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Crash and get burned?

Friday, November 03, 2006

One brand new computer, one tiny little problem, ten computer repair shops: The ABC15 Investigators put Valley computer repair shops to the test. Our consumer investigation will show you how to save money.

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Full text of this story:

We just want it to work. Don't ask questions - we don't have the answers... just want to plug it in and go. But what happens when it won't go? When your 'boot' looses its kick.

You do what any self-respecting computer owner does... head for the big ads in the yellow pages. From there - it's a leap of faith. Geeks, Nerds and Data Doctors... They all sound qualified - but the truth is most of us don't know the difference between our ram and our hard drive. So how could you possibly know what's a fair price to fix the problem? The ABC15 Investigators decided to put computer repair companies to the test.

Our hidden cameras are in place and we're ready with: Computer expert Gailand Baron, one brand new computer, and one tiny little problem.

Computer expert, Gailand Baron explains: "I'm going to lift this card slightly from the front and that separates the connection. All they have to do is stick it backs in and the computer will come on."

Baron says it should be a simple fix. "It's going to take them longer to get into the building than it is for them to get it fixed."

We'll see.

Seven days and ten computer repair companies later: K2graphix, Techs On Call and Geeks On Call spot the loose video card right away. Most of the companies identify the problem in less than five minutes... And six of the ten companies fix it for less than a hundred bucks. But not every company was this easy on our wallet.

Remember - this is a simple problem - the video card is just a little loose.

The tech from CompUSA said the problem was more than just a loose video card. "I cleaned up the dimm slot for your memory."

Computer expert Gailand Baron says he's not surprised. "They're trying to justify their cost. If they make it sound really hard, then ya, I can understand paying for all that really hard work." $149 later - more than double what a lot of companies charged us - our "dimm slot" was dust free and the "CompUSA" tech wasn't even aware of the problem he'd corrected.  When our researcher asked the technician if he'd done anything with the video card, he replied, "No."

Sometimes our tiny little problem required a very big explanation.  This is what we were told by a technician named Dru, who worked for Computer Renaissance. "Your bio settings load up all your processors so if your hard drive's not being recognized by your processtry then it does not allow it to boot up and then your video cards that were inside your computer weren't in there properly and we had to go remount it, retake it out and pull out the fire wire that you have in there also so that way it would at least recognize it on the second try."

The bill from Dru: $134. Seven of our ten companies were cheaper than Dru.

Actually, Dru charged our Visa twice for a total of $260 and, according to his employers, credited his private Pay Pal account. The company he worked for knew nothing about it until we brought it to their attention. They told us they would get to the bottom of the problem. We notified Visa to stop payment.

Next, we're diagnosed for free by the Data Doctors. For $99 plus parts she'll take our computer and fix it - or schedule another appointment at our place for $150 an hour.  Either way - it's going to take awhile. The Data Doctors technician told our researcher she didn't even have a screwdriver to look into the computer and that the problem would take time to correct. "It's not a simple fix."

Days later: a second visit, a screwdriver and a more accurate diagnosis. Here's what the technician told us on her second visit: "These screws were really, really loose and this card was not locked in as it's supposed to be." It took two trips, but Data Doctors cured what ailed us... and only charged $35... well within Gailand Baron's maximum of $125 an hour. "Would never go above that.  There's absolutely no reason to."

Unless of course, you call in the Geek Squad. They're part of "Best Buy." Thing was - it was our worst buy.  For exactly five minutes and 20-seconds worth of work we spent $249.00. The Geek Squad technician had an answer when we balked at the price.  "I'm sure you would feel much better if I spent a few hours here and I had sweat pouring off, wow he really worked for it."

As a matter of fact, we would. Our bill is more than seven-times what we paid for the very same service with Data Doctors.  But the Geek Squad technician was unfazed. "Actually, we are the cheapest."

Bottom line: It pays to shop around and don't believe everything you hear. Get prices ahead of time and don't be afraid to ask questions. So the next time you crash... you might not get burned.

The following are the 10 computer repair companies the ABC15 Investigators hired to fix our computer.  The only thing wrong was that the computer had a loose video card that needed to be re-seated. The average time for each company to diagnose and fix the problem was less than six minutes.

Geek Squad - $249.00
Comp USA - $149
Computer Renaissance - $134.00
Techs on Time - $110.00
Geeks on Call - $99.00
Geek Force - $65.00
K2Graphix - $65.00
Custom Computer - $40.00
Data Doctors - $35.00 (required two trips to house on two separate days)
Nerds On Site - No Charge

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