Are knock-off chargers and fast charging dangerous?
All of us have probably heard of chargers allowing for so-called fast charging in the context of mobile phones or laptops. Despite the fact that knock-off chargers are wreaking havoc in these particular branches, we can also hear of their use with regard to electric unicycles more and more often.
A problem arises when one's device does not support fast charging or even the fact that a "slow", yet 'fake' charger is used.
While it would seem that most users are aware of dangers lying in wait after such an option is used, there are still too many of them to downplay the problem.
In this article, you will find out why manufacturers prohibit us from using knock-off chargers, particularly meant as devices for quick charging (fast chargers, smart chargers, IQ chargers, intelligent chargers), as well as other accessories, such as chargedoctor. These are what specialists call nothing else but knock-off chargers (meant as 'fakes' or 'bogus chargers').
Let's start from the beginning – nobody reads user manuals…
Manufacturers of mobile phones and laptops (including such giants like Sony, Dell, HP, Apple, Samsung or Microsoft) make it clear that their devices can only be charged using the chargers supplied in particular packages or any other original chargers (compatible with our device) purchased from the same manufacturers.
User manuals clearly indicate that the use of knock-off chargers, or even USB cables, seemingly having the same parameters, may expose our batteries to the deterioration of their own parameters (battery life), damage the battery itself or even the whole device, leading to its ignition. The effect may similar to the one of already popular Samsung Galaxy Note 7 or earlier Apple Macbooks.
In the case of damage made to one's device, suffering an injury or health detriment, neither the manufacturer, nor the seller are to bear any responsibility , whereas the warranty becomes void. The case is clear – the damage resulted from the user's fault, as they failed to follow the user manual.
It is no different with regard to the market of electric unicycles, where quite a few uniwheels have already combusted due to the use of knock-off (mostly fast) chargers.
The case seems like an absurd, as manufacturers of electric unicycles (including such leading companies like KingSong, INMOTION, Segway/Ninebot, IPS and others) do not allow for using any knock-off chargers or charging accessories (such as chargedoctor, making it possible to simultaneously connect two chargers to one's unicycle that is not factory-made to support it). Each original user manual contains relevant information on it. What is more, it is possible to familiarise oneself with it on manufacturers' websites. And if that is not enough, labels placed on batteries themselves also inform us about it.
Due to the increasing popularity of knock-off chargers, all distributors in the world have received official warnings from manufacturers. These informed them of possible consequences and not honouring warranties in the case of damage or injury caused by using a knock-off charger.
As an authorised distributor of products by InMotion, KingSong, SoloWheel and IPS, we uphold the stance of those manufacturers. Our offer provides original chargers only.
Where does the danger lie?
Knock-off chargers not only pose a threat to our equipment and property, but – above all – present a danger to our health or even life.
Knock-off chargers – even those of seemingly identical charging parameters to the original ones – are, in practice, made from cheaper components of a lower quality. Declared specifications tend to differ from the actual ones and it is also not a surprise if basic safety systems have been omitted. In fact, such chargers may not be capable of maintaining stable charging parameters that conform to their relevant specifications (or even be only approximate to what they contain themselves!), whereas it is easy to experience overheating or overvoltage that may not only damage one's charger, but also the device subject to charging itself.
In the case of charging parameters (such as the output voltage) being different from the ones declared in a given specification, a disaster is unavoidable. It can even lead to the combustion of cells, as well as the charger itself, that typically results in a long-lasting fire (until the cells lose the whole energy in the fire; the greater the battery capacity or the charging level, the longer it will last).
Differences in the received charging voltage frequently occur even between particular models of electric unicycles of the same manufacturer and it may apply to different versions of the same model, too! This is the reason why companies that specialise in 'knock-off products' find it so difficult to keep up with the entire market and ensure the compliance of their particular specifications. This often results in declaring compatibility with a unicycle which, in fact, needs a completely different charger.
This is why we can never be 100% sure whether a given charger really corresponds to our version of the uniwheel in terms of its parameters, even if we carefully read auction descriptions or sale announcements of knock-off chargers.
The frequent lack of communication of fake chargers with the BMS systems of our devices poses yet another risk. Such a charger may, for example, try to charge the battery even upon receiving information on that it has been already fully charged. According to stats carried out by manufacturers of electric unicycles, the use of knock-off chargers is the most frequent cause of damage affecting their motherboards. If it only ends this way, one may consider themselves lucky. While the loss of warranty and necessity to replace one's motherboard may be a big expense, it is still better than the ignition of a whole device.
An additional, yet even more dangerous risk is what the use of fast chargers of smart chargers, as well as accessories (e.g. chargedoctor) entails. Such chargers considerably accelerate the decrease in battery capacity (lowering the range and power of one's unicycle, that is) by nature, often leading to battery overheats and their irreparable damage. In such an event, the above-mentioned cell ignition is likely to occur. A faulty charger may also start to burn (fast chargers are where high-power capacitors are installed).
Fast or 'smart' chargers, as well as standard chargers connected together to boost the charging current (e.g. through chargedoctor) typically lead to the enhancement of battery heating. Their operation is mostly based on increasing the charging current so that the charging time can be shortened. These chargers have been designed in a way that makes a given unicycle charged with other parameters than those provided by its manufacturer. Well, indeed – the operating principle of these chargers relies on ignoring the charging environment that has been developed by engineers as safe and validated by certificates. Manufacturers of knock-off chargers consciously expose their users to danger by failing to comply with the guidelines provided by unicycle manufacturers.
What is more, certain 'smart chargers' have been designed in a universal way and require it from the final user to set appropriate output parameters. It suffices to make one mistake in such settings (especially if a single charger is used for different unicycle models) or have one error present in the charger's software to cause an accident.
Video: Explosion of the Lithium-Polymer battery In the case of Lithium-Ion batteries (like those most unicycles are equipped with), the reaction does not tend to be that rapid to lead to an explosion, but a fire instead (provided the battery is not directly exposed to water and the air).
Manufacturers of knock-off chargers assure us of the quality and safety of their products. Users of these chargers also defend fast charging, while most of them consider themselves experts only due to having read given specifications of batteries used in unicycles. Both groups only base their claims of the safety of fast chargers on specifications of single cells… to put it in simpler words, single Mignon batteries (e.g. made by LG, Panasonic or SONY) connected together to make a package (a one single battery of a unicycle).
Why is it so then that the manufacturer of a given uniwheel would prohibit the use of such devices, apply restrictions and provide weaker chargers if certain cells could theoretically be charged with more power?
The first thing that comes to mind is the obvious question of extending the battery life – well, we do not want to replace them every year – as the battery is the most expensive component of the unicycle. We want them to work for years! Still, it is not the battery life which is a priority here, but safety.
It should be remembered that even if single cells allow for fast charging (which is associated with a higher temperature), cell packages installed in the uniwheel are a completely different thing. First of all, packages do not have any cooling systems at present (so far, battery cooling is only the domain of electric cars), while heat dissipation from cells installed inside tight casings is hampered. Cells used in unicycles are packaged the closest possible to each other and subject to at least one (and – the most frequently – a few) layer of insulation for protection against water (this, by the way, makes heat dissipation more difficult).
Cable outlets themselves are also subject to sealing, whereas cables used tend to have the smallest cross-sections possible to minimise the outlet area, being necessary for making the device tighter. Finally, such packages are installed inside really narrow slots, as unicycles are designed with a view of making them the most compact vehicles possible. As a result, such cells heat up really quickly, while with no active cooling system present there, the temperature is maintained for a really long time behind a few layers of casings and insulation. Cables applied in the case of unicycles are certified up to a certain temperature only, as well as with regard to given voltage and current. Even if cells endure such charging, it is not necessarily true for cables.
An increase in the charging current – by using stronger chargers – often increases the cell temperature to the near-critical level under such conditions (sadly, it may exceed the critical level sometimes), as well as it additionally causes the flow of greater current through cables that have not been adapted for that. What is more, there is also the question of limitations and instructions related to the Battery Management System (BMS) or even the previously mentioned possible communication problem with the BMS that has not been properly selected for a given package.
This is why even if some cell manufacturers (LG, Panasonic, SONY, etc.) guaranteed the possibility of charging in higher temperatures, it could not be achieved without the presence of appropriate cooling inside unicycles.
Apart from cells themselves, knock-off chargers are the main cause behind cases of damage to motherboards by short-circuits – and this concerns not only unicycles, but also mobile phones, laptops and other devices with Li-Ion batteries.
See how one of the leading experts in repairing consumer electronics – Louis Rossman – diagnoses the damage caused by using knock-off chargers.
What to do when there is a fire?
The best we can do is to prevent it from occurring by getting familiar with how to recognise the first indications of cell damage or a short circuit.
First of all, and regardless of whether we use an original or knock-off charger, our unicycle should be supervised in the course of charging. It should not be left for charging longer than necessary (e.g. throughout a night), whereas we should not leave the house when our uniwheel is connected to a charger.
The most important thing is to know the type of batteries mounted in our unicycle model. In most cases, these are Lithium-Ion batteries, sometimes they are provided in a safer form or the Lithium-Manganese battery though. Still, Lithium-Polymer batteries are the most hazardous (they are characterised by excellent parameters and long life). It is so due to their possibility of exploding in a strong, sudden and life-threatening manner. Lithium-Polymer batteries are typically mounted in cheaper no-name products, most often in electric scooters. The chance for having such a battery installed in one's unicycle is low.
However, if our device is equipped in Lithium-Polymer batteries and we happen to hear a loud clicking sound/shot, we should immediately leave the room, as a few seconds after a sound of this kind – if it was the cell damage that occurred – there appears smoke, being instantly followed by an explosion. There may even be no time to switch off the power supply in the fuse box, whereas it would not prevent the already-initiated reaction in the cells. After an evacuation, it is necessary to call the fire service and clearly indicate that what occurred is a Lithium-Polymer battery fire so that an appropriate fire fighting technique can be prepared by firefighters.
In the event of Lithium-Ion batteries, there is typically much more time, whereas the reaction related to a damage of this kind is not that rapid. First of all, when an untypical operation of our unicycle is observed, being even a single factor from among the following:
- emitting strange sounds, like clicking or cracking sounds,
- the impossibility of turning off the unicycle,
- autonomous restarts of the device,
- distinctive burning smell,
- flickering of the lights in an untypical manner (e.g. the flickering of the brake light when the unicycle is turned off or the self-turning on of a part of LED lights),
- high temperature of the unicycle's casing (the casing is too hot to put a hand on it and hold it there for a few seconds),
- sudden drop in the battery charging indicator – from a high level to zero,
one can suspect damage. One should immediately disconnect the unicycle from the charger and unplug the charger from the socket.
Then, place your hand on various places of the casing of the unicycle, performing a temperature check. If the unicycle emits great heat at any place on the casing (particularly if it is hot and it is impossible to hold one's hand there for longer than a few seconds), yet it does not emit any smoke, one should immediately take it outside (if hot, it is advisable to use e.g. a sweater or kitchen glove) and place it on an non-flammable surface within a large distance from trees and flammable objects (e.g. place the unicycle o an exposed piece of the soil or a concrete slab.
If the unicycle emits smoke, it is necessary to call the fire service and clearly indicate that what occurred is a Lithium-Ion battery fire so that an appropriate fire fighting technique can be prepared by firefighters. While waiting for the fire brigade, one needs to cover the unicycle with sand (if there is any sandbox for covering roads with sand in the vicinity) or mineral wool (if available, it is best to use a version that can withstand up to 1000 degrees Celsius or more); alternatively, in the worst case and if possible, cover it with soil.
In no case water or standard fire extinguishers should be used while attempting to put out a battery fire!
Water and the air enter into a quick reaction with lithium and while they may accelerate the battery discharge and shorten the fire, it is simultaneously possible that they may cause dangerous explosions.
The temperature of a battery fire can be incredibly high – this is why sand, mineral wool or soil can take on a part of the temperature, additionally cutting the access to air until the fire brigade arrives.
If the unicycle does not emit smoke and is comfortable to the touch, additionally not emitting any burning smell, it is possible that no strong reaction took place after the cell damage or the cells have not been damaged at all.
If safe and possible, one should pre-emptively disassemble the unicycle down to the level of its motherboard, disconnect the power plugs of the motherboard and the motor (all plugs are always marked yellow – one should unplug all yellow plugs then).
Why is it so that fast chargers tempt users?
The market of electronic devices has it that replacements (knock-offs) of chargers or batteries appear there at the moment of when a new original model of, say, a mobile phone is released. Both in the former and the latter case, one can be sure that these products will not be better than originals in terms of quality.
On online auction sites – Allegro, Amazon, eBay – as well as in many online shops, there appear a great number of offers concerning chargers that tempt with their prices.
It is useful to have two chargers sometimes – one at work, one at home. The low price of a knock-off product, as well as a promise of its compatibility, are the main factors affecting the sales.
Still, when it comes to fast and 'smart' chargers, what their descriptions and specifications promise us comes down to charging the unicycle in half the standard time. The problem is that most users think that a unicycle should be charged alike a mobile phone or a laptop – whenever the battery is low. As a result, these people take rides, say, for a few days in a row without charging and then need to charge their unicycle fast for the upcoming days in view e.g. to get to work on time.
However, this is due to the lack of knowledge. In fact, it is better to charge one's unicycle in a frequent manner, e.g. after each ride than to let it get completely discharged. More about the matter is described further in the article.
Manufacturer's stats, however, indicate a certain paradox. The stats demonstrate that fast chargers are also bought by owners of unicycles having low capacity batteries, whose standard charging time tends to be around 1.5 h only – and they make such purchases really often. The time is often shorter than the one we need to fully charge a phone, whereas such people are often interested in shortening the time to, say, 1 hour, having their own reasons. While the difference it the time is insignificant, the risk of damage is huge.
On the other hand, certain unicycle models need to be charged e.g. for 10 hours, which is hard to understand when comparing the time with, say, the fast charging time of electric cars. While technology used for the charging of these two vehicle categories is completely different, the desire for shortening the charging time of a unicycle is understandable.
Unfortunately, except for the risk of damaging one's equipment and putting one's health at risk, there is also some bad fame present. All of us know that improper use of Lithium-Ion batteries may be dangerous. The consequences of a design error in the famous Samsung Galaxy Note 7 are still felt at all airports. Basically, it was for the device that the law was toughened, due to which electric unicycle owners have a serious problem with transporting their vehicles by air now. On the other hand, would you like to fly a plane with someone carrying their unicycle charged with a knock-off charger?
Let's not forget that regulations for air carriers are one thing. Our use of electric uniwheels – and not only in terms of charging, but also riding in a safe manner – is what affects the reception of these vehicles by other citizens and the government itself. Creating a negative opinion that typically leads to the toughening of law, and so sooner or later, only to charge one's unicycle faster or save money on an original and certified charger, is like trying to score an own goal.
How to charge in a quick and safe way?
Manufacturers of unicycles fully understand how important the charging time is for users. Due to this, manufacturers are implementing their own solutions, such as two charging ports in KingSong KS-18L or KS-18XL. Leading manufacturers are testing the charging possibilities for their unicycles in a very strict manner, only choosing uncompromising solutions. We can be sure that if charging one's KS-18L with a fast charger plugged into one port was safe and neutral with regard to the condition of its batteries, the KS-18L would be equipped with one charging port only.
KingSong decided on two charging ports, such guaranteeing that neither the device, nor its owner will be exposed to risk. Both the cables and heat dissipation are compatible with the original KS-18L chargers.
In the case of unicycles that handle TwinCharging, such as the already-mentioned KingSong KS-18L/KS-18XL, our packages include one charger, yet the manufacturer allows for connecting two of them (into two separate sockets) so that the charging time can be shortened by nearly a half.
Still, many people decide to purchase a knock-off fast charger and plug it into one socket only. This way, we still do not eliminate the risk of damaging our equipment, as the unicycle was designed with the view of using two original chargers connected to two separate sockets, not a single 'knock-off charger' plugged into one socket only. As we can see, such a solution makes no sense, whereas the manufacturer has already recorded such cases anyway.
Instead of using a knock-off charger or accessories, we recommend the purchase of a second original charger. For example, in the case of the KS-18L model, two chargers altogether offer the output of 3.0 A, namely the maximum current value the manufacturer of the model considers safe for it. The solution is sufficiently versatile to make us charge our unicycles fast at home and only take one charger to work, where we can charge it at a normal pace.
In the case of unicycles with no fast charging function or a possibility for connecting two chargers, our possibilities are limited. If we really care about the range and shortening the charging time, it is best to:
- charge it frequently – e.g. after coming to work or after coming back home – we can charge the device after each ride. It is convenient to have one original charger both at home and at work, whereas we can also carry one charger with us all the time.
- plan ahead – if we are planning to take a ride to work next day or cover a larger distance, it is better to connect the unicycle to a charger earlier than wait for the last moment,
- turn on the eco mode in the app – if a standard and slower ride to work is planned, stable rides translate into battery saving to the greatest extent,
optimise the route – it is better to take a quick look at the map and choose the optimal route than get lost and make more kilometers than necessary.
How to take care of our batteries and extend their lives?
Many factors affect the condition and life of batteries – these are for example:
- Using an original charger that was included in the package only – this is for your own safety and keeping the warranty valid,
- Bearing in mind that the lower the charging current, the longer the product's life (this is why fact charging shortens the battery life),
- Making it possible to extend the battery life even by 2 times if we plug out the charger after the charging status reaches 80%,
- Bearing in mind it is not recommended to discharge the battery under the level of 30%,
- Not discharging the battery to 0% - this may lead to a decrease in its power and capacity, as well as its permanent damage,
- Not waiting until the battery is discharged before we charge it again, It is more beneficial for the battery to undergo more frequent charging – even after each unicycle ride – than to wait until its charging status drops,
- The range between 10 ° C to 30 ° C is the most beneficial temperature range for electric unicycles, Storing one's unicycle at a temperature under 0°C or over 39°C may even lead to battery damage or adversely affect its parameters,
- Keeping your unicycle at room temperature on a daily basis, making sure the place is dry and well-ventilated, while the unicycle is kept in a vertical position,
- In the case of storing the device for a longer time (e.g. throughout winters), make sure that the battery is charged up to at least 50% (and not more than 80%) and subject it to charging at least once a month (even if the device is not used or the charging level has not dropped too much), It is best to store the device in its original packaging,
- Never leaving the device as directly exposed to the sun – it puts it at risk of damaging the battery,
- Never leaving the device in a car parked directly in the sun, as the temperature inside the vehicle may exceed the temperature that is considered safe in terms of storing the unicycle,
- Never using any charging accessories, adapters or extension cables,
- Always connecting the charger to the device first and only then to the socket. Doing it in a reversed order when disconnecting the charger,
- Never leaving your unicycle charging overnight,
- Not leaving the unicycle without supervision when it is charging,
- Never charging your unicycle at a temperature below 0° C.
We hope that this will protect your devices against damage, as well as that this will protect you – against electric shocks or even battery explosions.
Want to find out more about batteries? Read our articles:
Let's not forget that any malfunctions caused by the use of a knock-off charger make the warranty void. Any possible cases of damage or injuries directly or indirectly entailed by the use of such chargers are not covered by warranties, whereas neither given manufacturers, nor their distributors are to bear any responsibility for such occurrences. Manufacturers – INMOTION, KingSong, SoloWheel, IPS and others – do not support fast chargers or any other knock-off charging devices.
When purchasing a used unicycle, never forget to ask its owner whether he used a charger of this kind so that you will not get the short end of the stick. Such unicycles tend to be sold quickly, while their owners often change their devices.
It is worth to ask oneself the final question of whether while, say, buying a premium class electric car we would also trust the chargers that are certified by its manufacturer or whether we would rather expose our car and health to danger by using the ones that the car manufacturer itself advises us against?
Let's think reasonably, not letting ourselves be fooled by the promises of knock-off sellers.