Why Water Damage Cell Phone Repairs Often Fail

We get this call all the time: “Do you guys fix water damaged phones? I just dropped mine in the toilet.” Yes, the toilet is one of the top 5 reasons for water damage repair. A few others include “I dropped it in my coffee,” “My friend tipped her beer over on it,” and “I was taking a bath.” I’m not kidding about that last one. You’d be shocked how many people use their phone while taking a bath.

But I digress…

The point of this post is to let you know that fixing a water damaged phone is, at best, a 50/50 proposition. We know because we gave it a Herculean effort for about 6 months before deciding to give up on the repair because a 50% success rate is not something we strive for. 95-100% is more our ballpark.

Water Damage Repair Gotchas
Water Damage Repair Gotchas

To understand why a water damage repair is so hard to fix, let’s start with how liquid damages a cell phone. There are three basic things it can do (and it can do 1, 2, or all 3 of these):

  1. Some of the non-motherboard components get damaged. This might be the battery, screen, power button, charging port, etc. These are generally pretty easy to replace and not a problem if you can identify which components are bad.
  2. Some of the components on the motherboard get shorted out and damaged beyond repair. This basically turns your phone into a paperweight (you can do some soldering tricks but they aren’t usually economically feasible).
  3. Some of the wiring on the motherboard corrodes and creates a shortage with other wiring. This is often fixable – at least in the short term.

I’m most familiar with iPhones so I’m going to discuss them going forward. However, everything I’m going to say should apply to most any mobile phone.

Many iPhone repair shops will follow one of 3 models to fix (or attempt to fix) your water damaged device. Some will charge a non-refundable diagnostic fee. This is where they figure out if your phone is in state 1, 2, or 3 above. If they think they can fix it, then they’ll tell you what it will cost (which will be an additional charge). If they can’t, they just pocket the $20-$40 fee and you still have a broken phone. I would avoid these shops.

Other companies will quote a fixed water damage repair price but it won’t include any components that might be needed – that will be an extra charge. So an advertised $49 water damage repair might end up being $149 after a new screen and new battery are put in it. Once again, I’d  stay clear of this type of business.

Lastly, is the model we used: A flat-rate water damage repair cost that is only charged if the phone is fixed. If it can’t be fixed, then there is no charge. Another variation on this is a completely free diagnostic where they give you a set price after examining your phone. You can choose to do the repair or not at that point. This is the option iFixYouri uses and it seams pretty reasonable.

One really important piece of information you should get from anyone that repairs your phone is exactly what their warranty policy is because, well, read on…

Regardless of which billing option a repair shop takes, there is one major problem. Even for high-quality repair businesses an initial success rate of 70% would be considered good. I say “initial success rates” because, as we found out, about 1/3 of all the phones that go out working will come back within a month with more problems.

You see, that’s the biggest problem with water damage. It doesn’t all happen at once.

Think about it like a rusting car. Your car doesn’t rust the first winter you drive it on salt covered roads. But after 10 years of winter driving you start to see rust. Then every year a little more rust. It develops slowly over time.

The same thing happens with water damaged cell phones – only instead of years we’re talking weeks. You can clean them out using a sonic cleaner and electronics safe cleaning solution (the preferred tools of a professional shop). That might remove 95% of all corrosion and debris. But that other 5% doesn’t stay put. Like rust on a car, it slowly starts to grow over the course of a week, a month, or 3 months. It will begin to spread until one day your wifi won’t work, your camera goes out, your phone stops charging, the screen goes black, or some combination of all those things.

When you take into account all the problems that can happen after a “successful” water damage repair, most companies would be lucky to have a 50% success rate. So that’s why the warranty policy is important. You don’t want to spend $120 and 2 weeks later have to buy a new phone.

All that said, only you can ultimately decide if you should or shouldn’t get a water damaged phone fixed. It may work for you. Or maybe you have some invaluable pictures you want to get off your phone and you don’t care if the phone is fully functional. Or maybe you just have a couple more weeks until you can upgrade to a new phone.

Whatever you’re looking for, you should be aware of all the possible problems that can occur even with a professional, water damage, cell phone repair. And don’t forget to always ask and get in writing how their warranty policy works.

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