Proper Operation
Learn how your appliance is supposed to operate so you can determine if it is malfunctioning.

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Electric Range Oven Element Testing

Range surface element cross section

An electric range's element is basically just a resistance wire suspended inside of a hard metal alloy bent into various shapes, separated from it by insulation. When power is applied to it, the resistance wire generates heat which is conducted to the element's outer sheath where it can be absorbed by the cooking utensil or the air inside the oven cavity.

When this type of element fails, the internal resistance wire breaks causing an open circuit. Since the circuit is now open, no electrical current can flow through the element to generate heat.

The insulation between the resistance wire and the outer coating can also deteriorate. When this occurs the inner resistance wire can come into contact with the outer sheath causing a short to ground. The force of such a short can blow a hole right through the outer coating, melting it.

Failed oven element

Oven elements have occasionally been known to light up like a fireworks' sparkler when their wire filament shorts to ground. This effect may continue even after power has been disconnected from the range. In all cases there is no actual possibility of fire as once the element material has been fully exhausted by the effect, it will eventually go out on its own. It can create quite a disconcerting light show for anyone nearby at the time though! Power should be totally disconnected from the appliance in such a case until it can be repaired.

A short of bake or broil element can also sometimes damage components of the control circuit (thermostat, selector switch, etc.) as well. On models with electronic controls the control itself is very susceptible and may be damaged by such a failure. If the element doesn't work after being replaced and full power restored to the appliance, components of the control circuit may need to be investigated.

Gaining Access

Oven element mounting

Most oven elements have a mounting plate that attaches to the oven cavity interior at the rear. That mounting plate is usually held in place by 2 screws which go through it into the rear oven liner.

In the case of a broil element, there may also be 1-2 additional screws mounted vertically into the ceiling of the oven cavity towards the front. The screws may go through a bracket attached to the element itself or the mounting bracket may be a separate part.

Once power has been disconnected from the appliance (do NOT just rely on the controls being off!), the element mounting screws can be attempted to be removed. The mounting screws can sometimes be rusted or seized in place so make sure a good screwdriver is used so the screw heads won't get stripped.

Oven element wiring

Once the retaining screws have all been removed, the element can often be pulled (at least slightly) into the oven cavity. Don't pull too hard as push-on wire connectors (if used) can 'pop off' allowing a wire to get lost in the oven insulation and requiring the job to be completed the hard way (see below). Connecting wires visible

If the manufacturer was feeling generous during the manufacturing process, you may actually have enough wire to pull the element somewhat into the oven cavity to work more comfortably on it. If not enough slack wire is available, it may be difficult to undo the wires from inside the oven. In such a case, the rear panel of a range may need to be removed (or an oven removed from the wall) in order to access the power wires.

Oven element wiring terminals

The wiring for oven elements will usually just push onto terminals on the element ends using common (although high temperature) stake-on connectors. Some oven elements though use screw terminals instead, which would require the wire retaining screws to be totally removed from the element to get the power wires off.

Tip: Most oven doors are removable. Check your owner's manual to see if it is a possibility as doing so can make working inside the oven a bit easier, but it is not absolutely necessary.

The Hard Way

If you can't access the element terminals from inside the oven, the back panel of a stove would usually need to be removed to get to them. On a built-in wall oven, the oven would need to be removed from its enclosure. Once you have access to the rear oven insulation, the wires going to the elements should be able to be followed to find the element terminals.

Replace your divots! Any insulation disturbed in the process should be corrected before the panel or oven is reinstalled.

'Hidden' Bake Element

Many newer electric ovens are going to a hidden (unseen) bake element to make oven cleaning easier. (Aren't most newer ovens self-cleaning already?)

Getting to these hidden bake elements vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and could be as simple as going in from the rear, just lifting an oven bottom panel covering it or in some cases, as much as partially lifting the cooktop and removing the right or left hand side panel to gain access to it! Check for a service manual for your particular model if you want to attempt the job yourself.

Element Testing

To test an element for continuity the appliance should first be disconnected from power. After the appliance has been made safe to work on, the element needs to be isolated from the rest of the electrical circuit by removing at least one of the connecting wires. Once that is done, an ohm meter or continuity tester's leads can be held against each terminal of the element.

The exact resistance of an element is often not important as it will not usually change over its life span except to become totally open (show infinite resistance) when defective or becomes shorted to ground (see below). In case you're curious, a large cooktop surface burner is usually in the area of 27 ohms, a small 45 ohms. A bake or broil oven element's resistance may be in the area of 20 to 40 ohms depending on its wattage.

Installing the replacement element

Multi-terminal oven elements

When reconnecting the wiring on a common 2-wire element, it does not matter which wire goes to which element terminal as long as any ground wire which may be present goes back onto a ground terminal. Ground wires are not often found on oven elements any longer as the element is usually grounded when it is screwed securely to the oven cavity.

On elements with more than 2 wire terminals (rare), it WILL matter which wire goes where so either transfer one wire at a time from old to new and/or make a diagram of where they go to be safe. Two wires connected just to a single terminal on an element does not usually constitute one of these rare elements.

Based on an article supplied by Visit their site for more helpful appliance repair articles and tips. Reprinted with permission.