Don’t believe the “replace toner cartridge” warning

Printers have sure come a long way.  I fondly remember by Commodore MPS-801 dot matrix printer with 42 pixels — total — for each letter.  It used continuous fanfold paper and only printed in one direction.

Fast forward thirty years.  (Yikes!)  Now our current printer does full color, two-sided, in pretty much any font I want.  The Brother HL-4070CDW printer cost us about the same, in current dollars, as my MPS-801 did back in the mid 1980s.

I still think the cost of ownership for our Brother printer is less, but the toner cartridges are expensive.  A full set of high-capacity cartridges set us back over $350 — about as much as the printer itself cost us.

When laser printers attack

To make matters worse, when the “replace toner cartridge” indicator went on for one of the colors, the display would go red and it would refuse to print anything.  We had no choice but to replace the cartridge, after which it usually worked.

Except the last time it didn’t work.  We put in a fresh yellow toner cartridge, and it smiled at us and told us to replace the yellow toner cartridge.  Now, I’m not always the sharpest tack in the box, but I knew that the solution was not to buy another yellow toner cartridge.

So we went to Google and it led us first to Brother’s help page on the subject.   We tried everything there.  We even had another drum unit on standby because that indicator had been on for about six months, and replaced it when the rest of the steps on the help page didn’t resolve the problem.

At this point, I wondered if the indicator was just based on number of printed pages, rather than some ink sensing mechanism that indicated that the cartridge was empty.  If that were the case, then whatever inserting the new cartridge does to reset the counter wasn’t working, and I might just be able to reset the counter manually.

It turns out that was the answer.  Someone paid $28 for the answer here, but I took advantage of it for free. :)  We entered service mode with a special incantation, and reset the counter.  After that, it worked.

The lesson we learned is this:  You don’t necessarily trust the printer when it tells you to replace the toner cartridge, especially if the print quality isn’t horrible.  Now, I’m not saying that Brother programmed their printers to tell you to replace the cartridges when they’re 3/4 full, but it would make sense that they program it to tell you to replace them before the print quality went down.

If the replace toner cartridge indicator comes on as a result of page count, it’s just an estimate.  It’s not based on how much toner is left in the cartridge.

Try to use up all of the toner before replacing the cartridge!  If the printer is telling you to replace it when it’s not empty, figure out how to fool it.  It’s just a machine.

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook - Google Plus


  1. says

    I owned an HP laser printer for 3 years and I am still using the original cartridge! I shake up the cartridge and can still get some more pages out of it. Admittedly, I do not print very much, but so what!

  2. Joanie T says

    just take the cartridge out, shake it and put it back. do this three or four times! bingo! if it asks if it’s new say yes.

  3. says

    John, you’re 100% correct, there will be some toner left in the cartridge when the indicator tells you it is out. I refill my own (ink or toner), I’ve been doing it for years and have saved tons of money by doing it myself. I’m not sure about yours but most of the later Brother cartridges don’t use a chip, they have a mechanical system to measure page count. They are easy to refill and to reset the gears to tell it that it’s full. The odds are pretty good that the factory cartridge you just bought didn’t have the “gears” set correctly. I would take it back, or if your adventurous, open up the side panel on the cartridge and reset it yourself. You can find a ton of videos on youtube.

  4. says

    I have an Epson inkjet printer. It will not print when it believes that the cartridge is out, even if it’s clearly got ink left. Also, if one cartridge is out (say the yellow one), you figure that you can still print using at least the black cartridge, right? Wrong. The printer will refuse to operate if even one cartridge is (supposedly) out. Epson is evil and I will never ever buy another product made by them again.

  5. says

    It’s the same way with gas in the car; when the light comes on, you still can go for a number of miles, it’s just telling you to go to a gas station pretty soon. You can read in the car manual how many gallons is left when that light comes on.

  6. says

    I don’t have a laser printer at home, but I do at work. When the light starts flashing I just pull it out, shake it back and forth, and we usually get quite a bit longer from the cartridge. Of course the light is just a warning, and much better than just running out of ink. But others in the office would just replace it, and waste a lot of $ and ink. Personally, I just look for the printing to get lighter. And at home, I get the ink refills for my ink jet printer. Works fine a few times, then the cartridge gets “yucky” and doesn’t print well. My kids laugh when I pull out the rubber gloves, but the ink can be messy!

  7. says

    My Canon ink jet printer gave me a “waste ink absorber” almost full. message. The absorber being a tiny felt pad under the cartridge. Cleaned up the pad and tried resetting the counter. It lasted a couple months, but finally spit out a “waste absorber full” message and now refuses to work.

  8. domyessayuk says

    what an incredible rundown of destinations. I had no clue there were such a variety of Q&A spots to go. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *