Online Purchasing

Fire hazards: Generic laptop power cords

  • Daniel Olewiler
Dangerous laptop charger

Photo credit: Sarah / IWKYS

Recently I heard from a friend whose laptop power cord got so hot that it melted a hole in her carpet. Turns out it was a generic branded adapter, not specific to the laptop manufacturer. While some of these off-brand adapters and power cords may be safe and of sound quality, it’s unfortunate that others are dangerous safety hazards, making it a gamble to purchase one. You’ll notice in the photo that there is no brand name on the label, but that the model suspiciously contains the characters “HP” without claiming to be made by HP, a well-known computer manufacturer.

I decided to look up one of these generic “notebook adapters” on the Amazon Marketplace, and here are a few quotes from the reviews of just this single item:

  • “The power adapter gets so hot that it actually burnt the skin of my two year old son.”
  • “…it decided to make my living room stink of melting plastic… it overheated and died.”
  • “I received the first charger and it did not work. So I decided to return it and buy another one because it was cheap. The unit arrived promptly but it makes a terrible noise when you plug it in which apparently means it is failing…”
  • “…it burnt up in two weeks, the adapter bubbled on the outside…”
  • “…one day it just starting crackling…”

We all want to save money on expensive items like electronics, especially when an item with the official company logo is way over-priced. However, for the safety of yourself and those around you, not to mention the health of your laptop’s battery, look for an officially branded power cord that matches your computer. You may still find a deal through an online retailer, marketplace, or auction site, but as always, beware of any offer that seems too good to be true. Just because some universal products like this one pose a threat to your safety does not mean all of them do–but it’s not always obvious which ones can be trusted, especially when purchasing online, where you can’t easily inspect before ordering.

I believe the computer manufacturers and retailers might be able to cut down on this danger by offering more affordable accessories, but I haven’t seen that happen yet.

There’s some truth to the old saying, “You get what you pay for,” and in this case it’s not worth saving a few dollars when a faulty, over-heating laptop cord could start a fire in your home or office.

If you do purchase from a third-party seller online:

  • Look for a trusted brand name
  • Find out if a particular seller has a positive history
  • Check for a return-policy before ordering
  • Though they’re not always 100% accurate, read product reviews carefully
  • Contact the seller if questions remain
  • After item arrives, inspect it closely

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