Help! Dell is holding my “hot” computer hostage

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By Christopher Elliott

Geri Bain’s “hot” computer is missing in action. Why won’t Dell repair it? And why won’t it return her laptop?


I recently called Dell’s technical team because my computer was overheating and I had burnt my fingers. I was told that, despite the fact that my computer was five years old, it would be treated as a safety recall and that I should send photos of the computer, my burnt fingers and a doctor’s note.

The technician stated that Dell would send me a prepaid FedEx box to send my computer in and that I could expect a replacement within 7 to 10 days. A long series of delays and hand-offs seems to have landed my computer in a black hole in Dell’s insurance department.

At one point, a Texas-based supervisor said he would send the replacement that day, but needed sign-off from the insurance company. After speaking with Dell’s insurer, he said he could do nothing and further communication would be through the insurance company.

At his request, I sent a note saying I had no intention of suing and only wanted the replacement computer I was promised. There was still no response and no computer. Dell has now had my computer for more than two months. Can you help me get it back? — Geri Bain, Mendham, NJ


Dell should either fix your PC and return it, or send you a replacement. Keeping your laptop is not an option.

Before I get to the fix, let me fill in a few details. I followed up with you and asked for a more detailed timeline, and I’m sure readers will be curious, especially those of us who use Dell computers.

By your account, your five-year-old computer was not flaming hot, but warm to the touch. According to your notes, a technician told you the warm keyboard was a “safety issue” and promised a replacement. You were asked to furnish Dell with a doctor’s note and photos of the computer, which you did. Then you sent your PC back to the company in a box it provided. (Related: My Rosetta Stone CD-ROM doesn’t work anymore. Can you help?)

The warranty on your laptop expired long ago. It might have covered the overheating issue you say you experienced, but Dell’s longest warranty is four years. Dell, like other computer manufacturers, offers an extended warranty on its products, which costs more.

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Personally, I have a problem with paying more for something that should be included in the product (AppleCare, are you reading this?). Also, I think there’s a time to go by the book — and a time to throw out the book. Smoldering keyboards is one such case. Who cares about the warranty? Your fingers were hot.

Your computer is a dinosaur

By the way, at five years, your computer is a dinosaur. The average PC is over the hill within two years of your purchase and obsolete within four. Do you really want that clunker back?

You could have made someone higher up at Dell aware of your hostage drama. I list the names and emails of executives on my consumer advocacy site. But behind the scenes, it turns out, there was even more drama going on.

At about the same time you shipped your computer back to the company, Dell became a private company, which shouldn’t have affected your case, but apparently did. (A reader sent in his laptop for repairs weeks ago, but Fujitsu is still awaiting the arrival of parts that were dispatched from Japan.)

In its last communication with you, Dell said it had tested your computer and found no evidence of an overheating problem. “The system will be returned when the insurance claim generated by this complaint is closed,” it promised.

I do receive occasional complaints about Dell, like the time when the wireless internet on the Dell computer wouldn’t work. My advocacy team and I made numerous efforts to reach the company on your behalf. Some of my contacts were no longer with the company, thanks to the buyout. In the end, my efforts to advocate for your computer’s return fell on deaf ears. (Here’s our guide to fixing your consumer problem.)

In an effort to apply pressure, you also filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. But that didn’t work, either.

Dell still has your computer. At this point, I think your best option is to file a complaint in New Jersey small claims court. I think a judge will be more persuasive at getting the company to replace your laptop, or at least release your old one.

Should Dell keep the computer?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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