GRETNA, LA (WVUE) - A simple test shows the sheer power if just one of the batteries inside a hoverboard goes bad. Like a domino effect, it can involve all the other ones, posing a risk of smoking, fire and even exploding. That's why companies recalled more than 500,000 of the self-balancing scooters in 2016.
Now, the Consumer Product Safety Commission urges consumers in the market for a hoverboard to look for a holographic label on the gadget before buying one. The federal agency says the testing laboratory, UL, launched a voluntary safety standard that protects the entire self-balancing scooter. Specifically, consumers should look for the label UL 2272.
Gretna grandmother Kim Green ordered two hoverboards from an online retailer before Christmas on Cyber Monday. "So my total came to $398 and some change," Green said.
By Dec. 3, 2016, the retailer Hoverboarder.com sent her a notice, saying it was experiencing slight delays in shipping. "They actually called me one time and told me, it's on the way.. the company has been working 24 hours, seven days a week to try to get the orders out to us," Green explained.
Just before Christmas, Green realized the order she paid hundreds of dollars for online wasn't going to happen. "To my surprise when I called, I had gotten a pre-recording saying that the federal government had shut them down, and that.. I should file a grievance through my credit card," Green said. Green used a pre-paid card to place the order, but says the card company wouldn't do a charge back. When she couldn't get answers, she turned to the FOX 8 Defenders.
"I was so angry. I was so hurt because I didn't know what to tell my grand-kids, and I've always looked at FOX 8, and I was like somebody has to hear me," she said.
We quickly discovered, Kim Green is not alone. "We checked with the Miami Better Business Bureau, and unfortunately they have over 400 complaints, and of course the business is out of business at this point," Cynthia Albert with the New Orleans BBB said. The Florida Attorney General's Office told us it has 80 complaints about Hoverboarder LLC and Electric Empire, another related online retailer.
The following message can be found on Hoverboarder.com:
"As requested by the Federal Government, Hoverboarder.com can no longer ship out the hoverboards we have in stock. Due to this sudden and unexpected request, hoverboarder.com can not fulfill customers orders. At the time of the request we had already purchased all hoverboards needed to fulfill customer's orders, these hoverboards can no longer be used. Due to these circumstances we are forced to go out of business."
We also learned the retailer based out of Florida only filed for Limited Liability Company status a year ago, according to the Florida Secretary of State's website.
After several attempts to reach the company by phone, someone finally answered our call. According to a representative, the CPSC requested the company stop selling its hoverboards because the boards were not UL 2272 certified. The rep also said hoverboarder.com couldn't reach out to everyone because there were more than 28,000 customers, and the reason the company is asking consumers to file disputes with credit card companies, the rep told us their assets were frozen.
CPSC Press Secretary Patty Davis told the FOX 8 Defenders, the federal agency inspected hoverboarder.com's product in mid December. "We asked the firm to stop selling the hoverboards," Davis said. Essentially, the gadgets did not meet industry safety standards that were set after reports of dangerous fires.
We then turned to the testing laboratory, Underwriters Laboratories or UL, to find out what's behind its safety standard. "We look at all aspects of it. Everything from the construction, the testing, to the markings are included in the UL standard," John Drengenberg, UL Consumer Safety Director, said.
Besides evaluating the actual construction, Drengenberg says UL conducted electric, mechanical and performance tests. "We found some hoverboards a year ago that we bought just for our own information as we were developing standards. We found metal shavings inside the hoverboard, which could short circuit internal electronic components. We found wires being pinched inside the hoverboard, which means ultimately they could break," Drengenberg said.
Inspectors also investigate the hoverboard's lithium ion batteries, which carry a lot of energy. "The reality is that if you overcharge batteries, or if your batteries are misused or abused in any way, there are chances that they could malfunction so we do test the batteries. We test the compatibility of the charger with the battery," Drengenberg explained.
At the end of the day, it was a good thing those non-compliant boards from Hoverboarder.com didn't end up in the hands of Kim Green's grandkids in Gretna. Now she just wants a refund.
Safety experts say don't just look for the holographic UL label. They urge consumers to follow the manufacturer's instructions, use the charger provided with the hoverboard, and if the directions recommend charging for just three hours, be sure to follow that. You don't want to charge it overnight for example. Also, where you charge it is important. Experts suggest you keep it out in the open where it has adequate ventilation.