How to Save on a Replacement Battery -- and Avoid Counterfeits

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From phones to watches, laptops to adult toys, finding a replacement specialty battery can be an expensive hassle. Vibrations, beeps, constant email forwarding and game playing quickly drain the life of our favorite electronics. And all too soon it seems that even a rechargeable battery can't hold a charge for longer than a few minutes. A frantic rush to the corner store is a sure way to overpay for specialty batteries (if they're even available). How can you get them for less?

Laptop batteries can be especially expensive to replace; a name-brand Dell replacement 6-cell battery for the Inspiron line may cost more than $100, for example. Some consumers turn to aftermarket batteries, which often come from the same factories as the OEM batteries but are much cheaper and don't carry a brand name. These differ from counterfeit batteries (discussed below) because there is no claim of authenticity. An article on PC World recommends aftermarket laptop batteries as a money-saving tactic, but cautions that they should be purchased from reputable dealers that offer a warranty and money-back guarantee. The article also notes that even genuine brand-name batteries can go bad, as demonstrated by Panasonic's recent recall of 43,000 laptop and tablet batteries after three overheated and caught fire.

Heat is one thing to be wary of regardless where your laptop battery comes from, as high temperatures are a sure way to damage it. Any battery should be kept in a cool place, but laptops are especially prone to heating up when playing HD videos or games. (Tip: Try using a stand or fan to keep the laptop cool and the battery in tip-top shape.) Laptop batteries also have only a limited (but usually high) number of charge cycles in them and over time their capacity shrinks. The new breed don't suffer from "memory" lapses like old rechargeables did, so you don't need to worry about plugging in the laptop if you're at half charge or recharging it for only a few minutes. But if you notice a decrease in battery life, calibrating your battery may help. This involves charging the battery to 100 percent, completely discharging it, and recharging it again to 100 percent.

Small electronic batteries for items like hearing aids and pocket calculators follow much of the same guidelines as those for laptop batteries. There are even some well-known aftermarket camera battery manufactures such as SterlingTEK or Wasabi.

Watch batteries can be particularly frustrating to shop for because there are so many different sizes to choose from. Even if you do know which size you need, the same type can have many different names. This cross-reference sheet created by Maxell can save you lots of headaches. The most common types of watch batteries are available at supermarkets and electronics stores, but prices vary dramatically. A two-pack of Energizer 2016 3-volt lithium batteries is $6.49 at Best Buy, $5.97 at Home Depot, and $8.88 at Walmart. Turn to online authorized or reputable retailers for better prices,]; many include free shipping if you meet a minimum order amount.

Know your source.

A common problem when buying batteries online is the abundance of counterfeit batteries in the marketplace. Different from aftermarket batteries, counterfeits claim to be the real deal and illegally use trademarked names or symbols. This seems to be an especially common problem with watch, camera, and cell phone batteries, and consumers have been duped while shopping on eBay or when buying from marketplace sellers on Amazon. Customer reviews can help warn you about the quality of the product before you buy, but even highly-rated products can be less than what they seem. This offering of Maxell LR44 batteries on Amazon, for example, is surprisingly cheap -- less than $3 for 10, when they're often more than five times that at a retail store. Although the listing has 4.5 stars, many reviewers say the batteries arrive without a full charge, last shorter durations than expected, or even arrive dead. They also note that despite packaging that looks genuine, the batteries are missing an expiration date. Why the positive reviews? They're so cheap that many people feel that even if a few don't work it's worth it, although one reviewer claims he was bullied into removing a negative review by the seller.

Some shoppers knowingly choose counterfeit products because of the attractive price. It can be dangerous to do so. Counterfeit batteries may damage the electronics they are meant to power and they can melt, ignite, or explode and harm the user. Canon posts a small guide devoted to helping customers spot fake batteries. Aside from the usual advice, the company advises consumers to watch out for prices that are "too good to be true." Some batteries or packaging are also equipped with holograms and other hard-to-duplicate security labels that can help consumers verify a product's authenticity.

In short, there seem to be three segments to the specialty battery market: brand-name batteries, aftermarket batteries, and counterfeit batteries. The best option for frugal shoppers is the aftermarket battery. Much like store-label products available at the grocery store, aftermarket batteries are very similar (or even exactly the same) to the brand-name variety but cost a fraction of the OEM price.