The Ever Expanding Counterfeit 18650 Battery Market
Are you using bad fake 18650’s or good fake 18650’s?
There is no such thing as a ‘definitive’ article on avoiding counterfeit 18650 batteries. Hell, there is no definitive article on what to look for, much less how to avoid them. Sadly, there is too much money involved in fake batteries to keep many people honest. Counterfeiting batteries has become a profitable art form, and spotting one is becoming damn near impossible.
You’ll notice in this article I refer to 18650 cells as ‘batteries’. I do this for simplicity sake. Calling an individual 18650 cell a ‘battery’ is an acceptable term for most of us. Most consumers think of an 18650 as battery much like a Double-A battery. An 18650 cell is a little cylinder thingumabob that gives us energy – easy peasy.
Good Fakes Bad Fakes
The only thing we can realistically hope for is avoiding the bad fakes, the ones that are so sloppy in construction that the obvious flaws can be seen by anyone knowledgeable enough to know about them and what to look for.
In 2013, 2014, and even 2015, there appeared numerous articles on spotting and avoiding cloned or counterfeited 18650 batteries. These articles were ineffectual in so much as eliminating the problem. When you avoid a bad fake it is a very good thing indeed, but avoiding the good fakes will take more than looking for certain flaws of the exterior of the battery. But, we will rehash these flaws in order to eliminate the obvious fakes.
Counterfeit 18650 Sony VTC4 and 5
The most faked/cloned battery is the Sony VTC4 and VTC5, (see photo for fake sony vtc5) which so happened to be our favorite battery from 2012 to 2015. You can still find them, and buy them, despite Sony coming out in 2015 to tell everyone that Sony VTC4 and 5 are no longer made by Sony. Here’s an official response from Sony to an inquiry made by PowerStream about the availability of the batteries in question:
The 18650(VTC) type batteries are no longer manufactured by Sony.
This product was never intended for individual, public sale and are not eligible for warranty or engineering support. It was only available to OEM makers of specific devices.
The specifications and markings on the battery may vary depending upon the OEM’s requirements. Therefore, it is difficult to determine the true manufacturer or authenticity of the batteries without physical inspection and manufacturing code research.
This type of battery seems to be widely available on the internet market through non-authorized resellers. Therefore, Sony is not liable for the performance or use of this type battery for non-intended purposes. Such applications should be done at the user’s own risk. Furthermore, any battery of this type claimed to be Sony brand may be older stock. We apologize that we cannot offer further assistance with this matter. Sincerely, Sony
Yet, in review after review, we ourselves spoke about using the Sony VTC4 in our mods. How foolish are we?
Detection of the Obvious
Here’s what we’ve learned about detecting obviously fake batteries. At the end I’ll give you some commonsense ways to avoid buying counterfeit 18650 batteries, at least the bad counterfeits. I’m sure you already know these things, but it isn’t until you’re hit with using fakes that you drudge this information to the surface and begin applying it where needed. Such is life.
Bad Fake vs. Genuine
Most bad fakes are purchased on eBay or other online sites geared to low prices and/or auctions. The temptation is strong, and that’s normal, no one wants to overpay and if you can save a few bucks then you’ll have more money to buy e liquid or even a new mod.
Most fake batteries (cells) have comparable performance to the authentic batteries, unless they are bad fakes. However, if you have the resources to reliable test equipment and can test the battery “under load” (while you are firing the mod) you may be able to can tell the difference. With a fake battery you will not get the performance you paid for, though its hard tell the difference unless you use the proper test equipment to spot a good fake. A bad fake, such as the ones we purchased, need nothing more than normal usage. Battery charges deplete quickly, and they never seem to have the oomph of the better batteries. (Chart by WeakendVape)
Tell-Tale Signs of a Bad Fake
Weight – An average genuine 18650-battery will weigh just about 45g and never less than 42g. A fake 18650 battery can weigh as little as 32g. Our 10 batteries average 34g using a digital kitchen scale. Some, but not many, genuine 18650 batteries can weigh up to and more than 50g. Look for the weight of the battery on the vendor product specs, and then test them for weight when you receive them.
Why are fake 18650 batteries lighter than genuine batteries?
Believe it or not, the reason is that inside the battery there is a smaller battery, the 18350, along with a step-up circuit. The empty space is filled with various crap, layers of paper, sand, silica beads, powder, and more stuffed, all inside an 18650 battery and then sealed with a heat-shrinkwrap with a plastic label to make it look like the genuine article. I found a photo on the net to demonstrate this.
Off Center Balance – Sometimes, though it was not the case with us, you can hold the battery and feel a strange pull on one side or the other. Almost as though there was some funky gyroscope inside. If you suspect a battery is off kilter, hold it between two fingers and try to see if it pulls up or down. If it does, its most probably a fake. Some genuine batteries might have a slight equilibrium issue, so do other tests first.
Counterfeiters are constantly working on better ways to hide the fakes. Having the correct weight doesn’t guarantee it is a genuine battery, but anything much lighter than normal is certainly a fake.
Spotting the Fake Sony VTC4/5
- A genuine Sony will have the QR code will look almost burned in, not stamped. A fake will most certainly have the stamp QR code. The difference can be stark.
- The long string of code along the side of the battery will be straight with a genuine battery. Fakes can also be straight, but many are not. Before now we never bothered to even look at these codes.
- A strong tell-tale sign is the bottom of a fake Sony. The negative post of a genuine Sony is completely flat. A fake is slightly raised. Run your finger along the negative post and feel for raised metal when compared to the plastic wrap.
At-Home Testing the Counterfeit 18650 Battery
If you own an inexpensive multi-meter you can test the amperage draw at home. Here’s a video that describes how test your batteries with a multi-meter in easy to use language and visuals. This is a good way to detect the claimed amperage draw from the real amperage draw.
You can test a couple things of the suspected batteries at home with a good battery charger like a Nitecore. The easiest test is to see if they charge to 4.2v. (older genuine 18650’s will fall short of that 4.2v mark). This doesn’t tell us much as good fakes will charge fully, but a bad fake may fall short. You’re not avoiding counterfeits as much as detecting bad fakes for safety’s sake.
Using a Fake 18650 Battery
A Tucked 18350 – You might see a marked difference in the battery charge if the fake is using an 18350 inside the 18650 tube. (See Photo by Budget Light Forum ) This battery will discharge noticeably faster.
Having used 18350’s button-top’s in older ProVari Mini’s I know how fast they can discharge. Add to that the modern sub-ohm tanks that draw a lot more power and the internal 18350 gets sucked dry in an hour, sometimes less.
You also might not notice anything wrong with your current battery’s performance. However, the chances that any fake 18650 battery having anywhere near the same lifespan of the genuine 18650 is quite low.
Lifespan of a battery is valued by the number of times it can be fully recharged. It’s been said you can expect a single 18650 battery to cycle up to 500 times. I think that’s overly optimistic. Li-On batteries do have exponentially more life cycles than other battery materials, but I would put a battery used for vaping at maybe 300 cycles.
Where Do Counterfeit 18650 Batteries Come From?
I give you one guess. Of course, China, for the most part. But not only China. Some fakes come from Iran, or the Philippines, and other countries. However, China has the largest cloned or fake Li-on battery market in the world.
I realize I’ve only scratched the surface here. There is so much information on the net about fakes and clones it is depressing. Once again I want to iterate that the entire team never thought much about fake batteries despite our strong stance on clones and knockoffs, and our refusal to review any cloned product. If we can miss this huge problem, maybe you are missing it too.
How to Avoid Buying Counterfeit 18650 Batteries?
Like I said at the outset, spotting good fakes is impossible for most of us. Your only hope is to buy good fakes. Still, here is some commonsense information that you might want to keep tucked away for easy retrieval the next time you see an unbeatable sale, or are in need of new batteries.
Buy from a trusted source. – Common sense, sure, but hey, when it gets to the point where you need many batteries, finding a deal on them can be tempting.
Always, always buy your batteries from a reputable vendor. However, sometimes even reputable vendors buy their batteries from a middleman, and might not know the validity of the batteries they buy. Even worse, because of the proliferation of online vendors and brick and mortar vendors, some might feel the pinch from the competition and will want to maximize profits and so deliberately buy cloned/faked batteries.
A vendor that was reputable and honest in 2013 may not be so reputable and honest in 2016 because business is down. It happens. This is where we can only hope that the vendor deciding to overlook the real or fake issue will attempt to buy the good fakes.
Note* Few vendors buy 18650s directly from companies like Panasonic, Sony, or Samsung, and that really is the only way to be positive of the origin and authenticity of the batteries.
Don’t Fall for Slashed Sales or Big Discounts.
This is exactly what we did recently. Getting an Alert Email about a big sale for Sony VT4’s, we jumped and got bit.
Don’t hunt for bargains when it comes to 18650 batteries. Authentic 18650 batteries will cost more than fakes, and good fakes will sell at the same price-point as authentic 18650’s… If you see a sale that is too good to be true, then most likely you’re about to buy a fake. So hope it’s a good fake.
Stay away from Sony VTC4 and VTC5
The Sony VTC5 is the most cloned 18650 ‘battery’ in the vape industry. This is because it is tremendously popular among vape reviewers, like us. However, since this battery is no longer being manufactured by Sony, we should all stay away from them. The Chinese now own the right to manufacture the VTC4 and VTC 5, so what does that tell you? We are almost guaranteed we are buying a fake.
It would be great if we could all be sure that the batteries we own are authentic 18650’s, but chances are anything but. We here at Spinfuel intend to replace every Sony-like battery we use, but since we have several dozens scattered about it will take some time. However, from this point forward we will take extra caution with these green wonders when charging them, using them, and disposing them. You should as well.
I would love to be able to point you in the best direction of a vendor that we know without question is selling authentic 18650 batteries, but we cannot. This is going to be a journey for us, and as we make our way through the battery jungle we’ll pass on what we learn, as we hope you will do in the comments below.
Which 18650-battery do you use? Do you trust its origins? Why or why not? Where do you buy your batteries, and does that vendor make any assurances of the authenticity of the battery?