Can't clear ink cartridge jam
June 11, 2011 9:31 AM   Subscribe

How can I clear a recalcitrant cartridge jam on an HP C4580 printer? I've gone through the steps on the printer and the further support on the HP website to no avail. I still have the error message flashing on the printer, and it will not print anything, not even the self-test report. I need a working printer, and this is driving me crazy! Any suggestions? Help?
posted by DiscourseMarker to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)

Error codes come from two places... the printer and the computer. You may want to reset both, as the manual suggests. It's customary to provide it when seeking help from HP or metafilter. What error?

There is a large (260 page) PDF on the HP site that is the user manual.

These things are rather simple. If you disconnect it from the computer, you will eliminate one source of problems. The unit has a self-test, obviously. To make it work, you need to be sure of several things:

Your paper feed path is clear.
Your cartridges have ink.
Any switches that sense paper jams or doors open are not bent, obstructed, deactivated. activated (as appropriate.)

First order of business is to verify that the printer is working, obviously. Get the computer out of the equation. If you need to work in the meantime, consider printing to a pdf and making a hard copy of that later. CutePDF is a solution.

If the thing is out of warranty, it won't pay to fix it, so feel free to jostle it, look around inside (with the power unplugged, of course). Most problems are connector and/or mechanical, so look for things like paper dust, crud, dirt, loose plastic thingies. Wiggle and retest.

If you are desperate, these are the only things you can do. Office Depot/Staples will sell you a new one cheaper than you can get them fixed unless you do it yourself.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 10:44 AM on June 11, 2011

Response by poster: I am on a Macbook Pro, but I'm pretty sure the problem is with the printer. The display on the printer reads "Carriage Jam" and shows a little animation for fixing the jam. I have followed these steps at least 20 times, and I can get the ink carriage to move a few times,and then it seems to get stuck again (always on the right hand side).

I have performed a full hard reset according to the HP instructions three times. No change. I have looked inside but I can't see anything visibly blocking the ink carriage. I cleaned out some excess ink that was under the color cartridge.

The printer is out of warranty.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:03 AM on June 11, 2011

Two things:

1- Clean the metal rod that the carriage moves on. Ink splatters onto it and makes it sticky. Moisten a paper towel with Windex, wipe the bar off. Repeat until no more ink comes off and the bar is shiny. The carriage should move much better now.

2- If that doesn't work, clean the encoder strip. This is a small plastic strip that runs parallel and above the bar you cleaned. It goes through a sensor on the carriage. This strip actually has little lines on it that the sensor reads to determine the position of the carriage. When it gets dirty the printer freaks out and calls it a carriage jam because all it knows is that it isn't getting the signal it expects. Be careful; it is only hooked on either end by hooks and spring tension, and it is fairly easy to unhook it. It is very difficult to hook it back up.

If that doesn't work, you are going to have to open it up. What is probably happening is that the maintenance station is getting stuck. This is the little sled that the printer parks in, and there will be ink ALL OVER it. (IE, wear gloves.) The hard part is getting the cover off of the printer. Once you do that, the maintenance station should be fairly easy to remove. Take it to the sink and rinse the ink off. There will be crap-tons of it. Let it dry and reinstall.
posted by gjc at 1:22 PM on June 11, 2011

Response by poster: What is probably happening is that the maintenance station is getting stuck. This is the little sled that the printer parks in, and there will be ink ALL OVER it.

When I watch the carriage move this is definitely where it seems to get hung up. It will go back and forth once or twice after I press cancel, then it goes back to the maintenance station and tries to move, but doesn't; then I get the error message again.

I will try your suggestions, gjc, and report back. Thanks!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:54 PM on June 11, 2011

Response by poster: Well cleaning the metal rod and the encoder strip had no effect. So now to figure out how to get the cover off the printer.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:50 PM on June 11, 2011

If gjc's tips didn't do the trick, you will probably have to open it up, yes. Most HPs use T10 torx screws; torx drivers (like screwdrivers with torx ends), and bit sets (for a multi-bit tool) are available at any hardware store.

HP's inkjet printers are, frankly, built like crap. You'll have a few screws that turn out to hold one or two main covers in place, and the rest of the covers will just pop off by various means.

A carriage jam is usually, as gjc said, a sticky guide rail or a bad encoder strip. You may not be able to see clearly without taking the strip out, but the strip contains a very, very fine grid pattern. The strip is actually made of a few layers of material in a sandwich. Unfortunately, if ink gets on the strip and it is wiped down with a wet rag, due to a sort of capillary action, ink will often get drawn into the middle of the sandwich, making it practically impossible to clean. The grid pattern on the strip is so fine, that even small ink smears can render it useless. When properly installed, the strip should be taut, not loose and floppy, and should pass through the sensor channel on the back of the carriage unit. If the strip has come loose, it can be very difficult to get it properly re-threaded and reinstalled without taking the covers off.

Carriage jams are almost always a dirty encoder strip, sometimes by ink stains too small to see without a close inspection. A sticky rail, a worn carriage drive belt, and bad carriage motor are also possible suspects, though far less common.

If you need to replace the encoder strip, the part number is C9045-80011. (At least, for the model Q8401 Photosmart C4580.)
posted by xedrik at 1:31 PM on June 12, 2011

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