When computers go bad

CONSUMING INTERESTS

November 09, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

Aaron Shepard bought his Acer Ferrari 4005 WLMi laptop for $2,250 about three years ago to take to Columbia University.

Too bad the 21-year-old law student from Catonsville soon discovered the purchase was a "fatal error" on his part.

Within six months, the top-of-the-line laptop simply stopped working, the recovery program was MIA, and "fatal error" messages kept popping up on the screen. Shepard had no choice but to ship it back to Acer's headquarters in California for repair. Little did he know that he was dealing with a soul-sucking electronic hydra that would defy all fixes and test his patience and wallet.

"I believe I sent the computer in for repair at least eight times and called Acer several more times to send me parts to fix something that went wrong," Shepard said. "I spent a lot of time and money to ship the computer back. For a significant percentage of the time I owned this computer, I was without it, as it was either practically unusable or in the process of being repaired.

If this were a car, Shepard would likely be protected. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a computer lemon law. Perhaps, there ought to be.

Just consider what Shepard went through after buying his computer in June 2005:

May 2006: The laptop case is broken, the speakers don't work, and the touch pad and keyboard are worn out. He sends it to Acer for repair.

July 2006: The AC adapter gets very hot and melts the cord. Acer sends a new adapter.

August 2006: The power pin inside the computer is loose. The laptop can't charge. The right speaker fails again. Back to Acer for repair. Computer returns 10 days later, power pin is still not fixed. Back to Acer.

October 2006: The front cover falls off, rendering the headphone jack, microphone jack, memory card reader and speakers useless. Back to Acer for repairs.

January 2007: The replacement AC adapter fails. Acer sends a new one.

May 2007: Battery won't charge past 40 percent. Acer sends a new battery.

September 2007: Power pin fails again. Back to Acer for repairs.

Anyone else out there still smacking your head on the table in frustration for Shepard yet? Seriously. I probably would have hurled the laptop through a wall by the third or fourth incident. And not to get all biblical here, but Shepard has the patience of Job.

Shepard's first laptop had two more issues that needed repair work until Acer finally decided that it wasn't worth trying to repair his laptop anymore. They exchanged a refurbished unit in place of the older unit at the end of last year.

The refurbished model also failed repeatedly. Four more miserable times, Shepard said, he had to send the refurbished laptop back to repair the touch pad, power pin, headphone jack, the CD drive cover, random access memory, motherboard, touch pad and another dead battery.

Calls and complaint letters to Acer went nowhere.

"I will give Acer credit that they were very good about scheduling repairs and doing the repair work under the three-year warranty I had," Shepard said. "But what good is the warranty if their repair people don't have the ability to actually fix things? Worse, after I complained about all my problems, I received just one call from Acer basically telling me that they wouldn't do anything other than fix the problem they caused."

Acer blew us off in the end, too.

Initially, Acer spokesman Alison Williams talked to us about Shepard's complaint. She called Shepard, too, to discuss the details. And then Williams called us back to say, "Under normal circumstances, he should not have had so many issues with his notebook PC. It is Acer's policy when a computer is under the parts and labor warranty - to repair and fix the necessary issues, however, not replace the unit. It was a special circumstance that Acer sent him a refurbished unit in place of his other notebook PC."

Gee, that's so generous of Acer. Did they miss the part where Shepard said he had to send the refurb back four times for repairs? Whether he spent $200 or more than $2,000, Shepard has a right to a working computer. Williams never responded to my questions about whether Acer techs pinpointed the exact problem in both Shepard's laptops.

But even more noteworthy and surprising was that Acer never responded to Shepard after it asked him how it could resolve his complaint. He requested a fairly reasonable $500 for the money and time he spent shipping his computer for repairs. He received no reply. Acer did not respond to e-mails I sent them, either. We had no choice but to interpret their silence to mean the answer was a big, fat "NO."

Shepard has since washed his hands of this mess and purchased another laptop. Not surprisingly, it was not an Acer. While it is true that there is no lemon law to protect computers, Shepard is not entirely out of luck, said Eric Friedman, director of the Montgomery County Office for Consumer Protection.

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