Whose fault is that crack in my laptop, Sony?

Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock
Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock
Maxim Borodin’s laptop is out of warranty, and that seems to be all the license Sony needs to play games with a repair estimate. Can this computer be saved?

Question: I bought a Sony Vaio laptop last year. Three months ago one piece broke inside, and a month later, there was a horizontal crack on the screen. However, I still was able to use my laptop.

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I sent my laptop to Sony, and they wanted $500 to repair it. I told them I’d rather purchase the part and replace it myself. But when I got my item back from Sony, there was another vertical crack on the screen, which totally disabled my laptop. I can’t use it right now.

When I asked Sony to take some responsibility for damaging my laptop even more, they denied damaging it. After some negotiation, Sony agreed to a confusing compromise. They wanted to charge me $300 to repair the screen, plus another $300, until I returned the old part back to Sony. However, they told me that old part shouldn’t be damaged, and if it’s damaged they will keep the $300, which means I would pay $600 for the repair — $100 more than originally quoted.

I feel like they don’t want me to replace the part on my own and they don’t want to take responsibility for damaging my laptop even more. Is this legal? Can you give any advice, please? — Maxim Borodin, Salt Lake City

Answer: I’ve reviewed the correspondence between you and Sony, and I’m just as confused. Here’s what we know: Your laptop had a limited one-year warranty — you can read a summary on Sony’s website — but the repair was happening outside the warranty period.

Even if you were within your warranty, your cracked screen might not have been covered. The warranty, as I read it, covers hardware parts and labor support from the date of purchase and gives you a year of “free” call support, but significant restrictions apply. Here’s the fine print, if you have the time for it. If you dropped the laptop, even this warranty wouldn’t do you much good.

According to the warranty, “any condition resulting from physical abuse or misuse, excessive wear, and/or damage resulting from unauthorized prior service will void the manufacturer’s warranty.”

And that’s basically what Sony is saying, indirectly. When it tells you “it has been determined that your unit has suffered physical damage,” it isn’t necessarily claiming you did it, or taking the blame for it — only that it happened and that you have to pay to get it fixed.

Personally, I find these exchanges infuriating. I’ve been through almost exactly the same back-and-forth with Dell over alleged water damage. The manufacturer’s position was: it happened and you’re responsible. Pay up — or we’ll send the unit back to you and you can use it as a paperweight.

Thanks for nothing.

It looked as if Sony didn’t appreciate the confusing nature of your case or the odd solution it had proposed. Look, I’m sure they have rules about repairs, but one thing I do know is that you can’t raise the price of a repair from $500 to $600 when, obviously, the computer hasn’t been used. Something doesn’t make sense.

My research team helped you track down an executive at Sony to whom you appealed your case in writing. By the way, here’s a link to those Sony bigwigs.

A Sony representative phoned you and agreed to take the responsibility for additional damage that apparently was caused at their facilities. Sony agreed to cover almost all of your repair costs, a solution with which you were pleased.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

31 thoughts on “Whose fault is that crack in my laptop, Sony?

  1. This is confusing. There is a cracked screen and another part that Sony wants back. What kind of a part is it that Sony wants to get back?

      1. Exactly – so WHAT is the piece and why does Sony want it back?
        I think Sony replaced that piece. A piece costing $300 !!!
        Something is missing in this story.

  2. $300 for a cracked screen is way too high anyway. Most screens are $50-100. It’s about 10-15 minutes labor if you know what you’re doing.

    1. Where are you finding those prices? Seriously, I want to know? When my Toshiba screen broke it was $400 from a third party, or $600 from Toshiba.

      1. When my HP laptop broke (and my Nokia phones, too); I was able to buy a replacement LCD screens in ebay (for cheap). They give you the instructions (in Chinese English) and some plastic tools. So this is purely DIY repair. I think the thing that cracks is either glass or plastic in front the front of the LCD panel. Sign of lousy owner because these don’t break that easily.
        The other piece that broke is a mystery to me since it apparently costs $300. The way I understood the article, the OP kept the part and sent the laptop for repair. So Sony REPLACED the part and wants the old part back. Sounds fair to me since the OP now has 2 parts.

        1. I looked up screens on-line and they are far cheaper than I paid. I think I got ripped off by the local PC repair shop. Next time I am buying on-line. I like supporting local businesses, but when they charge $400 for a $75 part I can’t justify it.

          I missed that in the story, but after re-reading I think you are right.

          1. Sometimes, the bezel and hinges also break. Lots of plastic break. But you can but almost all the parts in ebay. I have changes keyboards in my Lenovo laptop:)

          2. I used to have a Dell where they keyboard broke under warranty. They mailed me a new keyboard and it was very easy to replace. I did have to pay a depost that they would only return upon mailing them back a broken keyboard. Seemed fare enough to me. I think they charged $150 even though I am sure the keyboard was less. I got the full $150 back within days. Could be the OP was charged a depost and had to return the broken part?

            The plastic cover on my bezel is broken thanks to my son, but the metal underneath is in good shape so I’m leaving it alone.

  3. Poll results: How can a warranty benefit the company more? Test this propositon. Remove all warranties. Now who benefits more?

    I suspect bots are taking surveys today.

    1. If it is the extended warranty that the customer has to pay extra for, then those usually benefit that company selling them more than the customer. But if it is just the standard warranty that most products include in the purchase price, I feel those benefit the customer more as long as they don’t have so many exclusions of coverage that they basically don’t cover anything that would normally go wrong.

        1. Being in the electronics industry (I’m currently working on a program to re-supply the space station), I can tell you from experience that if a part is going to fail, it will do so before a standard one year warranty expires. If your laptop makes it thru the first year, it will outlast whatever extended warranty you buy for it. Most laptop repairs are not because something failed, but because some dill-weed dropped it or spilled coffee on it.

      1. People often forget the benefit of using a VISA or Master Card. Those usually extend the factory warranty by one to two years.

    2. Because the warranty always has exclusions that benefit the company. Add in the fine print and a typical warranty really defines more what it *doesn’t* cover than what it does.

      1. So what? An explicit written warranty is better than a statutory implied (unwritten) warranty. Try having anything repaired without the explicit written warrany.

        1. I didn’t say a written warranty didn’t benefit the customer. But the company that writes it is almost always doing it more to protect itself than it is to protect you. Hence the voting results for this poll saying warranties benefit the company more than the customer.

          1. Explain. How does a written warranty protect the company? You have the implied warranty which in most states cannot be disclaimed. A written warranty only adds additional layers of protection to the consumer. I fail to see how that written warranty gives any additional rights to the company.

    3. Surprising, we are in agreement. I suspect that there is enough populist sentiment that corporations just automatically get a bad rap, some of it clearly deserved.

      1. Not surprising. I never said you did not have a good mind. The paths of our logical conclusions just are not parallel.

  4. So is the original $500 to replace both the screen and the “inside” part? Or was that just for the “inside” part (whatever that might have been)? I would think that if I took in something for repair, the repair shop would quote a price to fix everything wrong. And how much does one of these laptops cost new? $500 sounds like the cost of a new motherboard.

    Most laptop computers are built fairly strong so they can withstand lots of bumps and bangs without breaking. If you have a laptop where the screen has cracked, that usually means there was some very rough handling going on. The additional crack in the screen was probably caused by the shipping back and forth of the machine in its weakened state due to the existing crack.

    Glad an agreeable solution was reached.

    1. I am curious what type of laptop it was, when I was looking at Sony’s they ranged from $400 crap-tops, to almost $3,000 for the ones I liked. I went with a Toshiba because I got one much closer to the high end Sony’s for a much lower price with a titanium alloy case. It has fallen many times, it’s dented all over, and none of that damaged it. Then my son put a toy car on the keyboard and shut the screen. The laptop was still in such good shape I repaired it and went on. (This was 2 weeks after the accidental damage warranty expired too).

      1. Can you guess what kind of $300 piece can break inside a laptop (not the display)? I’m at a loss trying to figure this out.

  5. $500 to repair the screen seems excessive considering that a decent laptop can be purchased new for not that much more than the repair. Granted there would be the hassle of configuring the new system, transferring data, etc. but I would be suspect of a repaired computer that suffered some sort of event severe enough to crack the screen, that something else was damaged and just hadn’t manifested itself yet.

  6. Doesn’t the answer to the poll depending on the warranty? It seems clear that the customer benefits most from the warranty that comes with items (though perhaps not as much as they should benefit). As for extended warranties, the companies clearly win those overall, otherwise they wouldn’t offer them. Then again, we can say the same thing about insurance.

  7. Did the OP use his credit card to purchase the laptop? VISA and Master Card offer a one to two year extension to the factory warranty. Also, if he is a reader of Chris’ articles, then he would have known to also take photos of the laptop BEFORE shipping it off so he had proof of condition at the time of shipment.

  8. I’m in the process of a warranty exchange now. External 4TB hard drive. In about a week, I’ll have have had it for a year. Seagate has it listed as in warranty till middle of June. They don’t repair a drive and send it back, they replace it. Since this is used strictly as a portable version of the mirrored RAID on my main machine, I have lost nothing but restoration of the data to the drive. In this case, Seagate is sending a replacement and I’ll be sending the bad one back to them. In the end, all I will be paying for in shipping the drive back to them. I’d say with Seagate, that the warranty definitely benefits the customer. I’ve had issues with just about every external drive I’ve had. A WD drive quit after the warranty period, but it wasn’t the drive itself that quit, but the little power/SATA to USB board that quit. I couldn’t even get them to send me a replacement board, so I took the drive out of the case and it is now being used as an internal drive in my server, so no real loss of use, just not portable any more.

  9. I bought a used Dell laptop for my in-laws in Ukraine and took it to them while visiting. About a half year later, the video card died and killed the screen. This commonly happens because of some solder on the board that wears out. I tried to find a replacement part for them but my father-in-law said nevermind, the local repairman fixed it on his own and charged my father-in-law 50 bucks.

    Whenever I visit my in-laws, I bring EVERYTHING I can fit into a bag that needs mended with me. Jackets with busted zippers. Watches. Small electronics. These guys are amazing. And they really know how to hack into Target too!

    Anyways, it’s about finding the right shop. I miss the Ukrainian repairman I knew in Costa Mesa, California, but I moved to the East Coast.

    In the case of the above laptop, it sounds like the clear cover that goes over the LCD screen cracked. They probably could have gotten it fixed cheap locally.

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