HP Printer Nightmares
by Sigi Rindler
Recent printer problems have cost me more hair than I can afford. Let me dedicate this review to a couple of HP LaserJet printers and the accompanying problems when you need support in Japan.
Most computer users have various kinds of printers. Back in the early 80s I started with a daisy-wheel printer with a variety of foreign language print wheels, followed by a 24-pin dot-matrix printer, and then an HP LaserJet II after its price became acceptable. This 300dpi goody ran heavy-duty tasks for over 5 years without any maintenance save the occasional cleaning of the ozone filter and other easily accessible parts.
When the HP LaserJet 4 came out, I read a good critique and ordered this sturdy, heavy-duty model via mail order from the USA.
For the first two years I had no problems although I used a toner cartridge per month, which translates to around 10,000 pages in low-density print mode.
Three years ago - exactly one week before departing for Europe - the printer started to print unevenly, generated multiple horizontal lines instead of text, etc.
My wife was supposed to stay back in the office to continue with the office tasks. What to do? You call the manufacturer's Tokyo office! The company first refused to look at it since this model is not sold in the domestic market. So much for the "International Warranty." Japan must not have reached this level yet...
Anyway, the person at the other end was from Osaka, and when my wife started to speak Kansai ben, he promised to send somebody within 14 days, or maybe a couple of days earlier. Nice talk, but no good for business!
A former TPC member introduced me a reliable mail order house in the USA, which I called right away. I explained what I needed and they shipped me an HP LaserJet 5P within 3 days (including one toner cartridge). I also ordered an additional cartridge. When Federal Express knocked at my door, the HP repairman was standing right behind him!
The repairman opened the machine, cleaned here and there a little, and replaced the laser unit. Twenty minutes later he left, and the old printer was running like a charm again. The new LaserJet 5P went unopened into the closet and I left for Europe with confidence...
However, the HP Japan invoice was 75,000 yen! The only part that had been replaced was the small laser unit which was close to 30,000 yen. The remaining 45,000 yen was for labor, travel, and other dubious things like "engineering and know-how." I wasn't willing to swallow this ripoff and argued for a year until the company reduced the bill to around 43,000 yen. I guess that I am now #1 on their black list.<g>
Back to the LaserJet 4.
Two years and 11 months passed since the repair. Suddenly the printer started to have frequent paper jams and the printout faded at two particular locations on the paper.
I wasn't prepared to call HP again since their repair fees could easily get me a slightly smaller but new model via mail order. After all, this printer is 5 years old and has done its duty.
A friend gave me this beautiful Flex USA mail order catalog that carried a number of heavy-duty laser printers. One 4000 series model was exactly what I was looking for. Printer drivers for DOS, Windows 3.1 and 95, and Windows NT were available. 17 pages per minute and a price slightly over 1,000 US$ was perfect. After all, the company uses the cheapest freight forwarder. I used to order all my toner cartridges, etc., from them before.
No more! I was told that HP products (incl. toner cartridges) couldn't be shipped out of the USA anymore. It's apparently a request by HP. I don't really know the reason since this model isn't even sold by HP Japan. One has to guess that the Japanese branch is protected by the mother company so that it can sell less powerful models for 1.5 times to twice the US price. Well, there might be other reasons, too. However this is a practice that is also exercised by Microsoft, Adobe, WordPerfect, etc., as far as I know.
The next day I went to Akihabara's T-Zone to check for a new printer. The biggest model I saw was the LaserJet 6L. Not exactly heavy-duty, but it prints 6 pages in DOS, Windows (3.1 and 95), NT), and it can be used for a Mac, too. I didn't buy anything that day. While riding the train home I started to think what would have happened if I had bought the 30kg heavy beast and something didn't work. Sending such a heavy piece of equipment by Federal Express back and forth could cost me easily 50,000 yen even though the repair would be free for the first year... so I scrapped the idea of buying overseas.
To make a long story short, the only printer I had left was this 3 year old thing in the big box sitting the closet. I unpacked the LaserJet 5P, loaded the supplied printer drivers, and started to print landscape instead of horizontal. All foreign characters were dropped, etc. After about 50 misprints I discovered that the drivers for the original HP LaserJet 4 were doing a perfect job. Suddenly I realized that the printout showed black dots every 75 mm at a certain location on the paper. I suspected that something was wrong with the toner cartridge. BTW, the expiry date was October 1996, something to consider when buying a new one!
Since I had ordered a second cartridge, I inserted the new one into the printer. For some reason it wouldn't fit. Finally I figured that the vendor had included the wrong cartridge which was for the HP LaserJet 4P. For the following 2 days I printed flawed pages. Then I received a call from Bob Simon, an occasional visitor to the TPC who happened to ask me something related to his computers. Initially he used to be in the toner cartridge refilling business, but he also services and maintains a variety of laser printers. I mentioned my present problems, and he suggested sending him the LaserJet 4 to have a look at. The next day he called me back and "complained" about the excessive dust which had accumulated in the printer. Dust was the actual reason for the uneven printing. Cleaning the laser unit etc., solved this problem... but there was something more serious. Dust had also caused the fuser to get burned and bent - the reason for the paper jams. Exchanging the fuser is expensive, so I told him to use the machine for spare parts if he wishes. A day later he called back and said that he could order an entire repair kit which includes a new fuser, and several rollers, etc. After that, the printer would be quasi "new" and ready for further heavy-duty printing. The entire thing incl. labor isn't exactly cheap (43,000 yen), but it might be well worth the effort given the fact that these printers cost a fortune in Japan, because only office suppliers handle them.
Since my son needs a printer himself, I ordered the LaserJet L6 from him for 49,000 yen. Depending on his mood, he is willing to bargain...<g> However, that's the way I like it anyway. You can probably get it a bit cheaper elsewhere, but it's worth paying a bit more since he'll take care of it if something should go wrong. Besides, I didn't need to go to Akihabara (train fare is 1,000 yen) and drag the big box home. The printer was delivered to my home.
This goody worked right out of the box, and the printer drivers for the LaserJet 4 work perfectly in English mode. The same day I mailed Bob the LaserJet P5 to have a look why this disturbing dot is printed on every page.
One day later I received a fax which stated the probable problems. It's either a bad cartridge (I don't have another one for this model), or there is a tiny hole in the fuser. Still, I can use the printer without problems for draft printing, something which I have plenty of.
All you have to do is call him, listen to what he has to say about hardware and pricing, then send him the printer by takyubin. He'll return your printer in the same manner by "chakubarai" (1,300 to 1,800 yen depending on the size or weight).
"Simon & Simon's" printer repair and maintenance service is certainly cheaper than contacting HP Japan. Any other company would probably charge you an arm and a leg.
HP Japan is known to charge minimum prices of close to 40,000 yen for minor repairs. You wouldn't want them to take care of a LaserJet 4L that was once available for around 42,000 yen!
In the meantime I got my refurbished HP LaserJet 4 back. It hums as usual all day long. If the printer lasts for another 2 to 3 years, I'd be happy.
If you live and work in Japan, don't buy any printers from overseas vendors, unless they're supported here. These are all the printers which you see on sale in Akihabara. T-Zone sells non-Japanese models, but this shop is big enough to employ its own technician who takes care of them.
And if you really want or need to buy a heavy duty printer from the USA (some mail order shops will ship them to Japan), ask Bob Simon first whether he is able to support it. He can service a number or printers from various manufacturers. However, it's impossible to take care of every model.
To reach Bob Simon:
Good luck, and may you never experience the troubles I had.
If you are looking for a new laser printer and want to be taken care of for 5 years, buy it at Sofmap and pay an additional 2.5% of the purchase price. This insurance is well worth the money since a single repair within 5 years will cost you much more than that. HP laser printers are good, but they aren't as robust as the old HP LaserJet II anymore.
Sigi - aka - Mr. Akihabara
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