Before you drop your computer off at a local computer repair service, or call them for in-home or in-business service, there are several very important questions you should ask.
See some of these important questions below, along with the answers you should expect to hear. If you don't get reasonable answers to these questions, it's time to look for another local computer repair service.
"How Much do you Charge per Hour?"
Asking the cost of a service seems like a question you'd be unlikely to forget but I am always amazed by stories of customers in absolute shock at the hourly rate for a particular computer repair service - after the fact.
Don't wait until it's time to pay the bill to find out how much per hour you you'll be paying.
Expected Answer: "We charge [$50 to $70]USD per hour."
Rates vary, and so do charging schemes (some computer repair services are billed per service), but $50 to $70USD per hour is average. Too much higher than that and you're likely getting ripped off. Too much lower and you're probably in for subpar service or a scheme where you're billed for a higher-than-average number of hours.
"Can You Tell Me How Many Billable Hours This Might Take to Fix?"
No one wants to find out that it took 9 hours at $60/hour to fix a particular computer problem when a brand new budget PC might be had for half the final bill. Having at least some idea about how much the grand total will be is important.
Expected Answer: "I can't be totally sure, of course, but these types of problems usually take about [x] hours to fix."
Having yet to take a look under the hood, no computer repair service can tell you with absolute certainty how many billable hours something might take. If all you need is a simple hardware replacement or software installation, you might be quoted a specific amount, but otherwise you should expect a little flexibility on the answer here.
Use your best judgment on the exact answer to this question. Not being an expert, it might be hard for you to determine if the estimation you're given is exaggerated. If in doubt, call around and get some estimates from several computer repair services.
Are you denied even a best-guess estimate on billable hours from a PC repair service? Don't do business with them. You can't be expected to enter into an agreement to have your computer fixed with no idea whatsoever of the likely total cost.
"Do You Have a Minimum Charge?"
Not all computer problems take several hours to repair. A computer repair service might only spend 10 to 15 minutes solving a particular problem. If your problem happens to be one of these "quick fixes" you should be aware of how you'll be charged for it.
Expected Answer: "Yes, our minimum bench charge is one billable hour."
Most computer repair services will charge you 1 hour of labor for any time up to one hour spent working on your PC. This is sometimes called a minimum bench charge and is completely customary.
If you're lucky, your favorite local computer repair service will have a minimum bench charge of only 1/2 of their billable hour, however I don't see this very often anymore.
"Should I Expect Any Charges Other Than the Hourly Rate?"
Many services we pay for in life are rife with hidden fees. That $19USD oil change seems to cost about $35USD when it's all said and done.
Expected Answer: "No."
It is not common practice for a computer repair service to charge extra fees for their standard services. Obviously, if you require replacement hardware or a new piece of software, you should expect to pay for it but you should not expect any sort of hidden fees or surcharges.
If you're told that there are extra fees, be sure to see a list of them in writing for leaving your PC or requesting service in your home or business.
"Do You Charge Extra For In-Home/Business Service?"
Many times, especially with national chain computer repair services, in-store and in-home/in-business repair services are considered completely separate services. You should always be aware of any billing differences for between these services before getting your computer repaired.
Expected Answer: "Yes, we do charge [a small extra fee or slightly higher hourly rate] for in-home and in-business service."
If you're quoted a rate twice as high for in-home/business computer repair service, don't get it. Take your computer to their shop or find another computer repair service. You should, however, expect to see some kind of small charge to visit you - perhaps a $10 to $20USD single "trip" charge or a 10-20% hourly rate increase.
Some computer repair services do not charge anything extra at all for this extra service. Don't take that as a sign of a low quality service, just consider yourself lucky!
"Do You Guarantee Your Service?"
It's important to know whether or not you can expect a guaranty on the services provided. No one wants to get their computer serviced again two weeks later for the same problem.
For example, if you received an error message like "Cannot find \Windows\System32\hal.dll" and the computer repair service corrected the problem for you, it's reasonable to expect that, at least in the near future, the problem will not return.
Expected Answer: "Yes. For most problems we guarantee our service for [30 to 90] days."
Anything less than 30 days isn't a good deal. If a computer repair service offers more than a 90 day guarantee, be sure to read the fine print to see what sorts of problems it covers before you choose that particular service based on their stellar guarantee.
As far as "most problems" is concerned, don't expect any computer repair service to remove a virus from your computer and then guarantee that you won't be infected by it again. Yes, they should make sure your anti-malware program is updated and ready to defend your computer, but they can't do anything about you visiting the same malicious sites and possibly getting infected again. This would be like a car wash guaranteeing that your car won't get dirty for 90 days after cleaning - that's not going to happen.
Important: No reputable computer repair service will guarantee a satisfactory solution to your PC problem before they've had a chance to look at the computer. You should always be prepared to pay at least the minimum bench charge even if your computer couldn't be repaired in the way you expected.
"When Might I Be Able to Pick Up My Computer?"
Aside from all the questions about how much this is all going to cost, it's important to ask when you might be able to pick up your computer. If you're getting in-home or in-business service, a related question would be "When might you be able to come out to my home/business?".
Expected Answer: "You should be able to pick up your PC in 24 to 48 hours."
The "right" answer to this question is really up to your personal schedule and expectations. I say 24 to 48 hours because that's the average answer. If you're quoted "an hour from now" that doesn't mean that the computer repair service isn't a good one. That sounds like a great answer to me! Alternatively, if you're quoted "a week from now" and that's a satisfactory answer to you, then great. If not, I recommend looking elsewhere.
If you're in a big hurry and you have the right kind of problem, an online computer repair service might be right for you.