High street PC repairs rubbish, why not fix it yourself?

by , Head of Money Technology 24 February 2011
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If your laptop breaks, you could be better off attempting a DIY fix than trusting a high street computer repair service. Our undercover researchers found poor repairs at PC World and Carphone Warehouse.

Windows 'blue screen of death'

The ‘blue screen of death’ ranks up in my top computer-related fears, up there with ID fraud and uber-viruses.

Last time I experienced the dreaded screen, it tolled the death knell for a laptop that – to be fair – I should have replaced at least a year before.

And stupidly, I hadn’t backed up my files for a while (and by a while, I mean around a year). Some were still hanging around on various memory sticks – but others I lost permanently.

My experience shows how much we rely on our computers to keep files and photos safe. So if your PC develops a fault – maybe you get a blue screen of death, maybe it won’t start at all – panic can set in.

Unless you’re a computer buff, you’re likely to throw yourself on the mercy of a professional repair service. And unless you happen to know a reliable local firm, you might be tempted to go for the ‘safe’ option of a trusted household name, like PC World or Comet.

High street computer repair fail

We’ve found that that could be a costly mistake. When our undercover researchers tested out the repair services offered by Best Buy, Carphone Warehouse, Comet and PC World, we found a litany of incorrect diagnosis, bad advice and poor repairs. None of which you’d expect from such popular, big name brands.

To be fair, it wasn’t a total disaster. Most stores did successfully reconnect a couple of cables we’d loosened in a desktop which were stopping the computer starting up. Though unbelievably, one store reckoned we needed a new hard drive to fix the problem.

But when it came to a laptop software problem that we’d introduced – which should have been easy to fix with the repair function on any Windows Vista installation disc – only two stores out of 12 carried out the perfect fix.

Many others recommended a completely unnecessary motherboard or hard drive replacement. Not a single chain properly diagnosed and fixed all laptops we took to them.

Recommended independent repair services

We didn’t test independents, but if our findings have put you off high street repair services, Which? members can use Which? Local to choose from more than 1,300 member-recommended repair shops across the UK.

But don’t resort to a professional repair service by default. Many computer problems – including both of the faults we’d introduced – are easy to repair yourself even if you know very little about computers.

Take a look at our easy tips on how to fix common computer problems. If our investigation findings are anything to go by, it could save you shelling out on costly and potentially unnecessary PC surgery.

21 comments

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Chris Gloucester

Yes from experience I’ve also found these repairers not very good, and not cheap either.
But you need to be very brave to take a screwdriver and or pliers to you laptop. It can be done if you research in great detail first. I’ve carried out simple repairs like changing ram and the hard drive, but try changing a video chip or the CPU and you can find yourself in very dangerous territory.

Getting the thing apart without breaking fragile plastic covers which clip in is hard enough nevermind messing with complex electronic components.

Having said that I wonder how competent some of the “professional repair people” are too.
Could be that a DIY repair is worth a go if the professional repair cost renders the exercise beyond economic sense in comparison to a replacement.

We’re going to pick this up on the podcast this week – listen on Wednesday at http://www.which.co.uk/podcasts, but we’d love to hear your stories here. I’ve had good experiences with local independent repairers, and awful ones with the big chain guys

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Matt, Nottingham

I have not been in possession of my laptop since December thanks to the incompetance of PC world and they still have it, this is the third time it has been in, I don’t know how much money I have spent on phone calls and calls to the store and it is still not resolved. The promise of there” WHATEVER HAPPENS, RELAX NO HASSLE” is a load of rubbish.

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Cambridge PC Support

I run my own computer repair business in Cambridge, and have built up a good client base over the last 8 years.

I get a lot of PC World refugees and very rarely hear anything good about them.

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James

I too work in a small-scale computer shop, and it’s not just the bad repairs that they do, it’s also the way they tell you to buy a new computer with not very serious issues and the way they practically force upon you Norton or McAfee, or whatever they’re selling that month, and how they have no regard for your data (often permanently erasing it). It goes to show that they are more interested in profit than quality of service. Next time you want your computer repaired, go with a small business

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Cadishead

I also run my own computer repair company in Cadishead (Gtr Manchester). I have also built up a really good client base over the years. Most of my work now is from recommendations, and word of mouth.

I detest it when the big box stores, literally force Norton / Mcafee onto their clients.

I also detest it when ever anything goes wrong with a clients computer, the big box stores usually always revert the computer to manufacturers settings. Completely ignoring any backup of data.

Another of my pet peeves. Say for example you have a laptop, and the dc socket has broken for one reason or another. No prizes for guessing what the big box stores say.. its either a new motherboard is required, or they sell a new system!. The DC socket can be repaired!, thus saving the client a couple of hundred £’s!.

Most independent companies, are far better than the big box stores. We go out of our way to repair the computer. We do not revert the pc back to factory settings, each time there is a small problem (unless it is drastically necessary). We do not force upon you things you do not need.

Please try your local independent store. You will be very surprised at the level of service you receive.

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Ken

Hi,
I live in IRLAM and looking for person to fix my laptop can you reply

Thanks

Ken

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M21 Tech

I also run my own IT support company but I did work for a big chain for a while [as a sales assistant. If we had any machines which were locking up we would simply do what we called a re-image. This meant that data was lost. I often got annoyed because a lot of the time the original fault (such as a failing hard drive) was ignored.

If a tech says they need to re-install windows and the fault is something simple then always seek a second opinion. It can be the best thing to do but very often the fault is very simple and just needs a bit of research.

The main issue with the big companies is you don’t know who is working on your PC. When choosing your local tech try to see how long they have been in business, make sure they are insured and have a trading address. Don’t invite anybody into your home unless you have a contact address for them.

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HOBIT

I agree with the other posters these big box stores are just interested in sales that earn them big money. They have no idea about customer service. My next door neighbour had a computer that they took out an extended warranty with a big box company. This involved a seal on the computer so it couldn’t be opened. They had a motherboard failure so they couldn’t extract their data to a usb drive. My neighbour asked me to save their data before it went in for the repair. Because the usb wasn’t working the only way was to take out the hard drive and extract their 6 years of photos etc. I told them to check with the company to see if they would allow it. Of course they wouldn’t and wanted £200 to take the data off, the neighbour declined and lost the lot!!! It didn’t end there, 3 times they sent the computer back not working, once the power supply wasn’t screwed in at all and couldn’t have been checked.

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richard

I have always done my own repairs on PCs – I used to build and sell them a few years ago when the costs of new ones were much higher. The only real problems were un-soldering components especially soldered ICs from the circuit boards. (Capacitors are more prone to fail than anything else), One reason I’ve always preferred the PC rather than the Mac is that .they are far easier to repair by swapping boards.

I have no idea why so many people do not do regular backups – A 1 Tb Hard disk is only around £50 plug it in the USB socket and copy everything – Then your data is safe. Several pieces of software allow fast backups of new or modified data so the time taken after the first backup is tiny.

I use Acronis True Image this allows me to make a complete mirror image copy of the Hard disk including OS so that I can simply swap a defunct HD with an unformatted new HD and it works seamlessly.- time consuming but brilliant.- I like it because it tells you what it is doing in plain English.

Never use Norton or McAfee as my initial trials were dire.

The majority of computers are repairable if you know what you are doing! :)

Plus an investment in a few specialist tools like vacuum solder remover and decent soldering irons.

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Graham

I used to be an It manager with a large company, like you I have always done my own repairs and i have built many pcs when it was economic to do so.

a computer can easily be replaced if necessary for a few hundred pounds but your data is irreplaceable so the message is always BACKUP, BACKUP BACKUP. These days this is easy as you say. You can get free software to do the job for you e.g. Microsoft SyncToy and GFI Backup to name two. I use both and the latter can even be set up to carry out automated, scheduled backups (there is also a built in facility in Vista et seq).

Another good practice is to have a second data only hard drive in a desktop machine or at least to partition the hard drive so that there is a separate data partition. This makes it quite easy to recover data by removing the drive and connecting to another machine. It is rare now that drives physically crash, most times it is the operating system or programs which cause issues. Charging £200 to recover data is outrageous. It should take no more than say 1 hour of hands on time although the data transfer may take longer.

I would never use Norton or McAfee and i have found Kaspersky problematic. My preferred anti Virus application is Vipre Internet Security which I have found to be fast and reasonably priced. I particularly like their ‘site licence’ which covers up to 10 pcs and can be bought for a three year stretch – very economical for me with 6 machines around the place. Their support is also excellent with an instant messaging service whereby you can speak to an expert in real time (no hours on the phone)

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richard

Have to add – I tried to use the Which? helpline a year or so ago – with a definite lack of help.

I described the occasional intermittent fault clearly and carefully and was told – and I kid you not – If the computer did not cure itself – I had to REBUILD my computer!!! This reply was well over the 24 hour response promised.

Now the “help” person meant REFORMAT the hard disk – that was also basic rubbish. The problem was due to a intermittent memory chip.

So the shops are not the only ones that could improve.

We’re very sorry to hear you were not happy with our assistance and we hope this does not put you off from using our Which? Computing Helpdesk service again in the future

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wavechange

I’m constantly amazed by the number of problems some people have with computers. What do they do with them?

I have had at least fifteen Mac laptops and desktop computers at home and work and I work them hard. The only problems I’ve ever had were a failed hard drive on an iMac and a faulty laptop power supply. (I’m not counting replacement of a few laptop batteries.) I also have an ancient Compusys PC at work and that has also been totally reliable.

In contrast I had a Toshiba laptop repaired several times under warranty and it still never worked properly. It was bought by my employer, otherwise I would have demanded my money back.

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richard

I have to add – I have 16 PCs (four built by me) and 2 BBC Bs at home – all of them still work – The only problems I’ve had was one memory chip and one hard drive – That is since 1981.so my BBCs are 40 years old and are still used for micro control circuits. The computers are usually worked hard.

But I never move them around while still on

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Alan Parsons

A month ago I took my Laptop into PC World for repair and it now appears they have lost it. I am still waiting to find out what they are going to do about it. The standard of customer service in this company is truly appaling as they have not replied to any letters or emails and I have had to do all the chasing. As this repair was under warranty I had no choice but to take it back to them, so chosing a reliable company, if I could have found one, was not an option.

That is amazing – I have never heard of a company losing a returned product. I would hope that if they can’t find it that they’ll not only give you a replacement but also monetary compensation.

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Tim Fisher

Took my 18 month old iMac to the Apple store to have a failed hard drive replaced. Apple charged me £252 to supply and fit a £40 hard drive!

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Dee

Well for me its been a complete disaster, it started on the 21/06/11 when my idiot housemate caused a power surge by holding down the rcd switch on the circuit board after a powercut just so he could boil the kettle. So me being in a complete panic when finding out my poor computer wasn’t working took it to PC world in Ancoats, Manchester. After paying £50 for them to run diagnostics on the parts beliving they would be able to tell me more than i aready knew. One week later i received a half hearted voicemail saying that we suspect the mother board and hardrive need to be replaced plus there could be a problem with your blueray dvd player.. so i called them back to ask them to send it off to thier new off site repair place with a limit of £150.00 if it was to be anymore they would need to contact me, I got a call two and a half weeks later telling me it was going to cost £450!!!
i told them on the phone i needed to think about it and i’d contact them, after recovering i called the pc world store in question and asked them to send me an email with an itemised list of the parts and how much each was going to cost me. i then called them back to say that i wasn’t willing to pay that much so if they could get it sent back to the store that would be great, they said no problem we shall sort it for you this was on the 12/07/11, I’ve called the store several times since then and i’ve just been fobbed off, they can’t tell me where my computer is, I even had one member of staff telling me it was probably on the bottom of a pallet in thier local warehouse hub!! I went in there last Sunday and demanded to speak with the manager and after waiting 40 mins with two members of staff on the phone trying to track it down still no joy. The manager said he was going to look into this personally and contact me the day after, still nothing they also reassured me that my complaint would be escalated and i should hear from thier complaints department within 24-72 hours, well its now Thursday and i’ve still not heard anything… at which point do they admit that they’ve lost my computer and replace what i’ve lost? can anyone else shead any light on this? or any ideas as to what i should do next because calling and going into the store is not working.

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h_m_c

When a PC is still under guarantee, you would normally assume that the best option is to send it for repair. Particularly when the company responsible, KnowHow, represents large, well known names such as PC World, Dixons and Currys.

However, does anyone know of any other company in the UK that has failed to make an agreed delivery 3 times within 2 weeks? Is this a record for KnowHow?

In each case the date that my repaired goods would be returned to me was confirmed by KnowHow’s own website tracking system and I arranged to stay at home. In each case the delivery was not made. There was no contact from KnowHow, either by phone or email, to tell me that the goods would not be arriving.

Their customer services are just starting to accept that the goods may have been lost… I would have thought that this should have been flagged up automatically when the delivery failed to happen 3 times in a row. Several days later now, and still no solution.

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Angry @ PC World

I recently sent my laptop to get the screen replaced (Pc World), they had it for over 3 weeks repairing it and when i got it back it was more damaged then when it was sent off.

Scratches on my case, deep scratches. My speakers sound like they are about to blow and my left mouse button has stopped working altogether.

When i called the helpline they told me that i couldn’t prove whether the damage was done before i had the laptop sent away.

The entire reason i sent my laptop off to get fixed with PC World was because i thought high street shops would rip me off but what i got from Pc World was slow and expensive service that will ultimately cost me more to fix.

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