Dell Recalls 4.1 Million Batteries Due to Fire Hazard

Dell on Monday said it will recall 4.1 million laptop computer batteries because they could overheat and catch fire. The company said consumers should stop using recalled products immediately.

Round Rock, Texas-based Dell reported it has received six reports of batteries overheating, resulting in property damage to furniture and personal effects. However, no injuries have been reported.

The firm worked with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to negotiate the terms of the recall, which was voluntary on Dell’s part. The announcement marks the largest electronics-related recall ever involving the CPSC.

Identifying the Culprits

The Dell-branded lithium-ion batteries were made with cells manufactured by Sony and placed in notebooks that were shipped between April 1, 2004, and July 18, 2006. About 2.7 million battery packs were shipped in the U.S., with an additional 1.4 million battery packs sold in other nations.

The recalled batteries were sold with or sold separately from Dell notebook computers, including the Latitude, Inspiron, XPS and Precision mobile workstations.

Consumers can continue to use the notebook computers safely by turning the system off, ejecting the battery, and using the AC adapter and power cord to power the system until the replacement battery is received, Dell said.

A Costly Recall

The individual batteries sold for between US$60 and $180. Endpoint Technologies Principal Analyst Roger Kay figures the cost to manufacture the batteries is much lower, but with potentially millions of batteries on the market it could be a costly proposition for Dell.

“If you talk to companies like Dell, they are pretty vehement about how they manage the OEM quality story,” Kay told TechNewsWorld. “They try to catch these types of issues early while they are still manufacturing. If they find a problem, they can stop the line and make an adjustment.”

Even though major notebook manufacturers run various tests to ensure quality, Kay added, the process is imperfect. The rash of notebook battery recalls in recent months backs him up.

Rash of Recalls

Apple in July launched a voluntary recall program for some of its 15-inch MacBook Pro batteries. The company cited performance concerns with the rechargeable batteries, and assured customers that the batteries do not pose a safety risk.

In cooperation with the CPSC, Hewlett-Packard in April issued a voluntary recall of some of its notebook computer batteries due to fire hazard, and last December, Dell recalled about 35,000 notebook batteries for the same reason.

The X Factor

Kay suspects the pressure to produce batteries at lower prices could be to blame in some of the battery recalls. The purity of the chemicals used to make the batteries could be below par, he suggested, and the impact on battery life may not show up in initial lab testing.

“If manufacturers decide to cut costs on the chemicals by going with a supplier that charges a few pennies less per pound, the purity may also be lower. You don’t get something for nothing. Most of the time no one notices,” Kay said. “It’s more expensive to have a recall than to catch battery imperfections on the front end.”

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