Massive Dell Laptop Battery Recall

On Tuesday, Dell plans to announce a voluntary recall of 4.1 million lithium-ion batteries used within its laptops, the company acknowledged late Monday. Under rare conditions the batteries could overheat, prompting a risk of fire. The batteries, manufactured by Sony, were found in 25 Dell laptops and eight Dell “mobile workstation”-class notebook PCs.

Dell said that it would provide a Web site, www.dellbatteryprogram.com, with instructions on how to determine whether a notebook battery was affected by the recall, and if so, how to ship it back. The batteries are marked with a “Dell” label and a label that says either “Made in Japan,””Made in China,” or “Battery Cell Made in Japan Assembled in China.” There is also a battery number listed on a white sticker. The affected notebook models were sold from April 1, 2004, through July 18, 2006.

The recall was made voluntarily with the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Although Dell officials did not comment on how the battery risk was discovered, two recent high-profile incidents involved Dell batteries spectacularly exploding. In the first, a Japanese businessman watched his Dell notebook go up in smoke in late May. More recently, a worker in Illinois watched his own Dell laptop melt.

The recalled batteries were sold with the following Dell notebook computers: the Dell Latitude D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800, D810; the Inspiron 6000, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 500m, 510m, 600m, 6400, E1505, 700m, 710m, 9400, E1705; the Dell Precision M20, M60, M70 and M90 mobile workstations; and the Dell XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170 and XPS M1710. The batteries were also sold separately, including in response to service calls.

One analyst said the explosions were a series of unlikely incidents that coincided with equally unlikely incidents.

Lithium-ion batteries have been known to be hazardous since before 2001, when the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Special Programs Administration implemented increased safety checks, including puncture and drill tests, to ensure that the batteries could be safely transported. According to a paper published by George Kerchner of the CapAnalysis Group, approximately 120,000 lithium-ion cells caught fire at the Los Angeles Airport during the DOT’s tests, strong evidence that the regulation-exempt status of the cells needed to be rethought.

In April, Hewlett-Packard recalled about 135,000 HP and Compaq notebook computer batteries, while Dell announced its own recall of about 22,000 notebook computer batteries within the U.S. in December 2005, or about 35,000 when foreign sales were included. Apple also announced its own recall of PowerBook batteries in 2005.

Customers may continue to use the affected Dell 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.

The DellBatteryProgram.com Web site will go live at 1 a.m. central time on Tuesday morning, Dell said. Customers can also call the company at 1-866-342-0011, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. central time.

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