Sony recalls 438,000 Vaio laptops due to overheating risk

The risk of burns due to overheating has prompted Sony to issue a worldwide recall of some 438,000 units of the company’s high-end, line of ultra-lightweight Vaio TZ series laptops.

Among the 70 incidents of overheated Sony laptops reported as of Thursday is the case of an unidentified Canadian who suffered minor burns. Sony Canada did not release the identity of the victim or any details of the incident.

The Canadian branch of the global tech product maker, however, called on users of some 3,800 TZ series machines sold in the country to contact Sony agents immediately if they are worried their laptops might be affected by the defect.

The models in question are those with series number starting with VGN-TZ.

Sony suspects the defect is present in about 19 models of the series manufactured between May 2007 and August 2008. These are high-performance laptops have a 11.1-inch screen and weigh only 2.6 lbs. The units retail for $1,899 to $4,000 each. The Vaios are manufactured in Sony’s own factory.

Initial investigations indicate the overheating is caused by “irregularly placed” wires near the laptop hinge or a dislodged screw in the hinge assembly, according to Candice Hayman, Sony Canada spokesperson.

These components, she said, create a short circuit or “localized overheating.”

“If you are currently experiencing this problem, immediately power off the unit, unplug the AC adapter and remove the battery. Then contact Sony,” Hayman said.
In as statement Sony said users should call 1-866-726-1934 or visit to get more information and to arrange for a free inspection or repair of their machine. Users, it said, should call Sony directly and not return units to the stores they were purchased from.

Users who do not think their Vaio is malfunctioning can continue to use the laptop but should call Sony at the earliest sign of trouble.

Instead of calling it a recall, Sony referred to the procedure as a “voluntary free inspection and repair program.”

Following the registration of the affected unit at the support Web site, Hayman said, Sony will provide the customer with the location of the most convenient authorized depot. Sony can also arrange free pickup and return delivery of the unit, but will not be buying off any laptops from the customers, she said.

Early yesterday morning, Sony, in co-operation with the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission called on users of recalled machines to immediately stop using them as they pose a burn hazard to users.

In a statement issued yesterday, Sony said the latest malfunction problem is not related to the battery overheating issue the company had experienced in the past.

More than 4.1 million Sony-manufactured batteries installed in laptops made by Sony, Dell, HP, Compaq, and Apple were recalled in 2006 following incidents of laptop overheating, and in some instances spontaneously bursting into flames.

The fiasco which was traced to defective batteries provided by Sony is estimated to have cost the consumer product maker more than $430 million.

Here’s what users can do

One Toronto-based technology analyst commented that the demand for more powerful yet smaller mobile devices could one of the factors behind overheating laptops.

“This was apparently a design flaw issue but it can also indicate what sorts of problems the trend towards smaller devices can create,” said Carmi Levy, senior vice-president for strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. in Toronto.

When product makers pack components into ever smaller cases, Levy said, there’s less room for error.

“The chances of a loose wire falling on another component and shorting out the system, is that much larger in a tighter area.”

Laptop users can minimize disruption of their activities by planning ahead even before disaster strikes, he said. “This is a good time to revisit or develop data management and backup procedures”.

  • Back up often and regularly – Back-up files to the corporate network on a regular basis. This ensures you have existing copies in case something happens to your laptop. Companies should consider deploying remote access tools to enable employees to access head office data even when on the road.
  • Set up asset provisioning policies – Companies should have procedures which ensure mobile device users have immediate replacement units incase their machines bog down.
  • Consider external storage devices – Users should consider storing data on an external drive. This frees up more memory your laptop and keeps sensitive information safe in case you laptop is stolen.

Crisis control

Although it’s back on the hot seat, Sony is handling its latest headache very well, according to Levy.

Companies that run into potential disasters can look to Canada’s Maple Leafs Foods for a textbook example of how to deal with such situations, the analyst said.

“Never ever stick your head in the sand and hope for the problem to go away. Get out there and tell your customers what happened and what you intend to do.”

Even before 15 deaths where linked to listeria bacteria found in the Maple Leaf products, the CEO of Canada’s largest food manufacturer launched a media blitz to express sympathy for victims, update people and take responsibility for its actions, said Levy.

“The company had reports on the Web site, Michael McCain (MLF chief) was in the papers, out there on TV, and even on YouTube.”

Experts recommend the following crisis-control tips:

  • Be honest and visible – Don’t set up barricades. If your company’s at fault, admit responsibility. Then provide the public or your customers with updates on the situation. Make it easy for stakeholders to get hold of pertinent information, use various communication channels for broadcasting information as well as receiving feedback.
  • Show you care – Express genuine sympathy for those affected. Show your customers you care, are ready to listen to them and are willing to help out.
  • Come up with a plan and share it – Tell people what you intend to do to remedy the situation. If possible give them time lines concerning your plans so they know what to expect.
  • Don’t go it alone – If the problem is too large to handle, admit it right away and seek appropriate help before things get worse.

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