When You Get a Lemon

When purchasing expensive hardware, it’s a rule of thumb to make sure you get good warranty. Dave was much thankful for this, as his ThinkPad T43 exhibited dead pixels a few weeks into purchase, and he got a replacement. The RMA is suppoesd to be as easy as shipping the unit back to the manufacturer and getting a replacement (or repair, if RMA has lapsed, but still covered by service warranty) a few weeks after. But what happens when you get a lemon and your manufacturer refuses to acknowledge the defect? Worse, what if your computer dies a few weeks or even days after warranty has lapsed? Even worse, what if you read hundreds of similar complaints on the Web about the same thing happen to the exact same computer?

Class action suit anyone?


Three years ago, a relative bought a Dell 5150 online, thinking it was a great deal. After all, it had excellent specs (Pentium 4 Mobile 3 GHz, which was back then top of the line) and it was selling for a great price. Never mind that it’s gigantic and comes with an equally humongous power adaptor (total weight was about ten pounds, I think). It was the way laptops were in the era of the Northwood class Pentium-4 mobile.

The laptop frequently became very hot and the cooling fan was very noisy. This was supposedly an issue common among Pentium-4 class laptops–after all, it wasn’t designed ground up to be a mobile processing chip.

Just this January, the computer just sort of died. Well, it still worked in battery mode, but it wouldn’t power up from the AC adaptor, nor would the battery recharge when plugged in. It turns out that the Dell 5150 had a design defect wherein the extreme heat would warp the casing’s plastic, which would then exert pressure onto some mainboard components causing damage.

I’ve seen hundreds of horror stories on review sites online. Just Google Dell 5150 Problem and you’ll see what I mean.

Apparently, Dell is aware of the problem. However, the company refuses to recall the 5150s. Instead, its usual offer is to make minor case modifications at the user’s cost if outside of warranty. If within warranty, full replacements are only made if the laptop’s mainboard has been previously replaced thrice.


The 5150 we had was sent in to Dell for repair, but mainboard replacement would cost upwards of $400. I can almost buy a new low-end laptop for that kind of money. We decided to pull it out and have it repaired by a third-party laptop repair center, instead, which would bring down the cost to $100 for mainbord component-level repairs–that is if the board can be repaired at all.

Trouble is, we don’t know what to do with the 5150 in the case repairs can resurrect it. I mean, we would end up half expecting it to die one time or another. And that time, it could be permanent.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

But when a big manufacturer sells you lemons, I think consumers should act and seek redress.

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