It's rare for a cell phone to explode or seriously overheat—but if it does, it can cause a fire or leave serious burns. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, today joined a call by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to have the Consumer Product Safety Commission take a closer look at the problem, including its apparent link to the use of defective off-brand batteries.
At a news conference in New York, Chuck Bell, Programs Director of Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, characterized cell-phone fires as a "rare occurrence." But he noted that the CPSC has received 61 reports of phones overheating, arcing, or experiencing other such problems in the past few years. He called on the agency to "carefully monitor the situation, and consider what steps that can be taken to mitigate and reduce any hazards to consumers."
At the event, Schumer said he was "urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate these dangerous aftermarket batteries, [and] determine if further actions need to be taken against the manufacturers of the aftermarket batteries that have malfunctioned."
In the meantime, Consumers Union recommends that consumers avoid the purchase of off-brand batteries or chargers, and instead use only components that the phone manufacturer makes or recommends.
These steps can further minimize the chance of damage to a phone or its battery that can result in overheating or even an explosion:
Protect batteries from water. In and around water—say, at a beach or near a pool—consider keeping the phone in a waterproof bag or case. Even a simple zip-lock bag should provide adequate protection, our tests have found, and we were even able to place and receive calls with the device inside the bag.
Avoid extreme heat. In locations such as a parked car on a warm day, temperatures can easily soar to the levels at which batteries may suffer performance issues, and perhaps even heat damage.
Drop your phone hard? Monitor its temperature. An especially jarring drop may damage the phone's battery. If the battery's accessible to you, as it is on many phones, open the case and inspect it for any signs of damage. And if you notice the battery or phone is getting a lot hotter than usual following a drop, turn it off for a half hour or so and restart it. If it still seems unusually hot, consider taking it to the carrier store or, for iPhones, an Apple Store, for inspection.
Keep removed batteries away from metal. If you can and do remove your phone's battery, avoid allowing it (and especially its contacts) from touching coins or other metal objects, which may damage the battery.