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Is There a Design Flaw with DJI’s Mavic 2 Intelligent Flight Batteries?

Like a lot of folks I put my order in for a Mavic 2 Pro the week DJI announced it. The combination of that portable Mavic form-factor and that Hasselblad camera technology made for an enticing combination and I had no qualms about shelling out two and a half thousand of our Australian dollars for one.

I put my faithful Phantom 4 up for sale, along with all the accessories I’d purchased for it over the years, including three batteries that had worked flawlessly for the two and a half years I owned the drone. I priced it competitively and it sold pretty quickly. In celebration I added a second battery to my Mavic 2 Pro order and awaited delivery.

One battery came with my drone and I bought a second one at the same time.

Pie in the Sky

The drone arrived not long after my birthday in mid October and I wasted no time in sending it up into the skies. It was everything I’d hoped for and much more besides – a truly incredible aerial camera of the highest quality. I took it out with me when I could and used it for my landscape photography but also for my YouTube travel videos.

Fast forward one year and, with the prospect of a great sunset on the cards, I head up into the hills in the town I live in, in rural NSW. I go through the usual pre-flight checks, fire up the controller and drone and send it up into the sky. After an uneventful flight in which I capture a lovely sunset, I bring the drone back down.

As the drone gets to my eye-level I notice something strange about its usually sleek lines. Something is sitting proud of the surface towards the middle of the Mavic. I land the drone and as I go to power it down I realise that the battery has come almost completely free of its retaining clips. There’s just a small bit of plastic on the right side of the drone holding it in place, along with the battery connector slot itself.

My first thought is that I failed to clip the battery in before sending it up into the sky, but I know full well that I did because as a nervous flyer it’s one of things I always double-check. I pop the battery out of the drone and it’s then that I notice that the underside is badly swollen. As I examine it further it becomes clear to me that I did indeed secure the battery correctly and that what has happened is that, as the battery has heated up, it has bulged along its base, forcing it free from its retaining clips.

The bulge on the battery is quite severe and I realise that I was extremely lucky for it not to have become loose in flight. If it had it would have dropped into dense bushland and either been destroyed or badly damaged and, more likely, I’d never be able to find it. As it is now getting dark, I pack everything up and head home.

On returning home I examine the drone and its batteries again and realise that both of them are swollen along the base. I fire up my web browser, go to Google and search for “Mavic 2 Pro batteries bulging”. Google returns 98,000 search results, including a decent number of YouTube videos and I spend the next several hours, watching those videos and reading the links to forum and social media community group posts. It turns out that my experience is far from unique and lots of Mavic 2 owners appear to have experienced exactly the same thing.

The underside of one of the bulging batteries. This is with the battery fully cooled - when used the section with the writing on it swells right outwards.

Full Charge

Could it be, I wonder, that there is a design flaw with the Mavic 2 Pro’s Intelligent Flight batteries? How is is that this is not an issue with P3 batteries, or P4 batteries, or the Inspire or indeed the Spark, Air or first edition Mavic? All of the people reporting issues with the batteries are reporting similar things to me. In some cases they’d been used fewer than 30 times, but in most cases they started bulging about a year after first being powered up.

So my drone is grounded. There is no way I can fly my Mavic 2 with these bulging batteries – they will pop out mid-flight and destroy the drone in the process. It’s time to work out what my options are and my first thought is that they’ll be covered by DJI Care Refresh. I read the small-print for the first time and discover that nope – they’re not covered. Damn.

I go to the DJI website and check the support sections. Nothing in there about bulging batteries. I log into my account and lodge a support request. I get an automated response and then, a day later, an email from Cerelia at DJI asking me for photos of the batteries and their serial numbers. I supply the information and photos and await a response. As I enter the serial numbers I wonder if they need them to check against an internal list of compromised batteries! Who knows! After a brief delay as I resubmit the photos (they can’t view .HEIC images, only JPEGs) they send me an AusPost shipping label and ask me to return the batteries to them. Weirdly I also get $1.48 credited to my DJI account – is this for the cost of an envelope? They don’t say.

I return the batteries to DJI a couple of days later and receive notification that they’ve arrived five days later. I guess that’s because, what them being lithium polymer batteries and all, they have to send them by road only. The next day I get sent a link to a Repair Progress Inquiry page where I can watch my knackered batteries progress through the system. They get whisked through the process and one day later I receive an invoice from DJI for $498 for two Mavic 2 Intelligent Flight Batteries. Somewhat taken aback I reply to the email address listed on the invoice and explain in polite but direct language that I have no intention of paying for new batteries. I get a reply back saying that my concerns have been referred to the ‘complaint team’.

Enter Jenny. Jenny is from the DJI Customer Care Team and, along with giving me some helpful advice on the correct use and storage of Mavic 2 Intelligent Flight Batteries, Jenny offers me a discount of 15% off the price of two new batteries. Half an hour later I get an invoice for the two batteries with the 15% discount added.

I reply to Jenny that, while I am thankful for the offer of a discount, I believe that the product sold to me is faulty and could not be considered durable as defined in Australian Consumer Law. I should add at this point that Australia is the land of red tape and that there is a robust consumer law framework in place. I am fully prepared to begin legal proceedings and I allude to this in my reply. I point out that less than one year of use on a product that costs $250 could not be considered durable. I hit send on my reply and wait.

Three days later Jenny sends me a new email. DJI appreciate my support for their products, tell me that satisfaction is their top priority and offer me two replacement batteries free of charge. Hurray.

Obviously I immediately email Jenny back telling her that I gladly accept the offer and that I greatly appreciate DJI’s willingness to properly back their own products with decent warranties. I get an invoice an hour later showing two fully discounted batteries and a notice that I should receive the batteries in 3-5 days. Four days later my new batteries arrive and my drone is complete once more.

Best Laid Plans

And so whilst I got a good outcome from DJI (in the end), I have two questions. Firstly, why make me jump through so many hoops? The right thing to do would have been to send me two replacement batteries from the outset. They will have viewed the charge/discharge data in those intelligent batteries data logs and will have seen that I treated them properly – never running them fully down, not using them excessively, never storing them fully charged, never running them too hot. Making me play the game of offer/decline offer/offer/decline offer/offer/accept offer, was a bit of a dick move and for a company as profitable as DJI is, kind of cheap.

Secondly – given the number of people who are having these problems with this specific model of battery – why doesn’t DJI recall and replace them? How many drones have dropped out of the sky and been destroyed due to this issue? How many people have given up after that first email and accepted that they’ll have to pony up for the full cost of replacement batteries? How many accepted that 15% discount offer? There are people out there who are having this issue with these batteries after just a few recharge cycles, so it is evidently not being caused by poor battery handling. Read the comments section on this  video and you’ll see people having battery failure after 35 recharges, after 41 recharges, after 15 recharges, after 23 recharges – that is not heavy usage by any stretch of the imagination.

It seems pretty clear to me that there is an issue with these batteries. The question is – is it a problem with a specific (limited) batch of batteries or is it an on-going issue with the batteries that are currently being manufactured as well? My brand new batteries are currently charging up, so I guess I might find out the hard way a few recharges into the future.

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