Tips to find trustworthy repair help for your busted iPhone

This article is a preview of The Tech Friend newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday.

My colleagues and I frequently encourage you to repair your phones, computers and other electronics instead of replacing them. It’s better for your wallet and our planet and there’s immense satisfaction from reviving a zombie TV set.

Just like finding a good car mechanic, though, it can be hard to find an electronics repair person you want to trust with your precious gadgets.

I have tips on how to search for reliable electronics repair help, what questions you should ask and steps you can take to ensure a repair ends happily.

Know that you’re not necessarily better off having a chain store such as Apple, Best Buy or Verizon do your fix-it tasks. You have other options for fixing your stuff — maybe for free. You can do repairs on your own, too, although I won’t focus on that option today.

If you’ve ever had to replace a dishwasher or laptop when one tiny part fails, “people have this gut feeling that it doesn’t make sense,” said Sandra Goldmark of Columbia University’s Climate School, who also founded repair stores.

It feels nuts because it is nuts. Goldmark said everything about the economics of our stuff steers us to toss out a product that still has good life left and buy something new.

I’m inspired by the tenacity of people like Goldmark who love to fix instead of replace, and want that option to be convenient and affordable for everyone. They believe that the world is better off when there’s a thriving market for repair.

Check reviews (carefully) and ask 3 questions

This is obvious, but start by asking for recommendations from friends or a local Nextdoor group for a great repair shop or handy gadget fix-it person. Check their online reviews, too.

“If the repair shop seems motivated to make customers happy, that definitely shows up in the Yelp or Google reviews,” said Nathan Proctor, who has worked with hundreds of small repair shops as the director of U.S. PIRG’s campaign for policies promoting product repairs.

Check my colleague Heather Kelly’s tips for reading reviews with a skeptical eye.

Chad Johansen, founder and president of NH iPhone Repair in New Hampshire, suggested asking a potential electronics repair shop three questions: Where do they buy their electronics parts? What warranty do they offer? What happens if a repair goes wrong?

Goldmark also suggested asking if the repair person has fixed a product like yours. Or you might ask how many similar repairs he’s done.

Johansen said his shop uses high-quality parts that are made from sources other than the product manufacturer. (Just like for cars, manufacturers of gadgets like smartphones typically sell parts under their own name. Other companies sell aftermarket parts that generally cost less and vary in quality from excellent to trash.)

He said you should expect at least a one-year warranty on the repaired part. And while the unexpected can happen with any repair, you want to hear upfront that the repair shop will try to give your device back in no worse shape.

Johansen advised asking those questions over the phone, not by email, to get a vibe from the repair shop or fix-it person. “Go with your gut,” he said.

Chain stores like Apple have their place, but …

If your gadget is still under warranty, you might want to take it back to the store where you bought it.

But Proctor and Kyle Wiens, CEO of the consumer advocacy group and repair community iFixit, are not fans of taking your devices to a chain store for repair.

Proctor said large retailers including Apple, Best Buy and cellphone stores might have a small number of repair jobs that they’ll do relatively capably if not superbly.

For anything else, he said they tend to steer you to replace the device. Or Apple stores will recommend an extensive, expensive repair when it would be better to replace just one part, Proctor said.

A representative for Apple referred to the company’s expansion of the availability of device parts, information and repair store options, and pointed me to a document listing iPhone fix-it tasks at Apple stores. A Best Buy representative didn’t comment.

Proctor said the gadget repair chains uBreakiFix and CPR Cellphone Repair can be reliable. Like any chain, some locations might be better than others, he said.

Johansen said particularly with older devices, you may get more for your money with an independent repair shop like his.

He said for a basic screen replacement on an iPhone 13, his stores’ list price of $219 is roughly the same cost as Apple stores. (When I called Apple customer support, I was quoted a price of $279 to replace the front screen of an iPhone 13.)

Johansen said they’ll do the repair in as little as half an hour without an appointment — and his stores have free beer while you wait.

For older phones for which there is a steady supply of aftermarket parts, Johansen said customers can save more compared to an Apple store.

Read more: Is it time to upgrade your smartphone? Our quiz can help you decide.

Look for a free Fixit Clinic or a Repair Cafe

Those organizations host free repair workshops where volunteer repair specialists help you fix a busted gadget, bicycle, lamp or a winter coat with a balky zipper.

Search for a Repair Cafe near you. There’s no single place to find a local Fixit Clinic. Peter Mui, the organization’s founder, suggested checking local sources of information, or you might try a web search for your city and Fixit Clinic.

These are links for Fixit Clinics in D.C.; Boulder, Colo.; San Diego; Austin; Boston; and the Minneapolis area.

You can also consult Fixit Clinic on the chat app Discord. Log on to Discord or create an account and follow this invite link.

Goldmark, who wrote the book “Fixation: How to Have Stuff Without Breaking the Planet,” advised managing your expectations. Repair volunteers may not have the time to order a necessary part or have the setup to do a proper repair.

Lock down your personal information

Your best prep for a device repair is good advice in general: Make sure everything you care about is backed up somewhere other than your device.

If your wedding photos are saved only your phone, “it’s like having all of your money under the mattress,” said Tarah Wheeler, a repair advocate and CEO of the information security company Red Queen Dynamics.

My colleague Chris Velazco walks you through how to back up your phone. He has more instructions here.

Also make sure you have a strong, unique password for every digital account and save your passwords somewhere safe, like a password manager. A notebook is fine, too.

Wheeler, who is also senior fellow for global cyber policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said you might also consider deleting everything on your device by restoring it to factory settings. These instructions from the security company Avast are pretty good.

The apps, text messages, photos and other software on your device will disappear. But it’s fine! You have a backup copy. Chris also discussed restoring your phone back to normal after the repair is done.

Don’t be discouraged by fearmongering

Many companies that make electronics, cars, tractors, military equipment and electric wheelchairs say it’s not safe for anyone other than the product manufacturer or its authorized service providers to fix what you own.

They warn that independent fix-it specialists will ruin your laptop or steal your personal data. They say hackers will have a field day if your mechanic can access the software in your iPhone or car.

People advocating for more accessible repairs say these objections are mostly bogus scare tactics.

A 2021 Federal Trade Commission report said there wasn’t much evidence that repairs done by someone not authorized by the manufacturer were worse or less safe.

There are a growing number of “right to repair” laws in the United States seeking to make repairs more accessible. In some European countries, people can get money back when they repair products.

Goldmark also said that you would have more options for repair help if states and cities exempted independent fix-it shops from sales taxes. Goldmark said the cost of those taxes might mean the difference between a small business’s profit and loss.

I’m planning a future newsletter on what you should consider before buying warranties or insurance for smartphones and other electronics. Drop me a line with your questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *