Should You Repair Your Own Phone or Laptop?

While it can be tempting to take a crack at repairing your own laptop, phone, or tablet, there are times to do it…and times to leave it to the pros.

Every time I’ve had a problem with some of my tech gear, I’ve been tempted to grab a pentalobe screwdriver and dig in. Unfortunately, each time, when I’ve really looked at the options, I’ve realized it’s probably been a bad idea. Let’s talk about when (and why).

Repairing Your Own Gadgets Can Void the Warranty

Before getting started in, lets get one thing out of the way. You can open the back of most laptops without voiding your warranty, but that doesn’t apply to phones and tablets. And once you start altering or removing things on the inside, you’ll almost certainly void your warranty—if you’re unsure, check the warranty of your specific device for more information.

Take this example from Apple’s Mac warranty::

This Warranty does not apply:… (f) to damage caused by service (including upgrades and expansions) performed by anyone who is not a representative of Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider (“AASP”); (g) to an Apple Product that has been modified to alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple.

In theory, if you leave things exactly as you found them, the manufacturer is unlikely to know that you’ve done anything to your computer, but most warranties makes it clear that modifying things can void your warranty. If it’s still covered, you probably shouldn’t take the risk. Which leads us to our first situation.

Is Your Device Under Warranty?

If your device is under warranty and the problem is due to hardware failure rather than user error, the manufacturer should fix it for free. Contact the manufacturer, explain the problem, and they’ll advise you on how to proceed.

Most manufacturers offer a one year warranty, but in certain countries you might be entitled to a longer warranty. For example, in Ireland and England, customers are entitled to a a refund, repair, or replacement of any defective product within six years of the sale.

Is Your Device Covered by an Extended Warranty or Other Insurance?

Many shops and manufacturers offer extended warranties (although they’re generally not a great deal). For a fee, you can extend your warranty from one to two or three years. You might also get a discount on accidental damage repairs like you do with Apple’s AppleCare+.

If you’ve paid for an extended warranty and the problem is a hardware defect, let the manufacturer fix it. You’ve already paid for them to do it.

If it’s down to accidental damage, things get a little more complicated. Accidental damage repair fees can be pretty steep (even with an extended warranty), and there are plenty of computer problems you can fix yourself for cheaper. However, going it alone will probably invalidate the extended warranty you’ve already paid for. It’s a judgement call for you to make, although I’d probably lean towards getting the manufacturer to fix things, because if a later hardware fault develops and you’ve lost your extended warranty, you’ll be kicking yourself.

In addition, keep in mind that some credit cards offer an extended warranty for any device you purchase with them. You’ll need to pay for the repairs yourself but, if you qualify, they’ll reimburse you. Your laptop or phone might also be covered under the terms of your home insurance policy for accidental damage and theft. Look into these options before getting your hands dirty—even if you don’t have an extended warranty, you might be able to get reimbursed for that repair.

What Does An Out of Warranty Repair Cost?

If you’re out of warranty, you’ll still want to see what it costs to get it repaired by a professional—often, it’s only slightly more than replacing it yourself, due to the cost of parts. For example, A Galaxy S7 screen repair would cost you about $157 for the parts. Or, you get it repaired professionally for just a bit more—$190 from UBREAKIFIX, a local authorized Samsung service center in Los Angeles, or $200 at Best Buy. (Note that if it’s out of warranty, you don’t absolutely have to go to an authorized repair center, but you definitely should make sure the repair shop seems credible and experienced—check your manufacturer’s web site for repair centers they recommend.)

Whether you want to fix it yourself or let professionals do it, is up to you. Check out the terms the pros offer. Often, repair shops will offer a one year warranty on the part they replace. With less than $50 in the difference for this hypothetical screen repair, I’d lean towards letting the pros do their thing just for the peace of mind and the warranty. If you’re on the fence, get a few quotes and then decide.

Are You Capable of Fixing It Yourself?

The final question to ask is whether you are even capable of fixing it yourself. If you’ve been building your own gaming PCs for over a decade, you’re going to be a lot more comfortable fiddling around with the insides of your gear than someone who’s opening a case for the first time. Don’t overestimate your abilities. While most things can be replaced in modern laptops, it’s notoriously awkward to do. The race for ever thinner and lighter gear means you might end up needing to replace five ports just to fix one.

The best way to work out whether you can repair your devices is to head to iFixit and check out the relevant guide for your problem. They have one for replacing every major component in every major modern device. They also sell the tools and parts you need to get the job done.

Look through the guide, check out the cost of parts and tools, and honestly ask yourself if it’s worth doing. The answer might well be yes! But in other cases, the risk might not be worth it.

The aforementioned Galaxy S7, for example, is rated “Very Difficult” on iFixit. For less than $50, that seems like a good deal for professional service. Replacing a battery in a MacBook, though? Easy peasy.

Know When to Give Up and Get a New Device

At some point, it’s better to recycle your device than repair it. If your six year old laptop is showing all the signs of a logic board failure, then it’s probably time to just give up. You could buy an old model secondhand with a screen failure and salvage the logic board, but then we’re really diving in the deep end. Computers and phones don’t last forever, and at some point, the cost of getting it repaired is more than the device itself is worth—especially considering it’ll become truly outdated soon enough anyway.

Title photo by Dmytro Balkhovitin/Shutterstock.com.

Harry Guinness writes occasionally when he’s not busy skiing, sailing, partying, lifting weights, or otherwise dodging responsibility. His main areas of interest are himself, gin, and crazy people with interesting stories to tell. When people won’t pay him to write ill-thought-out opinion pieces, he covers photography, technology, and culture. You can follow him on Twitter.