Posted: 4:28 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
When something goes wrong with your car, typically you get it fixed. Of course, if it's an older car with a lot of miles, and the repair costs are enough to make you cry, it might make more sense to cut bait and start shopping for new wheels.
When something goes wrong with your tech, do the same rules apply? It all depends on the type of gear and what's busted about it. While a shattered smartphone screen may be worth fixing, a problematic TV may not. (Be prepared: There's likely to be crying either way.) Let's take a look at four popular tech items and whether it makes sense to repair or replace them.
A typical laptop is likely to suffer one of several fates. First, after 2-3 years, the battery will likely wear out, to the point where you get considerably less runtime between charges. If the battery is removable, you can easily replace it--but be prepared to pay. A new laptop battery can run $75-150 depending on the size and make.
Second, the hard drive may die. (Hope you backed up your data!) It's not difficult or even expensive to replace it; the real hassle lies in reinstalling Windows and restoring your programs and data. A repair shop can probably handle most of this, but to the tune of a couple hundred dollars. At that point you might be better off looking for a new laptop.
Finally, many users think their laptop needs replacing just because it's grown slow over time. Reality: The longer you use Windows, the slower it gets. As I explain in my book, "The Cheapskate Rules: 21 Easy Money-Saving Tech Secrets," you can re-energize your laptop by wiping the hard drive and doing a fresh Windows installation. Don't have the tech-savvy? A repair shop can probably do this for as little as $50--way cheaper than buying a whole new machine.
Printer won't print? If it's an inkjet and hasn't been used for more than a few weeks, it's possible the ink cartridges have dried up or the print head is clogged. You can remedy both by replacing the problematic cartridge(s) and running the printer's head-cleaning procedure. But actually paying to repair a problematic printer is rarely the smart move.
That's because new printers are crazy-cheap. (So crazy, in fact, that it can be cheaper to buy a whole new printer than to replace the ink or toner in your existing one. But, please, think of the environment!) What's more, most of the latest models offer built-in Wi-Fi capabilities, meaning you can connect them to your home network for wireless printing--not just from your computers, but also from your phones and tablets.
Trust me, you haven't lived until you've wirelessly printed a snapshot from your smartphone. So before you do anything too Herculean to fix a fouled-up printer, consider an upgrade.
Just before the holidays, my wife's iPhone 4S hit the kitchen floor with a sickening thud. Unsurprisingly, the screen was a splintered mess, though the phone itself still worked fine. This is actually a pretty common scenario, though it doesn't have to mean buying a new phone (and getting stuck with another two-year service agreement).
For starters, depending on the make and model of your phone, you may be able to buy an inexpensive replacement screen/digitizer. On Ebay, for example, a whole repair kit (tools included) for the iPhone 4S can be had for $25-30. Of course, actually doing that repair can be complicated, even if you watch some of the many available how-to videos on YouTube.
My advice: Check Craigslist and the Yellow Pages (online, of course) for phone-repair shops in your area, then call around for estimates. I got three: $150, $90, and $79. I went with the cheapest, and the store did a fantastic job. So whether your phone has a busted screen or power button or just a worn battery, you should be able to get it fixed for a lot less than the cost of a new one.
Almost three years to the day after I purchased a not-inexpensive Toshiba HDTV, it suddenly began showing colored vertical lines across a big swath of the screen. After a few calls to Toshiba and local repair shops, I was saddened to learn that the bill would be around $600.
No-brainer: I could easily buy a new TV for that much. (Which I did.) The sad truth is that most TV repairs are very costly. If your model is out of warranty, I suspect you'll be better off buying new. (Think of it as an upgrade: You'll probably get a sweet deal on a bigger screen, perhaps with built-in "smart" features to boot.)
Also, as a general rule I'm opposed to extended warranties, but given my own experience and the anecdotal ones of a few friends, it might be worth considering. You can learn more from this great overview of extended TV warranties.
Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.
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