From boiling water and heating up a can of soup to frying up eggs and sausage, stir-frying vegetables, or popping stovetop popcorn, there must be 100 ways or more to prepare food using an electric cooktop. But there are really only 4 reasons why that cooktop will fail to heat up. Let’s review the basics of how an electric cooktop operates, then focus in on the four things you should troubleshoot if your electric cooktop malfunctions.
The basics of electric cooktop operation
The basics of electric cooktop operation are… well, pretty basic. There are only a few components that work together to turn on the surface heating elements.
Three styles of heating elements
Electric cooktops will have one of three different styles of surface heating elements, also known as “burners”: a conventional coil element (these are inserted into a receptacle with a drip bowl positioned directly below the element – you can remove and replace these elements without uninstalling the main top), a radiant coil (these are installed underneath the glass on smooth cooktops), and, less common, a solid surface element (a non-coil element which is embedded in the cooktop). There are usually four or five of these elements available on the cooktop and each is controlled by its own switch.
The cooktop operates using 240 volts carried through two legs of voltage
An electric cooktop operates by using 240 volts of alternating current (AC) through two legs of voltage, each carrying 120 volts. When a burner control knob is turned to a heat setting, the switch for that burner allows the first leg of voltage to travel to one side of the surface element and the second leg of voltage to travel to the opposite side. When the voltage reaches the element the circuit is closed and the element begins to heat up.
The surface element switch regulates the heating element
The surface element switch regulates the element. When the element reaches the designated temperature, the switch will shut off the voltage to the element. As the element begins to cool down, the switch will restore voltage to the element to heat it back up. This cycle repeats throughout the cooking process to maintain a suitable temperature. Just be aware that the actual temperature of the element will fluctuate as you’re boiling, frying, or sautéing.
A radiant coil has a built-in limiter
Something to keep in mind is that a radiant coil has a built-in limiter that monitors the cooktop temperature. This can cause the heating element to cycle on and off more frequently than a conventional coil element.
The 4 likely reasons why an electric cooktop won’t heat up
Common problems that can occur with electric cooktops are one or more of the surface elements not heating up, only heating intermittently, or not heating at all. If none of the burners are heating, there’s a high probability that the cooktop is not receiving sufficient voltage to operate. Check the circuit box to see if a circuit breaker has tripped or a fuse has blown. So you confirmed the cooktop is receiving power? Good. Now here are the four likely reasons your cooktop won’t heat up:
- Burned-out surface element – The most likely cause of a surface element not heating is the component has burned out. You can often determine that a conventional coil element has burned out by inspecting the coil itself for any visible breaks or blistering. When inspecting a smooth cooktop radiant coil, check for breaks or burn marks on the thin coiled element underneath. You can also use a multimeter to test conventional coil elements, radiant elements, and solid surface elements for electrical continuity – a continuous electrical path present in the element. If the element tests “negative” for continuity, you’ll know the part is defective and will need to be replaced.
- Damaged element receptacle – Over time the contacts in a convention coil element receptacle can burn out which will interrupt voltage being sent to the element, often resulting in the surface element only heating intermittently. Inspect the receptacle closely for visibly burnt or damaged contacts. If the receptacle is burned out you can purchase a new receptacle and wire kit to solve the problem.
- Loose or burnt wire connection – A loose or burnt wire connection could also be responsible for a surface element not working. The element’s power wires will often burn out near the element and will appear visibly damaged, so inspect the connection points and replace any loose or damaged wires if necessary.
- Defective surface element switch – Finally, the surface element switch can be defective as well. If an element is overheating, that’s a good indicator that the switch has shorted and, of course, a faulty switch can prevent the element from heating at all. If the cooktop has an identically sized conventional coil element to the one that is malfunctioning, you can try inserting the working burner into the receptacle of the one that doesn’t heat (or attaching the power wires to the terminals of the working radiant coil). If the newly-installed element doesn’t work then the switch is probably at fault. As is often the case, you can also test the switch with a multimeter to determine if it’s functioning or not.
Learn how to repair electric cooktops yourself with Repair Clinic
As your repair partner, Repair Clinic is always looking for ways to provide you with the know-how you need to fix your appliances yourself, and that includes electric cooktops. Explore the “Videos & Articles” section of our website to find step-by-step guides, schematics and “how-to” videos like this one showing how replace a dual surface element on a Frigidaire Electric Range (Model LFEF3054TFG), or this video demonstrating the right way to install a new element receptacle on a GE Electric Cooktop (Model JP328WK2WW).
Repair Clinic has genuine OEM electric cooktop parts
By using only genuine original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts when fixing your electric range or cooktop, you can be assured you’re installing a component that is specifically designed to work with the appliance. Repair Clinic stocks only genuine OEM replacement parts and you can find all the compatible parts you need by entering the full model number of your range or cooktop in the Repair Clinic website search bar. Whether you’re looking for a surface element for a GE, Bosch, or KitchenAid cooktop, or the precise element switch that matches your Electrolux, LG, Kenmore, Samsung, or Hotpoint range, Repair Clinic makes it easy to find the right part to fix your appliance fast.