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Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Café au Lait? Oy Vey!

Laptop computers by their design are frequent travel companions and are subjected to a wide variety of hazards. Consequently, about one third of laptops will need repairs averaging $150 to $300 by the end of the third year of ownership.


You might expect broken screens and hinges to be the most common problem, but the leading cause of damage is actually spilled liquids, which account for 60% of laptop service visits. Ironically, it’s not the water that’s the problem – it’s whatever is dissolved in it. Coffee (the leading spilled liquid), soft drinks and fruit juices all contain corrosive acids. Salt and other soluble minerals are also corrosive, while sugars and dairy products leave a sticky residue. If the keyboard is integral to the laptop, liquids spilled on it will flow through and around the keyboard components and onto critical internal electronic components in short order.

If you have a spill, immediately shut down the computer, disconnect the power plug and all other connections, remove the battery (if possible) and invert the computer to drain the liquid out. Avoid getting liquid on the screen. Once the dripping has stopped, dry all accessible surfaces with towels and q-tips as best as you can. Ideally, the next steps would be to disassemble the laptop, rinse all of the circuit boards in distilled water, apply contact cleaner to all appropriate surfaces, thoroughly dry all components, reassemble, cross fingers and attempt a startup. Professionals expect a 90% likelihood of success if they perform a thorough cleanup promptly – and will bill $200 to $350 for the service. Wait at least 48 hours before trying to start the computer again if you decide to skip the professional cleaning process.

If the keyboard is separate from the laptop, disconnecting the power source, draining the spilled liquid, rinsing with distilled water, draining and then drying for several days will salvage a fair percentage of keyboards. Then again, most replacement keyboards are not terribly expensive.

While the usual manufacturer’s one year warranty typically covers product defects, loss and damage protection is decidedly not included. Your auto or homeowner’s insurance may offer limited coverage, but accidental damage coverage (ADC) plans will call for a separate insurance policy. Computer manufacturers, retailers and insurance companies all offer comprehensive plans that vary widely in coverage and price; shop carefully if you want to travel this route. Remember that such policies are priced primarily to provide significant profits to the seller rather than benefits to the purchaser.

Spill damage is readily preventable. You can purchase a plastic or silicone keyboard cover or routinely use an external or wireless keyboard with your laptop. Consider using a travel mug or a water bottle for your beverage choice – or simply keep all drinks away from your computer. Any of the above is far less expensive than any insurance policy!