Maytag has announced a massive recall of 1.6 million fire-prone refrigerators. The recall includes Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Admiral, Magic Chef, Performa by Maytag and Crosley brand refrigerators.

The company said that an electrical failure in the relay, the component that turns on the refrigerator's compressor, can cause overheating and pose a serious fire hazard. Maytag has received 41 reports of refrigerator relay ignition, including 16 reports of property damage ranging from smoke damage to extensive kitchen damage.

The recall includes certain Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Admiral, Magic Chef, Performa by Maytag and Crosley brand side by side and top freezer refrigerators.

The recall follows complaints by consumers like Christopher of Castaic, Calif. "I was awakened this evening to the smell of electrical smoke. I traced it to the motor of my fridge," he told ConsumerAffairs.com last month.

Kim of Sandy, Utah, had a similar experience.

"Our Maytag side by side refrigerator model no. MSD2756AE started to smoke out of the control panel in the door for the ice and water dispenser. I took the control panel so I could unplug it to stop the smoking," Kim said in a December 2008 complaint. "The solenoid was so hot it melted all the surrounding plastic to a point it was dripping. We were very lucky to be home when this started so it did not start a fire or cause more damage."

"I contacted our local Maytag repair shop and the technicain said there were no recalls and this sort of thing happens all the time with refrigerators," Kim said.

The problem is hardly a new one. Consumers have been complaining about it for years. In November 2008, Phyllis of Wendell, Mass., reported her Maytag refrigerator had caught fire.

"Thick yellow/brown smoke (was) billowing from refrigerator. After getting it outside and cooled down, saw that controls in back top of refrigerator unit had totally melted," she said.

Model numbers

The affected refrigerators were manufactured in black, bisque, white and stainless steel. They have model and serial numbers printed on a label located on the top middle or left upper side of the refrigerator liner and have the following model and serial number combinations:

 Serial Numbers ENDING withAND Model Numbers BEGINNING with
Side by Side
Refrigerators
AA, AC, AE, AG, AJ, AL, AN, AP, AR,
AT, AV, AX, CA, CC, CE, CG, CJ, CL,
ZB, ZD, ZF, ZH, ZK, ZM, ZQ, ZS, ZU,
ZW, ZY, ZZ
ARS, CS, JC, JS, MS, MZ, PS
Top Freezer
Refrigerators
AA, AC, AE, AG, AJ, AL, AN, AP, AR,
AT, AV, AX, ZK, ZM, ZQ, ZS, ZU, ZW,
ZY, ZZ
AT, CT, MT, PT

Refrigerators with freezers on the bottom are not included in this recall.

The refrigerators were sold at department and appliance stores and by homebuilders nationwide from January 2001 through January 2004 for between about $350 and $1600. They were made in the United States.

Consumers should immediately contact Maytag to determine if their refrigerator is included in the recall and to schedule a free in-home repair. Consumers should not return the refrigerator to the retailer where it was purchased.

For more information, contact Maytag toll-free at (866) 533-9817 anytime, or visit the firm's Web site at www.repair.maytag.com

The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).