Hoverboards are so hot right now: literally. Fire safety concerns in the U.S. and UK have led Amazon and Overstock.com to ban the sale of the self-stabilizing scooters. The potential risks associated with hoverboards may not be enough to stop people from buying them, however. If you're still in the market for the product of 2015, here's how to buy a hoverboard online and what to look for to ensure your new toy is relatively safe to use.
The bad news for hoverboards began with a series of media reports of hoverboards exploding while being charged. In one instance, the fire destroyed the home of a Louisiana family. A sales discontinuation from Overstock.com was followed by a ban from several airlines last week. Amazon followed suit Sunday by halting the sale of Swagway, PhunkeeDuck and IO Hawk hoverboards.
You can still purchase Swagway, PhunkeeDuck and IO Hawk hoverboards through their respective online stores. Sharper Image sells its own hoverboard. Target and Walmart sell Razor Hovertrax hoverboards.
Razor licensed the technology for its board from Inventist, which uses slightly different technology -- such as a lithium ion phosphate battery pack -- than other brands. The Razor Hovertrax hoverboard instruction manual includes a detailed safety section. Razor recommends to inspect the hoverboard before every use and charging instructions.
Swagway hoverboards includes a Samsung or LG lithium ion battery and a 1-year warranty. PCMag's SwagWay review notes the product's solid build quality and a UL-certified power adapter. Swagway issued a statement after the Amazon ban saying its hoverboard meets the safety standards required by the online retail giant, Mashable reported. "Swagway already meets all those certifications and is happy that Amazon has decided to take steps to weed out the low quality boards," a spokesperson said.
A Swagway was linked to a fire in a Chappaqua, New York home. "Had the homeowners not been home at the time, their home would have sustained significant fire damage," the fire department wrote in a post. The family purchased the hoverboard from Modell's Sporting Goods. This is the only hoverboard fire linked to Swagway. The other incidents did not identify the brand of hoverboard.
As Wired notes, the biggest hoverboard fire safety concern involves the rechargeable battery. Many people looking for a hoverboard, but don't want to spend $400 for a Swagway or more than a $1,000 for an IO Hawk or PhunkeeDuck, may opt for a generic hoverboard that could cost under $300. In order to reach that price point, the manufacturers are using inexpensive components that are more prone to defects.
"There are a lot of factories in China that now make Li-ion batteries, and the reality is that the quality and consistency of these batteries is typically not as good as what is found in top tier producers such as LG or Samsung," Jay Whitacre, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said to Wired.
The general usage of a hoverboard -- including the many bumps, drops and uneven terrain -- could also affect the performance of the lithium ion battery. If you have a hoverboard, do not overcharge it. And monitor the charging process. Just because nothing bad happened previously does not mean your device is guaranteed to be safe.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has identified 29 hoverboard-related emergency room visits and 11 fires, the New York Times reported. While the commission completes its investigation, any hoverboard user should err on the side of caution with their self-balancing scooter.