Rich Warren | Increasingly, with electronics, it's best to let pros make fixes

Rich Warren | Increasingly, with electronics, it's best to let pros make fixes

Professionals declare, "Do not try this at home." Whether sword swallowing or servicing your own electronics, leave it to the experts. A reader sent us his sad tale of attempting to replace the battery in his Garmin GPS. Garmin sold him the battery for $20. Garmin secured the battery inside the unit with double-sided tape. In trying to extract the old battery, the user damaged the ribbon cable to the screen, and that was the end of his Garmin GPS. I have a relative who is an accomplished vascular surgeon, but he would not attempt to replace the battery in his iPhone.

Servicing electronics requires specialized tools, an exceptionally steady hand and complete knowledge of the unit. In my younger years, I built a multitude of electronic kits and still own a legacy premium soldering iron. That soldering iron would destroy any current product. RadioShack once stocked various parts if you broke something. Now, RadioShack is gone, and finding matching parts on the internet proves tedious and difficult.

In our disposable society, electronic product failure constitutes a huge waste of natural resources and fills landfills. I have a Bose Lifestyle home-theater system, a stylish and easy-to-use package with a built-in CD/DVD player. Bose made the speakers and electronics but used a third-party player. When it exhausted its supply of these players, that was the end for this Lifestyle model. Mechanical parts usually die before purely electronic components. Thus, the new Lifestyle systems dispense with any kind of player, probably a wise decision. At the same time, it's not as convenient and you must add another "box" for a disc player. Some people no longer play discs, thus it might make sense offering a package sans player.

A longtime audio/video shop in Evanston advertises, "We service what we sell." That's one reason why you might pay a few dollars extra buying gear there than at a so-called "discount" elsewhere. The same applies at our local audio/video dealers. Being able to service equipment increases overhead, which costs money. Since most dealers scrape by with minimal profits, service becomes a major commitment.

Thus, if you buy your gear at Best Buy, Target, Walmart or online, don't expect a local store to bail you out when things go south a week after the manufacturer's warranty expires (or after the usually unnecessary extended warranty you bought expires).

Similarly, don't expect Amazon or Walmart to call the manufacturer and jawbone on your behalf. A furniture store often enjoys a markup of 100 percent. The average electronics dealer might realize a 10 to 40 percent markup, depending on the product, with TVs at the low end.

Once upon a time, gas stations were called service stations. Not only did an attendant clean your windshield, but the station usually also had a service bay to fix your car. Ultimately, since the markup on gasoline was so small and providing service so costly, nearly all gas stations became convenience stores, since there's more markup on beer and pretzels than gas and service.

Not to mention that more like consumer electronics, automobiles became computers with an engine attached. Servicing cars now requires stratospherically expensive specialized tools and continuous training for mechanics who are now called technicians. Back in 1977, a friend took an automotive mechanics course and then went out and bought a 1963 Volvo. I asked her about the choice of car, and she replied there was nothing under the hood of a 1963 Volvo she couldn't fix. She now drives a 2017 Honda Accord hybrid and wouldn't think of popping the hood to do more than check the oil.

Even bicycles follow this trend, with high-end shifters using micro servo-motors and microprocessors to change gears. Some even use wireless shifting to eliminate cables. I never dreamed the day would come when I'd worry about keeping my bicycle charged.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at

Topics (2):Internet, Technology