Getting Your Computer Fixed: A Complete FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Computer Service

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Deciding to get your computer fixed by a professional might seem like the easy choice over solving the problem yourself, but that doesn't mean it comes without concern.

Data privacy, time and cost for services, and the seriousness of the problem are the most common topics of questions I get from my readers when they're deciding to get their computers fixed.

Most of the more specific questions I've gotten over the years are below, along with my answers:

"I need access to my files RIGHT NOW! How do I get them off? Are they even still there?"

This is easily the most common, and completely understandable, question that I get. No matter what your plans are regarding how or where to get your computer fixed, your important data is priority one.

I'm working on a complete set of tutorials for this exact task but they're not quite ready. In the meantime, the following short explanation and links to some helpful information on other sites should help.

The most important thing to understand is that most computer problems do not impact saved files, like that resume you just finished updating, or that paper for school you need for class tomorrow morning. So, aside from the relatively rare situation of a physical hard drive issue, your files are probably fine - just out of reach for the moment.

To the "how to get them off" part, most computer problems that restrict access to your files fall in two camps, each with its own solution:

If your computer is not totally incapacitated, try starting it in Safe Mode. Once there, you may even be able to use your computer temporarily, but if not, you can at least copy the files you need onto a flash drive or disc so you can then use them from another computer.

See How to Start Windows in Safe Mode for a tutorial if you're new to this.

It's really easy.

If your computer won't even start in Safe Mode, or even won't turn on at all, you can still get your files off but you'll need the help of another computer and a relatively cheap tool.

See How to Get Data off an Old Hard Drive [How-To Geek] for help doing that. This is not particularly easy for a novice to do but it's very possible if you follow the directions I've linked to. A computer repair service will do just this task for you if you want, for a fee of course.

"Is this problem even fixable, or is it so bad that I'll need a new computer?"

Obviously, the answer to this question has almost 100% to do with the nature of the problem with the computer, something you probably don't know yet since it hasn't been looked at.

In general, however, the majority of computer problems are fixable, meaning a new part and some repair time is more likely the outcome than needing a brand new computer. Also, as I mentioned in my answer to the last question, it's relatively rare for a computer problem to impact your files.

All that said, and even though you may not know the cause of the problem with your computer, there are usually some clues as to how bad the problem is and what might be the solution when it's all said and done.

If you have any kind of computer but it's turning on and Windows at least tries to start, there's a decent chance that this is a software problem, not a hardware problem. Software problems are easier to solve and usually just involve some time with a computer repair tech.

If you have a laptop or tablet computer that doesn't come on all the way, or at all, you might get lucky and just need a new battery or power adapter. If that doesn't do it, you may be dealing with another type of hardware problem, meaning you may need a new computer. Unfortunately, these types of computers don't have a lot of replaceable parts.

If you have a desktop computer that won't turn on at all, some of the hardware may be to blame but chances are that the individual piece of hardware can be replaced, fixing the problem.

Tip: If you're up for it, I have an extensive troubleshooting guide that may help you figure out, or even fix, a problem that prevents your computer from starting. See How To Fix a Computer That Won't Turn On for more on that.

Another thing to consider is repair cost vs new computer cost. If your computer has a major problem, or you've been considering a new computer anyway, or maybe both, sometimes choosing not to have the computer fixed is a smart choice.

"How long will it take to get this problem fixed and how much might it cost?"

The answer to these questions depend almost completely on the problem and is one of the very first questions to ask any repair service you're considering doing business with.

See my Important Questions to Ask a Computer Repair Service piece for more on those, and related, questions that you need to make sure you get answers to.

Also helpful here is my How to Describe Your Problem to a PC Repair Professional guide. Knowing how to communicate the issue is the best way to get an accurate quote for time and cost for services.

"What if they have to reinstall everything on my computer to fix it? Won't I lose all my files?!"

Absolutely not. Backing up your files is, or should be, the repair technician's first priority when your computer shows up. Considering how important your files are, this should most certainly be one of the things you ask about, just to be sure.

Don't get me wrong - if the problem caused a loss of some or all of your files, which is what happens with serious hard drive issues, then your files wouldn't be around to save. However, if your files are able to be safely copied off, they can be and should be.

After fixing your computer, even if a complete reinstall of Windows and your software was required, you should be given a disc or flash drive with your files, or told where on your computer your previous files are now saved.

"If I do end up needing a new computer, do I lose my files or can they be transferred to my new computer?"

Yes, your files can be transferred from your old computer to your new computer. If you happen to purchase your new computer from the same place you got your old one fixed, they may even do it for you for free.

If you'd like to or need to, tackle this on your own, recent versions of Windows include something called Windows Easy Transfer that makes the process really simple. You can read more about that feature on Microsoft's site here.

"Do computer repair techs snoop through the files they find on a computer? I can't imagine paying someone to violate my privacy!"

Has this ever happened? I guarantee you the answer is yes.

Is this a rampant problem? No, I don't think so. I've owned and worked in computer repair shops for many years and I've never seen a deliberate violation of privacy.

Aside from picking the best possible repair shop you can (see the next question), and hoping that a great repair shop means honest business practices and a great staff, there's little you can do about this potential problem.

If you're lucky enough to have full access to your files prior to dropping your computer off, you could always copy the files off to a flash drive or disc and then remove them from the computer. Honestly, though, you probably run a bigger risk of accidentally deleting something important than being a victim of identity theft or a privacy violation.

"How do I choose which computer repair service to go with?"

This is always a tough one. You do a quick search and 25 places come up, all with different reviews, sometimes conflicting ones.

This discussion got so big that it got its own piece! See my How to Decide Where to Take Your Computer for Repair for lots of help figuring out what to do.

"I have a question you didn't answer!"

I'd love to grow this FAQ to include even more questions and answers about getting computer service.

See my Get More Help page for more on contacting me about your specific question, which I'd be happy to include here for everyone else, too!