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3 common oven problems and how to fix them

From not heating at all to cooking unevenly, ovens can wear out and break with lots of use. Here are three of the most common oven problems you can run into and how to fix them yourself.

Chris Monroe/CNET

At their core, ovens are fairly simple machines. Like with any appliance that gets used often, however, things can and do go wrong. Parts loosen and wear out over time, and some are quite easy to fix or replace yourself.

Before jumping to a conclusion that it's time to make an expensive service call or replace your aging oven, check to make sure you're not experiencing one of these three common oven problems that have a simple fix.

Problem: It's not heating up

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Chris Monroe/CNET

An oven that doesn't heat up at all is clearly a pretty big problem. But there are several simple explanations as to why this might be happening.

Cause: If you have a gas oven that's not heating up at all, it could just be a faulty igniter.

Fix: To determine that it's not a more serious gas line problem, you can test one of the burners on the gas stovetop to see if it's receiving gas and igniting. When you set a temperature on a gas oven, you should hear a few faint clicks followed by the typical whoosh sound of the gas igniting. If you do not hear the gas ignite and the clicking stops, turn the oven off and consider replacing the igniter. This process varies by oven model, but it typically only requires disconnecting the range from power, removing a handful of screws, disconnecting a quick release wiring connection, connecting the new igniter and tightening everything back down.

Cause: If you have an electric oven, like gas igniters, heating elements can break or wear out over time, too. This can usually be diagnosed by visually checking if the heating elements are glowing red.

Fix: If the elements are not fully glowing or not glowing at all, it's time to replace one or both of them. This can be done on your own in just a few minutes with a correct replacement part and a screwdriver or nut driver. Disconnect the range from power, remove any covers, remove the screws holding the heating elements in place, replace the heating elements and return covers and screws to their original position.

Problem: It's not heating to the correct temperature

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Chris Monroe/CNET

If you notice food taking longer to cook than it should or coming out of the oven undercooked, your oven might not be reaching the desired temperature. There are a few different reasons this might happen.

Cause: If the temperature sensor inside the oven is not working as intended, it can cause the oven to not heat to the correct temperature. This can be caused by a faulty temperature sensor or a temperature sensor that is touching the wall of the oven.

Fix: Make sure the temperature sensor is not touching the inside wall, as this will affect its ability to accurately measure the internal temperature of the oven. If it is, reposition it so that it's not making contact with the wall. If it's still not heating correctly, you can use an ohmmeter to test that the sensor is working. The resistance of the sensor should rise with internal temperature of the oven. Like with a heating element or gas igniter, replacing the temperature sensor is a quick and easy fix you can do yourself.

Cause: If it's still not heating to the correct temperature and you've checked or replaced the heating elements, gas igniter and temperature sensor, it may simply need to be calibrated.

Fix: To test the accuracy of the oven, all you need is an oven thermometer, which you can pick up for as little as $6 (£4.81 or AU$7.94). Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (176.67 Celsius) and take a temperature reading after 20 minutes and every 20 minutes for the next hour and a half to 2 hours. Divide the sum of the temperature readings by the number of readings you take to see how close the average is to 350 Fahrenheit (176.67 Celsius). From there, you should know what sort of adjustment you will need to make to the oven's temperature dial.

Problem: It's not cooking evenly

Colin West McDonald/CNET

If you make some toast and notice that some pieces are toasted more than others, your oven is not cooking evenly. To confirm that your oven isn't cooking evenly, you can also try baking a cake or roasting an entire chicken.

Cause: Like an oven that won't heat at all or doesn't heat to the correct temperature, the first things you should check are the heating elements and temperature sensor.

Fix: Preheat the oven and do a quick visual test to see if the heating elements are fully glowing red and check that the temperature sensor's resistance is rising with the temperature of the oven. If either are not working as they should, replace them.

Cause: Some ovens cook differently, and you may just need to learn how it cooks. However, your oven not cooking evenly could also have to do with the position of the racks or the cookware you're using.

Fix: Baking pans, for instance, are supposed to be reflective. If they've become discolored over time, try removing the buildup with a deep clean or replacing them altogether. Also, take note of how the oven tends to cook and make adjustments to how you cook with the oven, such as rotating the food while you cook or adjusting the height of the racks for certain foods.