Catches fire, would buy again, AAA+++!

I bought a couple of sets of red LED lights on eBay; two ten-metre 100-LED strings for $US15.96 delivered.

You know the ones. Little lightweight controller box that always starts in cycle-through-all-modes mode, with a button that has to be pressed seven, or is it eight, times to get the darn things to just stay on constantly (or as close to it as the flickery PWM controller can manage).

Generally these cheap lights seem great. I've been very pleased with the others I've bought in the past, most recently the 220V-rated multicoloured ones from this seller, which seem to work very nicely from Australian power.

So I bought some red ones, alleged to work from 110 to 220 volts, from this other seller.

I plugged these new ones in while holding the wound-up lights in my hand, just to see if they worked at all, and they seemed OK.

And then, there was a pain.

In my hand.

A... burning pain, restricted to a few very small spots.

This puzzled me.

I adjusted my grip to avoid the ouchy spots, and observed a few thin trails of smoke rising from the wound-up lights.

I unplugged them.

I tried the other set.

Same deal.

These sorts of LED lights are configured as several long series strings, with a single inline current-limiting resistor (which, being one resistor at the start of a long series string of LEDs, probably doesn't actually limit current very well at all) in series with the first LED in each string.

[UPDATE: Now that I'm peeling one of the lights apart, it's apparent that they've actually got resistors on several of the LEDs early in each string. Here's a great analysis of these things and how to stop them flashing and flickering, forever.]

These resistors were getting very hot, very fast, and raising smoke from the clear PVC insulation over them.

Seizing the opportunity to use my variac and its delightfully mad-scientist-ish giant knob, I tried feeding the lights 110V instead of Australia's nominal-230V mains.

Now, they worked fine. The resistors got a bit warm, but not unduly so.

Fault located, then.

Next, like a damn fool, I told the seller that they were selling devices that were a fire hazard in 200V+ countries, and they should probably stop doing that, and could I have my money back, please?

Anybody who's ever filed an eBay/PayPal dispute over a defective item of low dollar value sold by some dude in China knows what happened next.

I opened a Dispute, I asked for a refund, they told me to get lost. I escalated the Dispute to a Claim, and eBay/PayPal in their wisdom told me to send the items back to the seller via registered mail to get my refund, which would of course be five bucks less than it'd cost to send the goods back.

(And if the seller decided to tell eBay that what I'd sent them was a box of newspaper, I probably wouldn't even get that.)

Perhaps if I'd lied and said the goods never showed up at all, I might have had a chance. Since I tried to warn the seller about maybe setting their customers' houses on fire, though, I got to pay the price.

Which is not in itself a big deal, of course, besides THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING GRRR. It's not a dead loss, either; I can always chop the LED strings off the controller box and run them from some appropriate non-flickery DC power supply. This is not very difficult to do, and involves a lot less soldering than building an LED array used to.

I feel such a tit, though. Every time, I go through this idiotic routine, like Charlie Brown with Lucy's damn football.

Sometimes there's a bit of variety, like when I was trying to get a refund for an item described as new which turned out to be used, and the Hong Kong seller seemed to sincerely believe that "but if I give you a refund, I will lose money!" was an ironclad reason why he need not do so.

(Eventually he tried "OK, we'll give you a few bucks back, provided you lie in your feedback and say there wasn't a problem.")

I love the PayPal replies, too. You've proved that sending the item back will cost more than the refund? Well, now apparently it's a "judgement call" whether you should do so!

And then, "We know situations like this can be difficult and appreciate your patience and cooperation as we work toward resolution."

I really wish eBay/PayPal would be realistic in these exchanges and just say "hey, it's a flea market, almost always it works OK, but you got ripped off this time, it happens". Instead, just to twist the knife, when you give up and Cancel a PayPal claim, " agree that this complaint has been resolved to your satisfaction"!

(The only alternative is to wait until the clock runs out, whereupon PayPal tell you that the lack of resolution of your complaint is entirely due to your tardiness.)

So, in summation: EBay/PayPal aren't getting any better about this stuff.

And, if you're in Australia and want cheap twinkly LED lights in many colours, try these.

And don't buy stuff from this dickhead.

UPDATE: Lo, a message has arrived from the dickhead him or her self!

I'm sorry for that that our product make you no happy,
anyway, can you help to revise the feedback to positive and we'll refund

Yeaahhh... no. Product still fire hazard. Bad seller! Bad!

7 Responses to “Catches fire, would buy again, AAA+++!”

  1. Jax184 Says:

    You know, these Chinese sellers with tens of thousands of nearly-free items might have left room for revenge. If you felt significantly slighted you could buy up hundreds of extremely cheap trinkets, then leave negative feedback on every single one. The first few pages of feedback would be all bright red and their score would plummet.

    I think you'd have to buy products that you knew would be legitimately unsafe/broken/whatever, so your negative feedback was justified. But it's not hard to find auctions for things you just know will be a total waste of time.

  2. longdistancecallable Says:

    I'm sorry you got landed with dud lights, but I would have really appreciated it if you'd mentioned that bit about pressing the controller button 8 times /before/ christmas: I spent about 2 months with my christmas tree lights flashing violently through all it's modes despite all my best efforts (found the constant mode, thought it was fixed, OH no, it started flashing again...). Of course, these lights were on sale for £1 and didn't come with instructions.

    • dan Says:

      I actually, repeatedly, offered to provide photographic evidence that I'd smashed the lights to little bits, which is less of a crime when done to dodgy LED holiday lights than when done to violins.

      No dice, of course.

      And now the idiots, astounded to have received negative feedback mentioning the the fire hazard, have offered me a refund if I change my feedback to positive. What a bunch of choads.

  3. Otara Says:

    I know its not great but at least its not MAD now when you post negative feedback, and because of this it actually does _something_. There must be a fairly large percentage of people who just give up and dont even do that because they havent realised its changed.

  4. Jonadab Says:

    You know, there are people who would see "This product is ON FIRE! Literally!" as positive feedback...

  5. unfunk Says:

    My favourite PayPal issue was when they decided to add an automated payment option allow eBay to automatically deduct up to $32,000 from my bank account... which is, needless to say, significantly more than my bank account actually holds. I deleted the function and promptly sent them a 'please explain' email.

    They then proceeded to suspend my account for three months with no communication outside of their stupid automated "try this and this" replies. It was only when I sent them an email threatening to take my case to whichever ombudsman oversees their doings that I got an email back from a real person to explain their reasoning behind the automated thinger. All it said was something along the lines of "oops, sorry, your account's unlocked now". I still have no idea why they did it.

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