Official replacement batteries can be expensive. Whether you’re looking at a laptop or smartphone battery, you may be tempted to take the cheap route and buy an aftermarket battery. But this decision could blow up in your face — literally.

Aftermarket batteries made by other manufacturers can often be found for significantly cheaper. In reality , they’re not worth the savings. Cheap aftermarket batteries could catch fire, explode, and even burn down your house or physically injure you.

True Aftermarket Battery Horror Stories

In 2013, a Samsung Galaxy S3 exploded in an 18-year-old girl’s pants pocket, giving her third-degree burns. An investigation revealed that the battery inside the Galaxy S3 wasn’t the original battery, but was a knock-off battery — a counterfeit battery that even had the Samsung logo on it. It’s not hard to find other reports of smartphone batteries exploding and injuring people or burning down buildings, and it’s usually not clear whether an aftermarket battery is to blame.

This doesn’t just apply to third-party batteries purchased from disreputable businesses. In June, 2013, Best Buy recalled over 5000 third-party MacBook batteries created by “ATG.’ According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, “The firm has received 13 reports that the battery caught fire, including one report of a serious burn to a consumer’s leg.”

It’s not necessarily even a good idea to buy cheap third-party batteries from electronics stores you trust. The device’s manufacturer has to hold their batteries to a high standard, but an unaffiliated company producing batteries designed to be as cheap as possible has a much lower standard to meet.

Why Batteries Can Explode or Catch Fire

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Modern devices generally use Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries. Lithium-ion battery melt downs are a result of “thermal runaway.” When the battery gets hot enough, a positive feedback loop occurs where the battery gets hotter, which causes it to get hotter, which causes it to get hotter, and so on until it catches fire or explodes.

InfoWorld writes that “Battery problems that result in fire, lots of smoke, and explosions can be caused by a short circuit, excessive heat, overcharging, or abuse.”

All these risk factors can be aggravated by an aftermarket battery. A third-party battery may not be properly  manufactured and the battery’s materials may break down, leading to a short circuit. Li-ion are supposed to have integrated overcharging protection that prevents the battery from becoming overcharged, but it’s possible that this may not work properly on dirt-cheap aftermarket batteries.

Other Problems

Of course, even if the battery doesn’t explode or catch fire, the third-party battery may not work as well as you’d expect. It may not have as much capacity as the original battery or may deteriorate much more quickly, holding less and less charge. The old adage that “you get what you pay for” applies here.

For dirt-cheap batteries that you may find on eBay, the manufacturer may even lie — advertising a certain capacity and even printing it on the side of the battery, but including less capacity inside the battery to keep costs down. How many people would notice?

What You Should Buy

Skip the cheap aftermarket batteries and get official, authorized batteries when it’s time to replace your device’s battery. Sure, it will be more expensive than buying a cheap knock-off shipped direct from a Chinese factory off of eBay, but it’s safer. Even if your battery doesn’t explode or catch fire, it may not hold as much capacity as advertised or may deteriorate much more quickly than an official battery. It’s not worth taking the cheap route when it comes to batteries.

Of course, you could buy an official battery and it could give you problems, too. In the past, laptops by HP, Dell, Apple, and other companies have shipped with faulty batteries that needed to be replaced and recalled. This just goes to show how important it is to buy the right stuff. If big companies can’t even consistently get it right, odds are that a factory somewhere manufacturing cheap knockoff batteries will be worse. And, if those cheap batteries do turn out to be dangerous, the company you purchased the battery from on eBay is unlikely to give you an advanced warning in the form of a recall.

In summary, buy official batteries and beware dirt-cheap knock offs and counterfeits. It’s just not worth the risk, especially since the third-party batteries are likely to hold less charge and deteriorate faster.

Image Credit: Stewart Butterfield on Flickr, Remko van Dokkum on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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