Hoverboards have become one of the hottest news stories this holiday season -- and not just because they're selling like mad. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there have now been 12 incidents in the United States where the lithium ion batteries in these hoverboards reportedly caught fire -- destroying bedrooms and even entire homes.
The fires have started in all sorts of different circumstances, too. According to owners and witnesses, some of the hoverboards exploded while charging, others while riding and one while it was simply sitting near a kiosk in a Washington shopping mall. (There have been several other hoverboard fires reported in the UK, and at least one in Hong Kong.)
Here's the really scary part: there's no single reason why these hoverboards are exploding, and there's no sure-fire way to avoid potential catastrophe if you want to buy one yourself. There's no particular brand of hoverboard to avoid -- they all seem to come from thousands of interchangeable factories in China -- or any label on the box that guarantees a product won't explode. And much of the advice we've seen issued by local fire departments and government agencies isn't likely to help.
Jessica Horne lost her family's Louisiana home after her 12-year old son's Fit Turbo hoverboard exploded. WGNO
For instance, officials have been warning that you should only use the charger that comes in the box. That sounds like common sense -- until you realize that these hoverboards tend to use a plug you won't find on any other type of device. Meaning you don't really choose which type of charger you can use, so it's pretty unlikely that any of these fires occurred due to someone mistaking a laptop charger for a hoverboard one.
Similarly, many officials now warn against overcharging hoverboards -- but when was the last time you had to think about overcharging a gadget? With modern laptops and smartphones, you simply plug them in and leave them there, trusting that they'll automatically shut off the flow of electricity when they're done.
While the US Consumer Product Safety Commission is now working nonstop to figure out the actual root causes of these incidents, they don't have the answers yet. "We want to be able to deliver for the public, but we hope they'll be able to appreciate that what's going on right now is a very thorough science-based investigation," said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson.
And you might not be able to find a hoverboard that's been tested in its entirety by a reputable independent firm like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) even if you looked hard. Swagway, one of the more popular brands, claims its entire hoverboard is UL-certified because it has a UL-certified battery and a UL-certified charger inside, but that's not accurate. "There are presently no UL-certified hoverboards," says UL consumer safety director John Drengenberg. (Incidentally, Swagway is now facing a lawsuit from when one of its hoverboards caught fire.)
A New York man filed a lawsuit after his Swagway hoverboard exploded while charging.
Chappaqua Fire Department
Until further details are provided please be safe and please monitor your hover boards while charging!