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Do your homework before seeking a repair

By DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 1999


Be prepared and be careful.

It may sound simple, but many consumers are neither when it comes to their personal computers. And it can cost them.

"I wonder if people have a problem if they know who to call," said Jeff Moss, vice president of marketing for TriniTech Inc. in Largo, a company that makes hardware and software for technicians to diagnose computer problems.

Experts suggest several steps for consumers before they take a PC in for a repair, including these from PC World magazine:

* If you don't understand technical jargon, you may want to take a technologically savvy friend to a repair shop with you.

* Get estimates in writing, and pay with a credit card in case a problem arises later.

* Back up your data, and keep a list of parts, including serial numbers.

Charlotte Astalos learned the hard way that it takes some homework before choosing a company to repair or upgrade a computer. She was left with only a computer case and was out $700.

"Deal with reputable companies if you can find them," the Palm Harbor retiree said. There are "so many fly-by-night (companies), you do have to be careful."

Bill Snyder, executive news editor at PC World, says consumers should do their homework before the purchase, checking a brand's reliability and service rating.

"PCs are fallible, and some companies do a better job of putting them together than others," Snyder said.

If repairs are needed, local shops "often are a good deal," Snyder said, but consumers need to check with friends and others "to find the better stores who have knowledgeable, friendly and honest people."

References are important, since many smaller businesses can be here today, gone tomorrow.

New computers come with warranties ranging from a year to three years. Some warranties include on-site service, supposedly meaning that the repair tech will come to your house and do everything.

However, some companies will send someone to your house only to replace a part. If diagnostics are required, you might have to take the computer to an authorized repair center. In case of a mail-order computer, it might require shipping the machine to the manufacturer.

Snyder says extended warranties "are quite pricey for the protection you get," a point backed up by a Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) story in October.

"As a rule, resist the offer of an extended warranty, which usually amounts to expensive and unnecessary insurance," Consumer Reports said.

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