I remember vividly when I stopped using a desktop and switched over to laptops. Oh man, it was like heaven to my wandering ways as I was never held down by bulky hardware ever again after that, you know? I could fold my laptop, slide it in a bag, and stash the cord, moving from one place to the next with such ease. I had massive laptops like the Alienware Aurora m9700 that put off enough heat that it used to make me open a window in my room at night and had a power cord that looked like it was from NASA. I finally found my niche so many laptops later in Toshiba, which has been my favored laptop manufacturing company ever since my Alienware. Sturdy, relying on plastics instead of metals to keep the internal hardware cool, and having a wonderful customer service setup, Toshiba was everything to my laptop world.
Until I found its one fault, its Achilles’ Heel, the Kryptonite element that would tear the whole house of cards down without any warning:
The terribly delicate DC jack (where you plug the cord in) and its easily mauled AC Adapter (the laptop’s power cord).
You’d be shocked if you knew how often I blew through these things and, when researching it, I found that HP and Compaq laptops have a horrible time with these issues as well, which are the bits we use daily when users like me are on the go. The first time I had my Toshiba, I was carting my open laptop through the hallway to show a video to someone and the door swung too close and nudged the power cord into the power jack just barely, but it was enough to crack the plastic and send the input jack rattling inside of the laptop.
What did this mean? This meant that I had to take out my handy little “Nerd Kit” (A Belkin 10-piece computer tool set. Every computer nerd should have one.) and set to removing my laptop case to sort out the issue. As well as taking a good cleaning to it, I saw that most DC jacks are connected through a slotted plastic piece that the makers slide into place before closing the laptop’s casing. With some well-aimed superglue and a lot of patience, I was able to fasten the little slot back into place. Now this wasn’t a permanent fix, and there were times when my little miniature Hulk hands would shove the charger cord into my laptop too roughly and I’d have to go about the motions again, but it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened. I’m resourceful, you know?
That part was easy and less troubling than what happens when your power cord gets damaged beyond repair. Anyone who travels a lot or moves their cords from place to place will eventually see damage to their AC adapter. I must have gone through four or five cords in my time until a near tragedy from an AC adapter nearly set my room on fire and could’ve killed my child and me.
I, like many people, don’t really think anything of an exposed wire here and there and generally just take it as a sign to be careful. I would jiggle my cord if I saw that it wasn’t charging for “some odd reason” and then go about my day, oblivious to the possible short inside of the cord that was causing an issue. One day, my Toshiba-issued AC adapter cord had been damaged right at the end, making it so that I couldn’t use it whatsoever. I rushed to Amazon and ordered a new one, but made the mistake of buying one meant for a “universal” amount of laptops and not from the manufacturer, but a third-party source. The ad showed that it had covered a dozen different types of laptops and I figured, since this was my first time, it was safe to give it a try.
Cut to two weeks later when I noticed my laptop wasn’t charging correctly and I had continued to make excuses, thinking maybe it was my battery that was the issue. The laptop refused to hold a charge and, even while I was glancing at the back of the unit that very moment, I smelled plastic burning. When I lifted my eyes up, I saw black smoke billowing from behind me and, when I glanced over my shoulder I saw the source, the cord had completely melted away from the wall and flames were licking the outlet. Jutting out of the power outlet was the ground part of the AC adapter, sparks sprinkling out before I could dash up off of the bed and yank my mattress away from the wall roughly. Shouting for help, I smacked my bed’s corner (which was on fire) with a pillow before my father raced in and grasped the exposed cord with a silicone rubber oven mitt and threw it into a bucket.
When our hearts were done racing, I looked over the cooled cords and just what had been done and was absolutely horrified. A short in the cord had caused a fire inside of it, splitting it apart from the middle and melting it. What made matters worse is that I was just about to go to bed and would have left my laptop plugged in that night. Curled up against my child who was sleeping in my room with me on that evening, we would’ve more than likely been woken up to a blazing inferno that would’ve easily become overwhelming before we would’ve ever been aware.
A power cord did that, ladies and gentlemen.
Ever since then, I have been ever vigilant about protecting myself and my loved ones from the possible dangers of electrical fires in laptops and their cords. I studied extensively to find what causes these faults and buying replacement cords from uncertified manufacturing houses is all but asking for trouble. I wasn’t educated enough to know, but I am now; after witnessing my siblings having issues with their power cords, I realized that maybe many people don’t know what to look out for.
Proper Power Cords and How to Prevent Problems (don’t you love all those P words?):
- Can you see cased wires? If you can visually spot an issue, that’s far better than knowing one is there that you can’t see. Sometimes the black plastic casing can slide away from being grabbed too many times and, while not ideal, it’s not horribly dangerous. You will want to safeguard yourself and your cord by wrapping the encased wires with electrical tape and perhaps only unplug from the actual end of the cord instead of grabbing and ripping from here on out, too, just to be safe.
- Are the encased wires even bare, exposing copper wiring beneath? That image up there at the top of this page is what my little brother showed me on his laptop. I immediately sent for my mother to replace the cord, but it’s important to show what those little copper wires can look like. That, right there, is asking for you to get a dangerous shock to your fingers if it’s plugged in and charging when you unplug it with your hands. This, left alone near a carpet, blankets, tablecloths, and other linens could cause a serious and deadly fire.
- Never buy a replacement part for your power cord or the power jack from anyone that does not give a warranty, a guarantee on safety, and testing through the proper channels. If you cannot find a replacement through the manufacturer of your specific laptop, then do your research — cheaply made items that come used from the Internet are a surefire way to get take dangerous risks.
- Learn how to properly wrap and care for your cords. While this guy in the video below has it all figured out, he’s good at explaining where the danger zones for possible cord fraying are located. This is good not only for laptop cords, but other cords, as well. Take good care to not bend and twist the connection sources as those are the most delicate spots on any power cord. Make sure to watch the video and learn something about cord storage. Not everyone has a ScruffySquirrel around to teach them how to wrap their cords neatly and even utilize that random bit of velcro they constantly attach to my adapter!
Perhaps it was almost losing my own life as well as my child’s due to something as petty as a laptop power cord; perhaps it was the fact that I was so uneducated on the dangers of cheaply made hardware peddled on the Internet; I do know that I am the biggest advocate for laptop safety ever now. If I get anything out of this, it’s that everyone who reads this takes a look at their cords and perhaps keeps an eye out for the warning signs on their cords as well as others. Make sure to pass around that checklist and warn children and teenagers of these things as well, as I witnessed my siblings being absolutely nonchalant about possible dangers to themselves.
It isn’t just a laptop cord, folks. It’s a flimsy connection between electricity, fire, and your fingertips.