Keeping the old… new

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Just because your cell phone is eligible for Social Security, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get new pieces.

HACKENSACK, N.J. – I called Verizon Wireless the other evening to see if I could get a replacement battery for my trusty cell phone.

Nate, a helpful customer service representative, told me they don’t sell batteries for my LG 510 anymore. A 5-year-old model, it’s a dinosaur, in cell phone years.

Nate responded cheerfully, “It’s just like car manufacturers that don’t make parts for a ‘57 Chevy.”

Clearly, we were bonding, Nate and I, but I hung up thinking if people sell everything from grommets to gaskets for old Chevrolets, why can’t I get a battery for my aging phone?

A few days later, I visited a Verizon Wireless store in Paramus, N.J., where a salesman named Arik gently suggested I get a new phone. A battery – which he couldn’t sell me – would cost as much as $40 when I could get a new phone for as little as $10 if I pledged to give Verizon my business for at least two years.

I asked Arik where I might find a battery and he said simply, “Internet.”

Turning now to Google, I journeyed online to a Los Angeles-based company called Cell phone Battery Warehouse (www.batteries4less.com).

Bingo.

For a mere $18.95, a new battery that fits the LG 510 could be mine. And I was pleased to see hundreds and hundreds of batteries for older model phones.

You can’t blame cell phone manufacturers and carriers for adding tons of new features to modern phones (and the camera phones come in handy, I’ll admit). After all, without new features the carriers can’t sell us new services, and they have profit margins to meet and shareholders to keep happy. But it seems wasteful somehow to jettison a perfectly good phone just because the battery is worn out.

Coryon Redd, who got his degree in environmental studies from the University of Oregon, agrees.

He’s the owner and manager of Cell phone Battery Warehouse, a business he started out of his garage six years ago.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people, particularly older people, say, “I don’t want a camera on my phone, and what is this text messaging? I just want a phone,”‘ he said.

Redd’s company stocks as many as 500 types of cell phone batteries, including a 1-pounder for the practically legendary Motorola “Bag Phone,” an analog model so big it was sold in a bag in the early 1990s. Prized by rural dwellers for its “awesome reception,” Redd says he gets anywhere from 300 to 500 orders a year for the giant battery, which is custom-made for bag-phone aficionados.

Redd says his company, which does between $1 million and $2 million in sales annually, inspects the batteries it buys and offers a one-year warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

A few years ago, there was a battery scare when scattered reports surfaced that aftermarket batteries were overheating and exploding; the problems were eventually traced to faulty manufacturing (most cell phone batteries are made in Asia).

In Redd’s experience, cell phone makers offer batteries for their phones for anywhere between three and five years. After that, consumers must rely on suppliers like his business.

Verizon Wireless normally stocks batteries for at least a year and sometimes longer, depending on demand, the cell phone maker and other factors, according to a company spokeswoman.

Some cell phone makers stop supplying the U.S. market with batteries for certain models but will continue to make them for phones they are selling in markets overseas, particularly Latin America and Africa, said Redd.

Redd’s company isn’t the only one out there. Search on “cell phone battery,” and you’ll find scores.

So when your phone’s battery starts to fail, don’t despair. “If the phone is out there and there’s enough demand, the aftermarket will respond and we’ll be able to get the battery,” Redd said

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