How to Save Money on Computer Repair

Spending too much money on computer repair can be a real drag. Some shops charge as much as $200 for an hour of service that includes relatively simple processes such as upgrading the RAM and performing system restores. In many cases, these high charges can be avoided by following a few simple tips. The solution to your problem can very well be right in front of you, and taking a moment to seek out a solution to the problem can save you hundreds.

That said, there are plenty of issues out there in the world of computing. Bad drivers, unresponsive operating system installations, corrupted files and drives, and a multitude of other issues can spring up on virtually any system (Mac or PC) at any given time. Sometimes, you just don’t have the time or ability to troubleshoot these issues. When you just want your system up and running, taking it to a shop is the sensible option.

Here are some tips to save you money on computer repair.

Technicians Don’t Always Know the Best Solution

It doesn’t matter if you’re running OS X, Windows, or Linux. Every system is prone to some form of software or hardware failure during its lifetime. The solution to the problem isn’t always cut and dry, and it’s a technician’s job to provide a solution. The solution itself may be as simple as toggling an option in the BIOS or as complicated as replacing the motherboard and formatting the hard drive. A technician can spend an entire day attempting to find the best solution to the problem, but chances are they will take the path of least resistance — this path being wiping the system and starting from scratch or simply recommending that you get a new computer.

Technicians are especially useful for their experience. The majority of problem solving comes down to having seen the problem before and being able to properly identify the solution.

Bottom line: If a repair seems too expensive, or the technician is giving you a diagnosis that is even sort of questionable, get a second opinion. There is no reason you should have to drop a fortune on repairs unless you feel absolutely comfortable doing so.

Lease Vs. Own

Leasing your computers can have some interesting advantages. For one, the taxes you pay will be calculated differently as a leased computer isn’t technically considered an owned asset.

Another huge benefit is the immense help that a good lease contract gives in terms of support. Many leases offered by companies like Dell (for example) include in-home repair at no extra cost. That means if something goes wrong, Dell sends someone out to resolve the problem, leaving you off the hook for potentially expensive computer repair. What’s more interesting is that any hardware that breaks down can generally be replaced at no extra charge.

Warranties can be really helpful, but a lease can extend the terms of that obligation and give you the peace of mind of knowing that your system (and your pocketbook) are a little safer.

Ask a Geeky Relative

Geeky relatives can be a great source of information. If you’re experiencing an issue that seems to be up their alley, you can usually exchange a home cooked meal or a night out on the town for free repair service.

The biggest problem with most family-based tech support is that it becomes a one-sided affair. Calling up your geeky cousin, brother, nephew, or uncle and asking them to look at your PC sounds like a simple favor, but it can turn out to be a lengthy affair. Offer them something in exchange for their services. Do they have a yard that needs mowing? Could they use a babysitter? Offering something in return for their investment of time is a great way to maintain a healthy and fruitful relationship for some time to come.

Small Shops

Small repair shops are becoming harder to find these days, but they are generally easier to work with. Large companies have a preset list of symptoms and repair costs, which can reach well into the hundreds for even simple fixes. A small shop depends on repeat business and a good reputation to survive, and that means taking extra care to make sure every customer is satisfied with the results of its service.

Pay attention to online reviews. Yahoo! has a great service that allows you to post and read reviews of local businesses. Yelp, which does more than restaurant reviews, is also a great place to check up on a repair shop near you before you make the trek out there.

Do it Yourself

The Internet is filled with excellent resources for identifying and troubleshooting computer-related issues. A simple Google search for the symptoms you’re experiencing can reveal whether or not it’s a common problem among users, and will often lead you to an official forum and step-by-step instructions on how to solve the problem. For most software-related issues, there are bug reports and knowledge bases available online to help you determine whether the problem you’re facing is a bug or the result of incompatibility between hardware and software (or software and software).

Another great resource out there is YouTube. Whether you’re swapping out memory or replacing a motherboard, YouTube is filled with informative and instructive how-tos to guide you through the process from start to finish.

If all else fails, you can submit a description of the problem to a forum hosted by your computer’s manufacturer. There’s a good chance your problem will be either picked up by support staff or your questions answered by more experienced users. Either way, it’s a cheaper alternative to costly computer repair.

Craigslist

Craigslist is an excellent way to find students and independent computer repair technicians who could use some extra cash. Doing PC repair on the side is a popular way to subsidize an income as the work can generally be done on the person’s own time and most problems can be solved fairly quickly. If you’re looking for a low-priced PC repair solution, this could be a good place to check.

As with any independent contractor, you should interview them prior to handing over your hardware. See if they have any credentials or references. A website with testimonials is also a good sign. You’re hiring someone for a job, even if it is a small one, so approach it with a certain level of scrutiny.

Are Protection Programs a Good Deal?

Protection programs are one of the biggest rackets in the tech industry today. Does spending $80 on a one-year protection plan for a $300 item sound like a good deal to you? Some protection plans are much more cost-efficient, but as my parents would say, “The proof is in the pudding.”

So, we decided to take this question to the community. We put the word out on Google+, asking if anyone had been helped or burned by a store’s protection plan. Here are some of the responses we received.

Lamarr Wilson, host of the WilsonTech1 channel on YouTube, said: “I get a new chair every year on an office store’s protection plan. The chair is $230, and the plan is $30. When the chair wears out, I call in. They never ask me for a picture or anything, and they send me a gift card to get a new one.”

Rob Huston, a member of the LockerGnome community and long-time technology enthusiast, shared his story: “Some years ago, a manager decided to buy a new computer at one of the big name electronics stores (oh, you know the one). I argued against it, but she insisted on paying a lot extra for the store’s ‘protection plan.’ Well, a month later, the computer’s hard drive failed. Could they just send us a replacement hard drive? Nope — they insisted we send the entire unit back, and promised it would be replaced in a few days. A few days turned into a few weeks. (We kept calling to find out the status, and no one seemed to know anything, except that we’d get the replacement in ‘a few days.’) A few weeks turned into a few months — it was about four months before the replacement arrived… an entirely different model computer. (And no, not a newer model.)”

David Powell said: “I bought a 36″ CRT style TV from Best Buy and got the longest protection plan offered on it (five years, I think). After 4.5 years, the TV started having issues with the color and the power button had to be pressed a few times to turn it on. I took the TV in for repair since I was still under my protection plan. Since the repair cost was more than the worth of the TV, I received a store credit for the cost of my TV. I used that credit to buy a 48″ plasma, which was only $150 more than the credit. Given the time I had the old TV, I basically got a bigger and better TV for $150.”

Joshua Briggs stated: “My Dad bought a $100 DSLR camera from Walmart, and also bought an extended warranty plan. When the camera broke, he took it into Walmart’s customer service to have it replaced. Walmart refused to replace it, stating: ‘The factory’s warranty must expire first before we can replace it under our warranty.’ So, not only did he lose $100 in hardware, but also $20 in extended warranty plans. At the time it broke there [were] eight months left in the manufacturer’s warranty and [it], too, refused to replace it. He learned to never buy stuff from Walmart again.”

So, what about you? What are your experiences with protection plans, repair services, and computer repair?