Will my laptop cord burn down my house?
October 18, 2014 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Dog chewed laptop AC adapter so that wires are exposed. Can I fix it with duct tape?

My dog decided to chew on my laptop's power cord, thankfully while it was unplugged from the wall. There is now a small (1/4") section of the cord where the interior wires are exposed, located near where the cord plugs into the laptop. The adapter still works fine, and I was planning on just getting some duct tape or electrical tape and wrapping the exposed section so that it's no longer exposed.

However, I noticed that when I bend the cord to certain angles there is a 'sparking' sound that comes from the exposed section, and I saw a visible spark one time. I don't know anything about the inner workings of laptop cords. Will wrapping this well in duct tape fix the problem, or would I be putting my laptop and/or house at risk by continuing to use this cord?

Thank you!
posted by btkuhn to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Duct tape won't fix the problem. Throw away the cord and get a new one.

When there is sparking inside the cord, it means that two wires (that should not be touching) are touching. Electricity is jumping from one wire to the other. This is generally considered bad. However, the worst it will do is blow the fuse/breaker.

But, it is not safe and could cause worse problems.

Replacement cost is minimal. You should get a new cord pronto.

posted by gnossos at 4:12 PM on October 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Agree with gnossos, but:
What I would do is slice the outer jacket far enough to examine the individual wires. If the copper conductors seem undamaged, you can wrap the individual wires with electrical tape and then tape over both wires.
If the wires are damaged they need to be soldered together, then taped.
posted by H21 at 4:16 PM on October 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can probably get it repaired for $5 at any place that does electrical or small engine repair.
posted by fshgrl at 4:36 PM on October 18, 2014

Duct tape is not what you should use. Use electrical tape. Cut the outer sheathing back - carefully - and if necessary wrap each inside wire separately. Then wrap the whole thing.
posted by notsnot at 4:45 PM on October 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

> However, the worst it will do is blow the fuse/breaker.

Not on the DC side. Burny stuff can ensue with a DC short. Fix it properly, or replace it. Tape is not a suitable solution; cutting, resoldering and using heatshrink might be up to it.
posted by scruss at 5:10 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't risk it. A charger isn't that expensive. But yes sparking sounds mean you need to separate the wires. And not use it in its current condition. Electrical tape should be just fine to cover the wires individually and then the whole thing.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:25 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am an electrician and you should not use this cable again. Or if you do, make sure your renters/homeowners policy is up to date and has fire coverage.
posted by mollymayhem at 5:53 PM on October 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

Repair or replace, they are the two options that are not harebrained. Wrapping it in tape is not repairing it, it is sweeping it under the carpet.

Wrapping each conductor in tape and then the whole thing in tape will work in the short term, to be fair. You will then forget about it as the tape slowly comes undone, leaving you in the same or worse place later, but now with it covered in sticky gunk.
posted by deadwax at 6:12 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Worst-case scenario here is that you burn your house down. Don't be stupid. Replace it.
posted by Slinga at 6:54 PM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another EE here, replacing it is cheaper than replacing your house when it burns down.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:00 PM on October 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, electricity kills the dog or the shock might traumatize, and burns the house down. It's possible that electrical tape will be more fun to chew than the cord. Replace it and look at ways to make the cord less appealing as a chew toy. You'll sleep better.

I'll sleep better too.
posted by vapidave at 9:23 PM on October 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

A non visibly ripped and frayed, but damaged laptop power supply melted into my carpet and burned the FUCK out of my hand. A similar sound came out of it beforehand as the switching power supply ate itself... or ... something.

This could literally burn your house down. If the sparking isn't triggering the protection circuitry in the supply(which is shit in a lot of them. basically checks for overtemp only and nothing else on some of the cheapies), then you could easily be fucked. I've had more than one power supply melt down, and have seen frayed ones get to like, chemistry lab heater temperatures and melt. Even ones that supposedly had protection.

I don't know what brand or model of laptop you have, but i've been repairing laptops as a technician on the side for over ten years. When people come to me with something like this, i direct them to the local pc recycling shops. One resells business hardware, and one resells home hardware and basically anything. Between the two of them, they always have good power cords readily available for any brand and model going back to the 80s. I'd check a place like that, call them, and just drive over and grab one for $15. Hell, get a spare while you're there.

I've also had bad or damaged power supplies destroy EXPENSIVE hardware. Both on laptops and desktops/servers. I would unplug the cord, take photos of the bottom so you have the model number, and chuck it in the dumpster. Don't use the machine until you get a replacement.

The worst case scenario here is something like it actually does melt/burn internally or catch fire AND it destroys your motherboard(or just your PMU/charge controller/dc-dc/power distribution section of the board... but that's not a replaceable unit in nearly any machine anymore, just part of the motherboard).

How much does a motherboard for your machine cost? if it's anything nice at all, that could be closer to $500 than not. This is assuming the frictionless spherical cows in a vacuum idea that you're using the thing under a fume hood on a stainless table and when it shorts it can't burn your house down too. Quit using it if you don't want to destroy the machine, much less your house.

My old house still has a huge burn mark on the carpet where that power supply melted, as far as i know... Just food for thought there. It melted in to the fucking carpet like something from videodrome. Like it was made out of chocolate.
posted by emptythought at 4:23 AM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I still have a hole in my comforter that my just slightly frayed laptop cord burned. Thankfully, I was home at the time and noticed the smoke and stench coming from my bed and was able to put it out quickly.....As many have said before, get a new cord, pronto.
posted by hangingbyathread at 9:34 AM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cords are cheap. Peace of mind is worth at least a new cord.

I would, and have, repaired many an appliance cord, e.g. for a lamp or a blender. In the end those are just dumb little circuits like you play with in shop class. I wouldn't do this for sensitive, expensive electronics, no way, no how.
posted by dhartung at 1:55 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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