Fix It Or Nix It?

We all become attached to our favorite electronic gadgets. BlackBerrys travel with us to dinner and the movies. HDTVs and TiVos fill our evenings with entertainment. Cell phones are our lifeline to the world, and personal computers – well, how did we ever live without them?

But tragedy can strike: A laptop is dropped, an iPod goes haywire. Do you throw yourself at the mercy of a local repair shop (or a high school student who helps perplexed adults), or do you bite the bullet and just replace the darn thing with a newer, spiffier model?

The Saturday Early Show asked AOL's Consumer Advisor Regina Lewis to weigh in on the options.

Lewis has two universal pieces of advice:
  1. Repair prices have remained the same over the past five years, while prices for comparable new products in almost every category have fallen, in some cases by hundreds of dollars.
  2. Free repair help can be just a "Google" away: Whatever problem you're having with your computer, TV or iPod, chances are someone else has had the same issue. Look for sites and message boards where do-it-yourselfers have posted fixes for common problems.


Computers

Problems can vary from a hard drive that's gone bad to a computer that's clogged up by spyware or a nasty virus.

Scenario: My computer is four years old and the hard drive has gone bad. Should I fix it or nix it? Why?

Replace it. For any computer more than three years old and in need of repair, a replacement is a no-brainer, according to Lewis.

She points out that major PC manufacturers give you at least a one-year warranty, which usually includes parts, labor and telephone support service. After that, you fall into what's called "Out of Warranty" service, where repairs by the manufacturer or local repair techs (like "Geeks on Call") can run anywhere from $80 to as much as $400. Simply buying a new battery for a laptop can run well over $100.

Plus, as new computers with cutting-edge features come out, prices drop, so it makes sense to just buy new. The cost of a new desktop system, including monitor and printer, starts at about $500. Laptops are slightly more.

MP3s and iPods

The most common issue with these devices is battery life. On iPods, the batteries will normally last about 18 months to two years. For the average user, that's 250 to 500 charges. One of the major causes of short battery life is heat, so keep your player out of the sun or a hot car (including the glove compartment).

Another common problem with MP3 players or iPods is a cracked LCD screen. A major culprit there is, believe it or not, tight jeans (or shorts in summertime). If you carry your iPod in your jeans, when you sit down it's going to bend, and that's when that LCD screen cracks. Repair technicians say the pencil-thin iPod Nano is especially susceptible to this.

Scenario: The battery on my iPod is dead: Should I fix it or nix it?

Lewis says to repair it. But know that an iPod battery isn't something most people can replace themselves; you literally have to disassemble the device. Apple offers a battery replacement program for $65, which is worth it if you have a player that costs $250 to $300 to replace. When you start getting into multiple issues with your device — a bad battery and a cracked screen, for instance — you should seriously think about a replacement.

Lewis also points out that consumers don't always have to go to Apple for help. Type "iPod Repair" into an online search, and you'll find plenty of technicians. They have names like ipodmechanic.com or iPod-Rescue, and some offer 24-hour rush repair service.

Also consider spending $15-$20 on a case to protect your device in the first place.

  • Marianne Goldstein

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