Don’t Pry Over Spilled Milk, or Cleaning a Teac Optical Drive in a Dell Latitude E4300 Laptop

I repaired a CD/DVD optical drive that stuck mysteriously.

It stopped working almost certainly because I stupidly spilled soy milk some days ago and I hadn’t seen where it had seeped into, but I didn’t know that was the cause. I had cleaned the laptop’s outside, especially on the drive tray bezel and nearby. I thought I had avoided any bad damage. I thought any damage from a spilled liquid would have been immediate. It had worked since. So I didn’t understand why it suddenly stopped opening. The usual button push stopped opening it, no matter how I tried to time it during the boot process, after the operating system was in control, or whenever. A thick paper clip wouldn’t open it.

(Many an optical or floppy drive has a little hole meant for a large paper clip with a straightened end, although you should use other methods first, like software Eject commands, logoff, sleep, or some such and only use the paper clip when your next step would be a screwdriver or pliers.)

It doesn’t open.

Finally, I unplugged it, removed the battery, and waited a while before opening it. (I should have used an antistatic strap and I have one, but everything happens to have worked out okay. If I had zapped something, at least I would not have had to buy someone else the exact same model.) I used Dell’s official service manual. I started dismantling the laptop.

But the drive wouldn’t come out. Besides the manual, I found a YouTube video through Google showing someone removing the drive, so I could see exactly what to move. There’s a tab with a hole that’s near the RAM chips, and, misunderstanding Dell’s manual, I was trying to push the tab down, but the drive was not budging. But, based on the third-party video, I found I should push the tab not down but towards the disc tray’s bezel (the bezel is what the user sees even when the tray is closed). Okay, but, while that was correct, the drive still didn’t move. And the big paper clip still didn’t make a difference.

A thin screwdriver, flat-bladed, helped. I think it’s my smallest. It’s labeled as “1.4 m/m”, which I guess is 1.4mm. I bought the set of screwdrivers at a 99¢ store. I gently pried around all the edges of the bezel. I wanted to loosen the drive. I didn’t mean to pop the bezel off the tray, but I popped it. Fortunately, I didn’t break the bezel; all of its connectors are intact. The tray would work without the bezel, but it wouldn’t be as convenient to use and it wouldn’t be as protected from dirt (or milk).

That worked. The drive slid out with ease. The screwdriver did it. I found an odd-shaped stain just past the bezel, mainly on the bottom and one narrow side. Scraping with a fingernail turned some of it into powder. So I think that was the milk. I used rubbing alcohol (50% isopropyl alcohol, which is about a dollar for a bottle that’s far bigger than most of us will use up anytime soon) to remove the rest of it, using toilet paper. I’m a cheapskate.

The stain there meant there almost certainly was a matching stain inside the laptop, on the surface next to the optical drive. A flashlight didn’t illuminate that dark area well enough to tell. I didn't want to use a Q-tip, in case cotton threads would get left behind, inside the machanical workings of the drive. My pinky is not quite thin enough to get far into that slot. So I wrapped toilet paper soaked with rubbing alcohol around an ice pick, held the laptop with the slot down, and rubbed back and forth. But the paper kept coming off the ice pick. So I repeated, this time with soaked toilet paper around my pinky and tried to fit in. Maybe that worked. It seemed to smooth it out a bit. I’ll take a chance that it won’t stick again.

Opening the tray came after cleaning the outside of the drive. This needed a small paper clip. The bezel attaches at several points, and now the bezel is off. Near one end of where the bezel goes, there are two holes near each other, both holes meant to receive bezel attachment points. Inserting the small paper clip into one of those two holes, angling it, and pulling the tray did it. Sometimes when I try again, using both paper clips helps; the small one where I just described, and the large one in the usual hole, pushing it straight in. The tray springs out.

Carefully not touching what’s likely the tiny laser lens and making sure the copper-colored conductor ribbon didn’t get folded or caught when I pushed the tray back into the drive, I moved the tray in and out a few times. It moved smoothly. I didn’t see a stain on the tray but I think I cleaned the likeliest area anyway.

Unfortunately, I can’t clean inside the drive next to where the tray slides. Maybe someone else might, but cleaning inside would be easier if the tray were removed, and I’m not sure if the ribbon is long enough and if I’d know how to replace the tray or reconnect the ribbon if it came loose, when connecting may be a process possibly meant only for a machine to do, at a factory.

Reassembly is now the thing to do. Along the way, I test opening the tray with the large paper clip and, hooray, it works like it should.

One bolt doesn’t have a home anymore, at least for the moment. I had laid out bolts as I removed them so I could put them back in their proper places, but I forgot where one of them came from. A bunch of time figuring out its size and finding that size mentioned in the service manual got me the clue to where it came from. Now, all is well.

I boot into the operating system. The tray opens very nicely.

  • Tools and supplies that were useful:

  • — thin flat-bladed screwdiver

  • — Phillips cross-bladed screwdriver, for removing the memory cover

  • — small paper clip, metal, with one end unbent to 90 degrees; the rest of it serves as a handle

  • — large paper clip, metal, with one end unbent to 90 degrees; the rest of it serves as a handle

  • — rubbing alcohol

  • — toilet paper

  • — ice pick, a thin finger, or something like that

  • — flashlight or other bright light for peering into the laptop

  • — another computer, for Internet access, to get the service manual and other information

The drive is a Teac DV-18S-ADL (apparently no longer in Teac’s website but still sold elsewhere) from my refurbished Dell Latitude E4300 laptop. I don’t know if the Teac was original equipment for the laptop, but my guess is that it is. It’s part number 1977217A-DL, serial number 0204771, drive rev. A01, manufactured , and marked DP/N OW52OP ID-0W520P-48221-9BB-110N-A01 (whether a character in the DP/N or the ID- string is a zero or a letter O is not clear).