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My son has the GE Smart Water Heater Model SG40T12AVHOO. The heater has failed twice since installed in 2006. The pilot will not stay on once the thermostat is turned on to heat the water and the entire system shuts down.
Both events, the reason this happened is due to the failure of the Smart Shield Sensor System, basically an oil filled glass vile. When this glass vile breaks, it allows a vent to close, starving the heating chamber of air.
This oil filled glass vile is inside the heating chamber, further in towards the rear of the tank. It can be replaced. But until it is replaced, my son wedged a socket head into the area previously occupied by the glass vile, which then holds the vent open, which allows air into the combustion chamber.
While the system is designed for safety and requires the glass vile, if you do try what we did with a socket head, do not use this socket head as a permanent repair. We only did that to get us by until we can get the glass vile and install it.