Dell recalls 27,000 notebook PC batteries

Afflicted by defective components in its notebook PCs for the second time this year, Dell Computer Corp. Friday announced a voluntary recall of 27,000 batteries that the company said could short-circuit, heat up and potentially catch on fire.

The short-circuiting problems can occur even when the batteries aren’t in use, said Dell, which added that it has received one report of a fire caused by the defect. The batteries are made by Sanyo Electric Co. and used in Latitude and Inspiron notebook PCs introduced by Dell in June, according to the recall announcement.

Although Dell is the only PC maker to recall the Sanyo-made batteries thus far, the problem potentially could affect systems made by other vendors. Dell spokesman T. R. Reid said the Round Rock, Texas-based company “is not the only [manufacturer] to use these batteries.”

Officials at Sanyo Electric couldn’t be reached for comment on the recall. However, Dell said Sanyo agreed to replace the defective batteries and give users an additional battery at no charge.

This is the second problem Dell has had with the Latitude and Inspiron notebook lines this year. In March, the company said it would replace flawed memory modules that could cause data to be lost or corrupted in up to 400,000 of the PCs that were sold during 1999.

A user whose notebook PC caught on fire brought the latest problem to Dell’s attention at the beginning of last month, Reid said. After running tests, he added, the company determined that the potential fire hazard was caused by its battery. Reid said the user’s computer was damaged but no injuries resulted from the fire.

Dell worked with Sanyo and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to determine the proper course of action it should take in response to the short-circuiting problem, Reid noted. “So far we’ve only had one report of a fire, but even one more [would be] too many,” he said.

Dell plans to notify all users who bought the affected PCs about the potential problem. The company said models containing the potentially defective batteries were sold between June 22 and Sept. 15 in North and South America and between June 22 and Oct. 4, 2000 in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The model numbers of the affected notebooks are Latitude CPiA, CPiR, CPtC, CPtS, CPtV, CPxH and CPxJ, plus the Inspiron 3700 and 3800. Labels containing the model numbers can be found on the underside of the computers, Dell said.

Brooks Gray, an analyst at Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H., said the recall is “not a big deal” for Dell. “If anything, this should provide Dell customers with more confidence in the company because it’s taking quick action on the recall,” he said.

Gray also said the recall shouldn’t hurt Dell financially because Sanyo will absorb the cost of replacing the defective batteries. In its announcement, Dell specified that only the batteries are being recalled, not the computers themselves.

Dell isn’t the only PC maker to be hit by a recall because of faulty components this year. In May, IBM and the CPSC jointly announced a recall of about 220,000 AC adapters used with the company’s ThinkPad notebooks and other mobile devices.