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Old-school oven

Ovens have changed a lot since this photo was taken in 1952, but Barb Behnke of Madison says Maytag's current line of low-heat, self-cleaning ovens are no technological panacea. Above, Susie Kamm and Nancy Miles bake cookies for the patients at the Veteran's Administration Hospital as part of a home economics class.

The only ingredients Barb Behnke was supposed to need to cook up a clean oven were a little water, a sponge, 200 degrees and 40 minutes.

Instead, she ended up needing more than six months, an assist from SOS and a different oven.

Behnke, of Madison, considers herself a pretty tidy cook, and she expects the products she buys to perform as advertised. So she was miffed when she discovered that the self-cleaning feature on her new Maytag oven didn’t.

According to Maytag’s manufacturer, Whirlpool, the oven’s AquaLift self-cleaning technology was developed in response to customer dissatisfaction with traditional self-cleaning, which works by raising the oven’s temperature to as high as 800 degrees for several hours.

AquaLift, by contrast, relies on about two cups of distilled water, a much lower temperature and much less time to loosen baked-on grime that supposedly can be sponged away.

This was not Behnke’s experience, and she emailed SOS 15 photos of her still-dirty oven after five consecutive cleanings, along with one showing a sponge mangled from her attempts to remove the still-baked-on grime.

“I have had numerous phone calls and emails to Maytag,” she wrote SOS on April 11. “They told me to try it more than once. Then they blamed me that I ran it with drips in there.”

She said she also had multiple visits from Maytag service techs, one of whom told her Maytag realized AquaLift isn’t working and would be discontinued. In fact, in August 2016, attorneys filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Whirlpool contending AquaLift was a bust and Whirlpool has admitted as much.

SOS reached out to Whirlpool, Maytag, Grand Appliance and TV in Sun Prairie where Behnke bought the oven, and Maytag’s PR firm, Ketchum, in early May and was rewarded with two phone calls from the Whirlpool executive offices.

Long story short: Whirlpool would have preferred to replace her oven with a different Maytag, but Behnke couldn’t find one she liked, so it’s refunding her $894.64 for the AquaLift oven.

‘Subscription’ fee refunded

SOS had similar luck getting a $69.95 refund for Madison grandmother Louise Goldstein, who pays for her granddaughter from out of state to attend the Jewish Federation of Madison’s Camp Shalom.

The problem was the third-party firm the federation uses to process camp payments. When the granddaughter was signed up last year, Active Network also signed her grandmother up for a yearlong membership in its Active Advantage program, which provides discounts on products and event registration fees.

Goldstein disputes Active’s characterization of the membership as an “opt-in” opportunity — where the customer formally agrees to the subscription — rather than an “opt-out” opportunity — where the customer has to formally reject the subscription to avoid automatic enrollment and charges.

She said Active refunded the $79.95 she was charged for Active Advantage this year, but was holding firm on keeping 2017’s $69.95 fee — at least until SOS stepped in and the $69.95 quietly showed up as a credit on her credit card statement.

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Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.