Heres the Deal: Fix Computers, Cars and Appliances for Free | Reader's Digest

Here’s the Deal: Fix Computers, Cars and Appliances for Free

Problems with your computer, car, or appliances? There's someone online who can help.

By Janice Lieberman from Reader's Digest | August 2009

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been under a tight deadline when my computer froze or I got some strange error message. If my husband, Steve, couldn’t help, I’d call tech support, pay $2 a minute, and hope for the best. In those moments, I often thought about what I would give to have an IT guy living in my basement. But now there’s free, round-the-clock help—for computers, cars, and appliances—from experts and people just like you who once had your problem and figured out how to solve it.

Computers. Mike Cermak started Tech Support Guy (techguy.org) as a teen when he realized his family and friends weren’t the only technically challenged users around. Today there are 450,000 members and 29 forums on everything from general security to games. Search a database of common problems or ask a question. At computerhope.com, techies address a wide range of glitches. Look for recall updates and fixes for error messages. Mac users can skip the trip to the Genius Bar and get expert advice on the apple.com forums, where knowledgeable (and passionate) Mac users hang out.

Cars. It was 90 degrees recently, and my car’s air conditioner was cranking out heat. Fortunately, I have a mechanic I trust, but for anyone with basic DIY skills (or who is curious about the mysteries of an auto’s mechanics), tune in to Car Talk, the weekly show on National Public Radio. The hosts, brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Click and Clack to their followers), take calls from listeners about weird knocking sounds, “check engine light” warnings, and transmission problems. Go to cartalk.com for more of their tips. If you already know the difference between shocks and struts, log on to 2carpros.com for videos and step-by-step guides to fixing just about anything. Professional technicians answer more than 10,000 questions every month.

Appliances. Anyone who is moderately skilled or motivated (definitely not my husband) might want to check out repairclinic.com. Ricky Burnett of Lancaster, California, found his refrigerator sitting in a pool of water one day. After performing the site’s diagnostic tests, he discovered all he needed was a $37 part, which he ordered, new, on the site (you’ll find tips for locating make and model numbers). There’s even a RepairGuru application with detailed drawings and directions.

E-mail an expert if you need more specific help. Burnett figures he saved big by doing the repair himself: “And my fridge runs better now than when I bought it ten years ago.”

A Simpler Cell Phone

Okay, I admit it: I have trouble reading incoming numbers on my sleek cell phone. My six-year-old knows how to use the built-in camera, but I don’t have a clue. And my stepdad hands the phone to my mom because he has trouble hearing me when I call. Does anyone make a no-frills cell for the post-Jonas Brothers set?

Joni Blecher of letstalk.com, a great site for comparing cell phones and plans, suggests Samsung’s a777 if I want to see the numbers when my phone rings. For the best sound quality on a basic phone, she says, go with the Nokia 1680. If you need a hearing aid–compatible (HAC) model, get the Samsung SCH-u340, with its HAC rating of 4 (you want at least a 3). When shopping for a phone, ask if you can place a call on a working model, says Kent German of cnet.com. Are the numbers big enough? Can you hear your friend clearly? After all, who doesn’t want the basics before the bells and whistles?

3 Sites for Savings

  • moneyaisle.com FDIC-insured banks bid in live auctions to give consumers the highest interest rate on savings accounts and CDs.
  • fabuloussavings.com We saw coupons for 40 percent off at Borders and 20 percent off at Petco.
  • rosieknows.com How-to tutorials for applications like Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, from Rosie Blandford, a mom who also wanted to know.

Watch Janice Lieberman on the Today show and send her your questions.