were so tight that the wrench merely rounded off the corners of the hex head, making it impossible to grip with any normal tool. It turned out that the venturis are made of brass and are very soft. So much for nondestructive disassembly and reusing parts. It was time for Plan B: order new venturis and use any means possible to remove the damn tubes. I’m thinking a large screw extractor, which I already have in my tool collection. No need to tap Amazon or Lowes, but we still had to wait for the new venturis to arrive before tackling the fateful act.

FedEx delivered the venturis two days later. I eagerly implemented Plan B: tap a large screw extractor into the stuck venturi tube and apply lots of torque with a socket wrench and 12” breaker bar. Eureka! Jubilation! Triumph! What was stuck was now free and I could finally start the repairs, a scant two weeks from the day I started.

First, the spark module: a piece of cake. Remove six screws, lift a panel, disconnect the old, connect the new, replace the panel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test the new unit until the stove top was replaced. Patience.

Next, the timer module: a similar piece of cake. Remove a dozen screws, tilt the front panel out, disconnect the old, connect the new, replace the screws. Done.

I put the stove top back on, but did not install the new venturis, wanting to make sure that the system was working before I did the final reassembly. With the electricity back on, turning each burner knob caused the sparker to spark multiple times. That’s what it is supposed to do. Great. The timer lights were bright and all the buttons did what they were supposed to do. All systems go!


Why is there is always a “but”?

It was now apparent that the buttons on the timer (all 11 of them) were about 1/8” shorter than the old timer and did not extend far enough to be operable when the glass panel was replaced. Now that I knew how to get into the ranges innards, and hopeful for a quick resolution of the button problem, I took out the new timer module and reinstalled the old one, and put the whole range top back together, using the old venturis, saving the new ones for the final repair. Finally, after two weeks of living with a two-burner top and a front panel with no labels on the buttons, I wanted to have a fully functional stove, even if the display was still dim.

Alas, the spark unit was super eager to do its job. Of the four burners, the two large burners caused it to continue sparking even after the burner was lit. One of the small burners seemed OK, but after it was on for a few minutes, it, too, began to spark repeatedly. Only one burner was functioned correctly.

Undaunted, I contacted the spark module supplier. “Sorry,” they said, “a new one will arrive next week.” An email to the timer repair person elicited the advice to “just pull out the buttons and replace the short ones with the longer ones.” Well, those buttons were not going to surrender without a fight. A second email resulted in the advice, “use pliers.” Those buttons are plastic. If I break one I’m up the proverbial creek. Truth be told, I’m already pretty much up that creek.

And that is why we are getting a brand new range next week.


About Jesse

My name is Jesse Blatt. My first name is actually “Ramon,” but I haven’t used that name, except for official purposes, since 1970. I have a high school diploma and a PhD…nothing in between. I’ll get around to explaining that in a post sometime. From time to time I will be posting true stories from my past, though not in any special order. I’ve been fortunate to have had a dozen or so different careers, most of them very satisfying, some fairly frustrating, and none that I wish had never happened. In my many former lives, I have been a mail clerk, radio and TV engineer, radio announcer, electronics engineer, college instructor, psychologist, research consultant, Federal employee, supervisor of research professionals, computer programmer, web designer, instructional designer, construction site handyman, and carpenter, not necessarily in that order.
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