When to toss, when to fix electronics
Monday, January 7th 2008, 4:00 AM

Nestor Papisov checks the gut of a malfunctioning video machine at Hi-Tech Electronics at 47 Canal St. in Manhattan.
There's a pop and a blink, and suddenly your favorite electronic gadget is on the fritz.
Back in the day, you'd take it to your neighborhood repair shop and have them work their magic. Now, though, making the financial case for fixing your beloved gizmo versus replacing it is much tougher.
Rapid advances in technology and low labor costs overseas have allowed manufacturers to put out a steady stream of products that are better, faster, shinier and, at the same time, cheaper than their predecessors.
The downside is that, for many items, "they're so cheap it's not even worth it to repair it," said Michael Mossi, owner of Technetron Electronics on the East Side of Manhattan, which only takes on customers referred by manufacturers.

Lower-cost, mass-produced electronics are often enclosed in molded plastic that's not even meant to be opened, experts said. In addition, today's gadgets, down to your toaster and coffee maker, are often so packed with microchips that it takes more than someone skilled with pliers and a soldering iron to salvage them. Manufacturers frequently fulfill warranty obligations by giving you a new item rather than bothering to fix your old one.

"The whole system is really not set up to benefit the consumer, it's to encourage you to replace your items." said Dan Ackerman, a senior editor at tech Web site CNet. He noted that many companies build things to last only two or three years.

The high cost of replacement parts often makes repairs prohibitive, added Irene Samsonova, a manager at Hi-Tech Electronics on Canal Street near Chinatown, which is one of a dwindling group of fix-it shops in the city.
"People bring in DVD players. Right now, they cost nothing - $40 or $50 - and the repair is about the same," Samsonova said. Replacing a cracked screen on a flat-screen TV might cost up to $1,600, while you could buy a brand new TV for $1,500.

Still, there are items worth fixing. Repairing a broken screen on a camcorder - a gadget that can easily cost more than $500 - can cost around $200, Samsonova said. If Junior spills apple juice onto your $1,000 laptop, a $90 keyboard replacement might do the trick, she said.
One rule of thumb is that, if it cost you less than $150 and it's out of warranty, it's probably not worth paying to have it repaired, said Tod Marks, a senior editor at Consumer Reports. A repair that costs more than half of the purchase price of a new product also isn't worth it, he said.

Even before heading to the repair shop, check for troubleshooting information on a manufacturer's Web site, Marks advised. "Sometimes the problem could be a loose plug, improper wiring, a tripped circuit-breaker, maybe even a bad surge protector outlet," he said. Products that rely on microprocessors (most everything these days) can be quirky, and sometimes simply unplugging a device and plugging it back in can do the trick.
Contacting a manufacturer is also a good idea, even if the item is out of warranty, Marks said. In a Consumer Reports poll, 10% of the people who said they did that got an offer to fix or replace the item.
For the tech-oriented, ordering batteries online for items like an MP3 player or a personal digital assistant and replacing it yourself is an option, Ackerman said. But those kind of fixes will typically void a warranty and often cause cosmetic damage.

While the difficulty of getting something repaired makes the idea of an extended warranty seem tempting, Marks said they're rarely a good idea. The key reason is that you're betting the product will break during the brief period between when a warranty expires and an extended one is in place, as well as that the cost of repair will exceed the price of the warranty.

"The stars have to align exactly right," Marks said. "It's possible, but not likely."
Some credit cards offer to extend warranty coverage beyond the manufacturer's usual 12 months if you use the card to buy the item, so it's a good idea to check that before you make a big electronics purchase, Ackerman said. Although by the time it breaks, he added, "You might get gadget envy and want a new one anyway."
Repair step 1: Check the Net

A little Internet sleuthing can help save your favorite electronic gadget or appliance from the junk heap.
Sites have cropped up across the Web covering all kinds of problems experienced by all kinds of machines. If your particular make and model of VCR is devouring your tapes, for example, chances are someone else had the same problem and might have a solution.
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