Mom raises concern after son's laptop smokes, sparks in dorm room

News 6 discovers past recalls on numerous brands

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

DeBARY, Fla. - A Central Florida mother is sounding a warning about a potential danger with laptops and their lithium batteries.

Nicole Jordan of DeBary says she bought one for her college-bound son last year as a graduation gift.

She says 10 months later, the laptop started smoking, sparking and leaking battery acid inside his backpack.

"It’s frightening," said Jordan. "Had that happened when my son was sleeping, we would be having a different type of discussion."

Jordan showed News 6 what remained of the damaged Dell XPS 9560 laptop, after unwrapping it from layers of plastic. Each layer released noxious fumes from the laptop, which is a now a burned out shell of metal and plastic parts. Jordan says she bought the brand new laptop at Best Buy last spring.

"I Googled best laptops for engineering majors and that's one of the laptops that came up," Jordan said.

She said there were no warnings about problems or potential fire risks.

News 6 checked, and the Dell XP 9560 that Jordan bought at Best Buy last year did not have any current or active recalls. Dell confirms that is true.
 
In 2006, Dell recalled more than 4 million notebook laptop batteries because of a potential fire risk and sent out replacement batteries.

Jordan says she only learned about that recall when she started researching laptop fires.

"When it comes to your children, all bets are off," Jordan said. "You will move heaven and earth to make sure they are safe."

Her son, Miles Dixon, says he had the laptop stored inside his backpack at his University of Florida dorm room, and was in the room when he started to smell something burning.

"It smelled very smoky, very electrical," said Dixon. "I saw that everything was basically melted. It could have started a fire. It could have burned down my dorm room.

News 6 took these concerns to the computer experts at Code Black IT in Winter Park.

Shawn Cable is the owner and says while there have been manufacturing defects discovered in the past with laptop batteries, he has not seen one in his 20 years of repairing computers.

Cable says he sees a lot more problems caused by simple human error.

"A lot of people will just close the screen and they think the machine will turn off or go into standby by itself," Cable said. "But in some cases, I've seen it where a computer program prevents it from going to sleep or shutting off, or it gets stuck."

"Make sure that you turn your computer off, if you're putting your computer in a location where there is no ventilation," Cable advised.

He says this advice is crucial to everyone, but especially to parents of young children who may watch videos or play games on their laptop while lying in bed.

Not only could it compromise your computer, it could cause a fire hazard.

"Using your computer on a bed with a blanket where it can't get adequate ventilation and it overheats can cause this problem with the battery," Cable said. "And if you put it in a backpack or a bag, and you let the machine run and it overheats - this kind of problem could happen. And it could go south very quickly."

Cable recommends three tips to prevent potential problems with your laptops.

  • Replace your laptop batteries every two years.
  • Don't use cheap or off market power cords. They could be missing crucial parts that could compromise your computer data and hardware.
  • Check if your laptop has had any recalls.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there is a long list of past laptop battery recalls that you can easily find on its website.

The biggest one listed was from 2006, when Dell computers recalled 4.1 million notebook computer batteries because there was evidence that they could catch fire. According to the CPSC, Dell discovered the fire hazard was caused by a manufacturing defect in batteries made by Sony.

In 2016, Toshiba, Sony and HP recalled thousands of lithium ion battery packs, claiming they could overheat and cause a major fire hazard.

Last year, Lenovo recalled itsThinkPad Laptops after it discovered a loose screw could damage the battery and cause a fire risk.

Jordan says the computer makers should be doing more to educate consumers about their past problems and any current risk.

Dell sent Jordan a new laptop as a replacement and is currently investigating what caused her son's computer to melt down.

"There are many parents right now researching laptops for their children that have no idea that this is a possibility," Jordan said. "I certainly didn't know."

A spokeswoman for Dell told News 6 that while she couldn't provide details regarding the company's forensics, she could confirm that it was an isolated incident.

"We analyzed the system and there was no evidence of misuse or mistreatment. There are no indications of any systemic safety issues with Dell products. While we don't provide details regarding our forensics, we are able to report that this was an isolated incident. There is no acid contained in this notebook battery technology," Lauren Mauro said.

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