Whether your AppleCare is expired or you opted not to extend it, out of warranty replacements through Apple can be expensive. If you aren't comfortable performing a DIY repair on your own, that may leave you looking for a repair company that's either local to you or accepts mail-ins that can perform the repair for you.
In the past few years, many repair companies have cropped up all over the world that specialize in iPhone, iPad, and iPod repair. Unfortunately, not all of them use quality parts and/or know exactly what they're doing. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a third party iPhone, iPad, and iPod repair company.
Research them online
This is somewhat common sense but it's absolutely the first thing you should do. If they aren't listed on Yelp! or Google Businesses, it may not be a good sign. Check for an official website, Facebook, or Twitter page and see what other people are saying about them. If you can't find an online presence, we'd recommend looking for another option. Any credible repair company should be more than forthcoming with their customers and gladly accept their feedback in a public forum where potential customers can find it.
Finding quality information about a company online is extremely important when you're looking at mailing in a device. Walk-ins allow you to gauge your level of comfort on a face to face basis but mail-ins take that factor away. If you're thinking about mailing your device off to a company, you should communicate with them on the phone or at the very least, via email, before doing so. If you can't find a contact phone number and/or physical address, find another service. There are many reputable companies out there that will talk to you.
Inquire about pricing
Pricing is a deciding factor for many when they're debating whether they should get a device fixed or use an upgrade, if available. A reputable repair shop should be open about their pricing. A good sign is if they actually list it online on their website or Facebook page.
When it comes to paying for a repair, prices will vary given where you live and your local market but the going rates should be pretty consistent across the board. For instance, iPhone 4/4S repairs typically range between $80 to $115 for a screen replacement depending on your location. This should include labor and parts.
Cheaper isn't always better!
We're talking about your iPhone, iPad, or iPod here. While it's always nice to snag a good deal on something, a repair isn't something we recommend compromising on. If someone is offering to perform a screen replacement or other repair that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We have seen repair shops crop up that offer screen replacements for the iPhone 4/4S for as low as $40 to $50. This is a huge red flag that they're probably not using authentic or high quality parts. Knock-off and counterfeit parts on eBay and Amazon are cheaper for a reason, they have an extremely high defect rate. It's also less likely that the repair company is going to warranty or stand behind their work.
That leads us to our next topic...
Don't ever be afraid to ask a repair company what kind of parts they use or where they come from. While you can find high quality parts from eBay and Amazon for a higher price tag, it's not normally a route that a reputable repair company would take.
Suppliers like eTech Parts offer repair companies great deals depending on how much they order in a given month. The more they order, the higher of a discount they'll get on their wholesaler account. Amazon and eBay sellers typically won't do this nor is either site set up for this. Any reputable repair company should be more concerned with providing a quality service over saving a few bucks per screen or component cable.
I am very open with customers that ask about where we acquire our parts and even give them links to some of our supplier sites if they ask. Not all repair companies will do this but some may and that may help set your mind at ease. If they won't tell you where they get their parts, at least make sure they warranty them for a reasonable amount of time.
A very obvious question that you should always be asking is whether or not a repair company warranties their work. Any good one should absolutely be warrantying not only parts but defects in workmanship. I've found that 90 days is pretty typical across the board with some companies warrantying work a little longer. They should also be able to answer specifics on what exactly is covered under the warranty.
This typically comes into alignment with how a supplier will warranty parts for that company. For example, eTech Parts will warranty all the parts I buy for 90 days, so I pass that 90 days on to the customer. If they have a problem, we correct the issue and then deal with the part supplier on our own time.
For example, we typically warranty the repair they have performed and that particular part but if they come in with another issue, we'll always check and make sure another issue didn't arise from an error on our part. This requires a great level of trust between you and your customer.
Around here, we have a we break it, we bought it policy. If we break a device during the course of repair, we replace it with a brand new one. No, not a refurbished or repaired device we have laying around, a brand new in box device directly from Apple or another big box retailer, with an Apple warranty. If that device isn't sold anymore, they get an upgrade to the closest model. In three years, we have only had to use that policy once, but it shows that we stand behind our work and are honest with our customers.
It sucks to tell a customer you made a mistake, but everyone does, and it's how we learn. And let's face it, accidents happen. It just can't be at the expense of a customer and a repair company has to be willing to own up to their end of the deal.
So don't be afraid to ask what happens if they break your device during a repair. It can happen and a reputable repair company should have an answer that you're willing to accept.
Repair time frame
This is probably the biggest concern of any person that walks through our door and the question we hear most often:
How long will I be without my iPhone?
Any reputable repair company should be forthcoming about how long they'll have your device and give you a receipt for it when you drop it off. While repair times may vary from company to company, most knowledgeable companies can do almost any iPhone repair while you wait unless it involves heavy diagnostics. For example, a smashed iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S screen should take no longer than an hour from start to finish, meaning you can most likely wait for it. Just keep in mind that if there are people ahead of you, it can increase the wait time. For common repairs on iPhones, don't expect to leave your iPhone for more than a few hours. If they're telling you days, walk way.
Other repairs that require more diagnostics such as liquid damage could take longer and are harder to estimate exact time frames. This will typically depend on the repair company and how many technicians they have at their disposal. We typically know within 1-3 days whether or not we can fix a device but that number may vary given the extent of the damage. If a hold up is caused by special ordering parts, that should be something the repair company communicates with you. We always try and keep in contact with our customers to let them know the status of their device as often as we can.
Smashed screens on other devices such as an iPad or iPod touch can vary greatly. Newer iPads can be more challenging but common repairs should still be able to be done same day or with a 24 hour turnaround time. Same thing for iPods. If you think a turnaround time estimate doesn't sound right, don't be afraid to ask why or call around to other places, even if they aren't in your area, and ask them what they estimate.
The bottom line
There are lots of repair companies out there who do exceptional work and treat iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch repairs as an art form. They love what they do and are genuinely good at it. Many of them may even service other kinds of devices such as Android and BlackBerry. Unfortunately, this is an industry that for every one reputable company that stands behind their work, you'll find three guys on the corner using sketchy parts off eBay to make a quick buck. It's something quality repair companies have been fighting since the beginning and still continue to fight today.
If you do your homework and voice your concerns to a prospective repair company, you'll know within seconds whether or not you trust them. If you don't, walk away and look for another option.
Depending on where you're located geographically, here are some suggestions based on personal experiences and/or customer feedback we have heard over the years.
The Pod Drop - over 10 locations throughout the midwest including Indiana, Michigan, and Tennessee, accepts mail-in repairs - Link to site
Cracked Mac Screen - Washing DC area, accepts mail-in repairs - Link to site