Be Careful With Chargers – Avoiding Headaches and Expensive Repair Bills

Melted Charger
Some of the most frequent mistakes people make when dealing with technology at home and work are related to the chargers and transformers that come packaged with devices. Most of these mistakes stem from three big misconceptions about chargers—they are interchangeable, you can leave them plugged in all the time, and you can buy off-brands that are just as good as the real ones for a fraction of the cost. In most cases, these are partially true, but not paying attention to the device guidelines can cost you money down the road, whether it be to replace a burnt out charger or a costly home repair. Below are some tips that address the specific misconceptions, but one thing that covers all of them is to read the instructions about proper charging of the device. I know, who really ever reads the instructions? You do not have to read the full thing, but do at least skim the part about proper charging.

Let us start with the first one, that they are interchangeable. This problem centers around the power needs of the device. Complex devices, such as laptops, need specific wattages, voltages, and amperages to run and charge the battery. As a result, not only will the charger differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it will also differ from model to model by the same manufacturer. Smaller devices tend to have similar power needs and usually have a standard 5W requirement, so the same charger could be used for a Kindle, a FitBit, and an iPhone. You would just need to change the USB cable to accommodate the connection on the device end. Technically, you should be checking the labels or instructions to see which type of charger is needed and then check the label for the charger you have to see if they would work. If the charger is rated lower in amps, then the device will take longer to charge. A good rule of thumb is the bigger the transformer, the more complex the power needs are for the device and these should not be interchanged, even if they fit the plug design. Devices that connect to the transformer via USB cable usually have interchangeable chargers. Long-term use of an ill-fitting charger can damage the components, such as a motherboard, if they are overheated by an incorrect power source. Under-powering them will not usually do damage, but it can have an impact on performance. If you want to read more about this issue, How To Geek has an article covering it.

The second misconception is you can leave a charger plugged in all the time. It is never a good idea to leave a charger plugged in if you have nothing connected to it, whether it be plugged into a wall outlet or your computer. While the chargers themselves pose little risk for fire by simply being plugged in, there is always the risk that a defect in the charger or an overloaded power strip will indeed start a fire. If you are concerned about the environment, or your electrical bill, keep in mind that the transformer will still draw some power even when nothing is attached to the charger. While the impact of one charger on a yearly bill may not be much, not many households have only one charger. If you charge your devices via your computer, the device will charge a little slower because a computer USB port only delivers about .5 amps per device. As with the wall unit, the USB will still draw power with nothing plugged in. If you are using your laptop on battery power, you will drain the battery faster with unused USB cables. If you leave a USB cable with nothing attached to it plugged into a computer running off non-battery power, you again will draw some electricity and this could interfere with performance or even possibly cause a small amount of static electricity build-up that could damage the USB port. If you are interested in the science of battery charging, Make Use Of has an article about whether it is safe to leave a laptop plugged in all the time.

Finally, there is the issue of off-brand chargers and whether you need to use a branded one. Most recent research shows the answer is a solid yes. The reason—safety. Off-brand items are not usually safety tested and are thus prone to defects that can start a fire or cause electrocution. I have seen this happen myself, as my nephew’s off-brand iPad charger melted in the outlet. Does this mean it is unsafe to ever buy a third-party charger and save yourself some money? Safe Bee has an article regarding these safety hazards, what to look for when purchasing a charger, and how to avoid getting a knock-off. The primary things to pay attention to are to look for a certified logo of some sort (such as Apple certified or Windows certified) and buy from a reputable retailer, not just off the convenience store display or an auction site on the internet. In this case, it is better safe than sorry. Luckily for my sister, someone was at home when my nephew’s charger started to smolder, but more serious damage or worse from a house fire could have resulted if they were out or asleep at the time. In the long-run, an extra $15 can save a lot if you buy certified-to-work accessories.

—Laura N.


  1. Very useful to see this. My daughter goes through chargers and I keep buying knock-offs. No more.


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