Where To Get Help When Your Gadget Breaks Down

When your iPod, Zune, CueCat, HP printer, DVD player, or game console goes on the fritz, you no longer have to put it in that closet where you store all the stuff that doesn’t work but that you don’t think you should throw away. There’s now a whole world of self-help forums and repair advice websites online where you can trade tips with other owners of consumer electronics—weird things companies would never tell you, like using a piece of folded paper as a shim to get a failed hard drive working again in your iPod.

There are also sites where you can get old electronics repaired (we’ve covered some of these previously), as well as sites where you can buy replacement parts or upgrade your devices to a limited degree. But, landfill questions aside, the challenge is determining whether or not it’s worth your time and money to repair the device rather than replace it.

Most [repair] sites caution that they cannot fix every problem. Some problems like a cracked screen can be easy to estimate and straightforward to repair. Random glitches and odd behavior, however, may be impossible to pinpoint, leaving the user with a bill for ineffective repairs.

Chris Adamson, an editor at O’Reilly Media in Sebastopol, Calif., offers a cautionary tale. He shipped a faulty iPod that was failing on planes to an online company, which he does not want to mention by name. It took a week for the service to diagnose the problem before suggesting replacing the hard disk for $120. The solution, however, did not address the basic problem, and he now finds himself asking for a refund, which the company does not want to give.

He recommends thinking of the devices as having a short life span, perhaps three or four years. “If it fails after that period, accept that you’ve gotten your value out of it and get something new,” he said.

This points out one of the biggest problems with short CE lifespans—the devices are meant to be replaced in under 5 years, but we’re still using materials designed to last decades or longer. I don’t even want my current digital camera anymore, but if I took good care of it, the case would still be in near-perfect condition 2050. If devices are designed to have such short lifespans, maybe we can start making them out of cornstarch or wood pulp or something? (Yes, that’s a joke, but only sort of.)

“Don’t Throw Out Your Broken iPod; Fix It via the Web” [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)

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