Is the Dell Exploding Battery Problem Bigger Than They Admit?

A funny thing happened to me the other night. I was at home. It was late. The rest of the family had gone to sleep, and I was up late trying to win a few more levels on Lego Star Wars 2 on the Xbox. At about 1:30am, I decided to go to bed. As I was switching off the lights, I smelled a strange hot plastic kind of smell. Following the smell, I suddenly realized it was my wife’s Dell Inspiron 9200! The charge light was blinking orange and green. The smell was awful. I quickly yanked the power cord out of the back of the machine, and flipped it over. The heat coming from the bottom of the laptop was incredible. I literally burned my hands while ejecting the battery from the laptop. After placing the battery on the balcony, i returned to inspect the laptop. Thankfully, there was no damage – the unit still powered up with the AC cord, and there was no visible heat damage.

Weeks ago, I had already checked the battery serial number againstĀ Dell’s battery recall site. This battery wasn’t recalled, so I thought I was safe. Time to call Dell. At 1:30 in the morning, I was shocked to get to a human in less than a minute – and a human in Canada no less! I explained what had just happened, and explained that I had already checked the battery on the recall site, and that it wasn’t a recalled battery. He checked the warranty status of my machine, and told me that it was a year and a half old – well past the one year warranty that Dell places on batteries. He gave me some safety tips on how to store the battery (“Don’t put it back in the machine”, “store it in a plastic or metal container”, “don’t handle it excessively in case it leaks”, etc). He then told me that Dell would send out a replacement battery, and once I got the replacement to package up this battery in the special bag supplied and ship it back to Dell. The interesting thing is I didn’t give Dell the serial number of the battery! They just automatically replaced a smoking out-of-warranty non-recalled battery without any questions!

Lego Star Wars saved my life. If I hadn’t stayed up way too late playing the game, I would have gone to bed not realizing I had a smouldering time bomb sitting on my wooden kitchen table. Dell replaced the battery without question. Does this mean that they’re aware of other batteries having defects in them that aren’t listed in the official recall? If so, isn’t that a scary situation to be in? What happens if someone is injured by a non-recalled battery?

I called Dell back today to discuss the strangeness of the no-questions-asked battery replacement and whether they had a policy of replacing all batteries whether recalled or not. The helpful service rep passed me on to a supervisor, who advised me that there is no hidden policy about unlisted Sony batteries (although if it was hidden, I’m sure he wouldn’t tell me about it, would he?). He did satate that Dell has a policy of replacing any component in any Dell product that exhibits a safety issue, even if the Dell product is out of warranty, for as long as Dell has those parts in stock. I re-confirmed his statement and asked him if it was okay to state that comment on my blog, which he confirmed.

So, there you have it. Either this battery failed for a reason completely unrelated to the recall, or Dell is not being completely honest with the extent of the problems. I guess only time will tell. At least I learned that if I have a part fail on an out-of-warranty Dell product, the failure had better affect the safety of the product!

APRS on Google Maps

I ran across an interesting utility the other day. It allows the overlaying of APRS data on top of Google Earth. The utility is called APRSKML, and can be foundĀ here. The utility is well documented, and I was able to set it up within minutes. If you’re in the south central BC area, try the following settings (on the APRS IS screen):

  • APRS IS Server:
  • “Reconnect on Restart” checked
  • “Confirm Reconnect on Restart” unchecked
  • Filter: r/49/-119/300

Set your callsign and APRSIS auth code as appropriate. The magic comes in to the filter line (make sure you put something in here – leaving it out will swamp the software with too many stations, and it will eventually crash). The three numbers correspond to lattitude, longitude, and radius.