Of the many types of services we evaluate, computer repair shops are among
the lowest rated. On our Ratings Tables, you will see a number of shops
that are rated "superior" or even "adequate" by fewer than 70 percent of
the customers we surveyed. That means that they were rated "inferior" by
30 percent or more.
You will also see that there is big price variation, with some shops charging
prices that are more than twice as high as the prices charged by nearby
If your computer needs repairs, shopping for price is difficult because
many shops will charge $70 or more to give you a diagnosis and estimate.
But if you are looking for an upgrade—for instance, a new hard drive or
additional memory—or if you know what repair you need, you will be able
to shop by phone. You will find substantial price differences. For instance,
we found prices ranging from $115 to $249 to add three gigabytes of memory
to a MacBook laptop.
To get the best repairs at the best price, you will need to deal carefully
with whichever shop you use—
Give the shop a thorough written description of the symptoms prompting
a repair visit.
Insist on a written estimate before repairs can proceed.
Consider whether repairs are really worth making—or whether it is time
to move on to a new model.
Before paying, get a detailed invoice, including a description of the components
repaired, the date, a breakdown for labor and the price for each part,
and the warranty.
Test equipment as soon as you get it home and return it to the shop or
notify the shop in writing right away if it is still not working right.
There is that feeling in the pit of your stomach. When you've rebooted
multiple times. Fiddled with the power cords. Called tech support. Threatened
and cursed. And still your computer won't respond and come back to life.
You need help.
After all, it's just your entire life on that computer...and you're pretty
sure you backed it up fairly recently, but...
Fortunately, there are computer repair businesses in the area that might
be able to get you up and running again. To assist you in finding one that
does quality work at reasonable prices, we've evaluated area outfits. Our
Ratings Tables show the results.
With most of these shops, customers ordinarily bring or ship their computers
to the shops. But some may offer the option of coming to your home. In
addition, there are companies that only come to customers' homes. Some
of these in-home services can be found under the "Computer Help—In-Home
Assistance" category in the "Neighbor-to-Neighbor" section of our website.
(We set up our Neighbor-to-Neighbor area as an informal exchange where
subscribers can post ratings and comments—and read other subscribers' comments—for
services we haven't yet covered in our full ratings articles.)
Some of the shops listed on our Ratings Tables get very high ratings,
but there are also several you'll want to avoid. In fact, of the many types
of services we evaluate, computer repair shops are among those with the
highest frequencies of strongly dissatisfied customers.
We surveyed CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers and asked them to
rate shops on several different aspects of service. Our Ratings Tables
show the results for shops for which we received at least 10 ratings. (For
more information on our customer survey and other research methods, click here.)
Most of the listings on our Ratings Tables are for individual shop
or store locations. For multi-store chains—Apple Store and Best Buy/Geek
Squad—the listings show the combined ratings for computer repair we received
for any of the chains' area stores. For the chains, some simple repair
and upgrade work is performed in stores, while more complicated work is
sent to a centralized repair center, a subcontractor, or the manufacturer.
As you can see from the scores on our Ratings Tables, the customer
ratings varied widely from shop to shop. At the time of our last full,
published article, nine of the 26 shops were rated "inferior" (neither
"adequate" nor "superior") for "overall performance" by 30 percent or more
of their surveyed customers. On the other hand, eight of the shops were
rated "adequate" or "superior" overall by 95 percent or more of their surveyed
To help you find a shop that not only does good quality work but also charges
reasonable prices, we calculated a price index score for each shop that
was evaluated in our last full, published article. The scores are based
on prices quoted to our shoppers for five computer equipment upgrade and
repair jobs. These scores, which are shown on our <R<atings Tables>>, show
how the prices each shop quoted to our shoppers (who did not reveal their
connection with CHECKBOOK) compared to the prices all other shops quoted
for the same jobs. The price index scores are adjusted to a base of $100.
Thus, a shop with a price index score of $110 quoted prices that averaged
10 percent higher than the average of all shops' quotes for the same jobs.
There were substantial shop-to-shop differences in price index scores—the
scores ranged from $60 to $142. On Table 1, you can also see that the prices
on specific jobs varied even more broadly than the price index scores.
While our price index scores can help you focus your shopping efforts,
they do not tell you which shop will cost the least for the specific repairs
you require. In fact, some shops with low prices on some jobs may have
high prices on others.
If you know exactly what work you need done, it's a good idea to call several
shops for price quotes. At some shops, you'll have to push pretty hard
to get a firm price, and some will simply refuse to quote a price over
the phone. But at least some will give a quote with the understanding that
the price might go up if what needs to be done is different from what you've
If you don't know what's needed or you simply can't extract quotes from
shops you call, you'll have to take in your equipment for a diagnosis and
estimate. Our Ratings Tables show shops' charges for a written estimate.
Almost all of the shops said they apply the estimate fee to the cost of
the repair if you have them do the repair. Estimate charges at the surveyed
shops ranged from $0 to $90 or more. Obviously, you're better off, everything
else being equal, to avoid high estimate fees. If a shop has a high fee
and gives you a high estimate, it will be costly for you to pull out your
job and take it to another shop.
Some shops will require you to authorize repairs up to a "call-over" amount
at the time you drop off your equipment. This means the shops will simply
proceed with repairs without calling you if they determine the job will
cost less than the call-over amount. While shops with call-over amounts
no doubt often keep their charges below the amount, your agreeing to a
call-over amount gives a shop more discretion than we think is desirable.
(From the shop's standpoint, of course, your advance authorization saves
the time and bother of tracking you down to approve moderately priced repairs
after the estimate is completed.)
|Add one gigabyte of memory to a Dell Dimension 9200 desktop computer
|Replace the power supply in an HP Pavillion Elite desktop computer
|Install a customer-supplied DVD/CD-RW drive on an HP Pavillion Elite desktop computer
|Add a customer-supplied, secondary hard drive to a MacPro desktop computer
|Add three gigabytes of memory to a MacBook laptop computer
|1 For each job, firms were given additional detailed specifications.
It is important, of course, to choose a good shop, but it is also important
to deal in a businesslike fashion with whichever shop you use.
Should You Take It In?
Some shops will come to your home to make repairs if you don't want to
take your equipment in. But there are advantages to taking your equipment
to the shop. First, the price will generally be lower. Second, you avoid
having to wait around for the technician to arrive. Third, there's likely
to be more and better diagnostic equipment at the shop than the technician
can bring to your home, and the technician probably will have colleagues
to turn to for advice. Fourth, if the problem with your equipment is intermittent,
the technician will need to have the system run over a period of time to
check it out. In fact, a technician who comes to your home may have to
take your unit to the shop anyway.
There are some advantages to in-home repairs, however. First, you get to
see how much time the technician actually works on your computer so you
can check the charges. Second, you spare yourself the trouble of unhooking
your system and making the trip to the shop. Third, if the problem with
your system is caused by your Internet connection or the computer's interaction
with peripherals, the technician won't know about these problems unless
you bring in the peripherals or the technician comes to your home.
Give the shop a written description of symptoms. Observe when the problem
occurs, exactly what happens, etc. Put this information in writing; otherwise,
it may be forgotten by the time the shop begins to work on your computer.
Try to Get to the Source
As in most types of repair work, it's best to talk directly with the person
who'll be doing the work. In a face-to-face exchange, you can be sure you've
adequately communicated the symptoms. Also, personal contact may cause
the technician to care a little more than he or she otherwise would about
doing the job right. In addition, you may find you're a little more patient
with the technician's inability to solve a problem if you have a chance
to discuss the obstacles.
Insist on a Written Estimate
Unless the shop is adamant about your authorizing repairs in advance up
to a certain dollar amount, say you want a written estimate first.
Laws in Minnesota give you a right to a written, itemized estimate and
dictate that, unless you authorize a higher figure, charges must not exceed
your estimate by more than 10 percent. If you don't want to take the time
to go to a shop to sign off on an estimate, you can give the shop the go-ahead
by phone, but make careful notes of exactly what the shop tells you and
ask that a written estimate be mailed, e-mailed, or faxed to you (this
documentation will be valuable if you have a dispute later on).
Consider Whether the Repair Is Worth Making
Repairs to computers often cost well over $200. If yours is a newer system
and you are satisfied with its capabilities, spending that much may make
sense. But if it is an old system that is soon to be obsolete, you might
decide you're better off to give it up and apply that money toward a new
If the Price Seems High, Try to Get Other Estimates
Although it can be difficult to get estimates over the phone, some shops
will give them, especially if all you need are upgrade services. Call a
few with a description of the needed upgrade or the repairs another shop
has recommended. If you are shopping for repairs, of course, this process
doesn't tell you whether the first shop's diagnosis or recommended repairs
are correct. If you suspect that the recommendations are incorrect, consider
taking your unit to a second shop for an estimate—keeping in mind that
doing so will probably cost you an estimate fee.
Even if you need a computer quickly, you may be able to give yourself a
little time to deal with shops by renting equipment. Some shops offer a
replacement computer while yours is being repaired.
Tie Down the Time
Although unforeseen problems can arise, you'll be in a better position
to argue for priority service if you've gotten a promise in advance as
to when the work will be completed.
Ask to Have Replaced Parts Returned to You
Although you may not know a hard drive from a mouse, a shop won't know
how much you—or your brother-in-law—might know. The shop will be reluctant
to pull out good parts or to claim falsely that it has replaced parts if
it knows it has to return replaced parts to you.
Get a Receipt
Never drop off equipment without getting a receipt.
Get a Detailed Invoice
The invoice should state—
Name, address, and phone number of the repair shop.
Your name and address.
A description of the repair.
An itemization of charges.
The date the repair was completed.
The name of the technician.
A statement of any warranty on parts or labor.
This invoice will be necessary if you need to take advantage of the shop's
repair warranty. It will also be useful for reference if another repair
shop tells you that you need the same repairs at a later date.
Pay by Credit Card
If you are dissatisfied with a repair, you'll have the option to dispute
the transaction under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act.
Ask Whether There Is Any Indication that You Are Not Caring for Your System
Find out if the problem could have been caused by your actions and how
to avoid causing it again.
Test Your Equipment as Soon as You Get It Home
If you find problems still exist, either take the system back to the shop
immediately or drop a note to the shop documenting the fact that the problems
were never solved.