The 10 Things Likely to Go Wrong When Fixing a Phone or Laptop
Repair Stories

The 10 Things Likely to Go Wrong When Fixing a Phone or Laptop

Taking apart a device for the first time is frightening. Even with one of our handy repair guides available, you might feel like you’re going to break something, it will be your fault, and only experts should do this kind of thing.

We, the fixers at iFixit, want you to know that we have done everything wrong you can imagine doing wrong. We have fallen prey to weird designs, uncertain hand movements, and forgetfulness. We have killed devices. We, too, have biffed it.

But you can learn from us. Specifically, a combined list of the most common things most people do wrong, and which members of our repair community get hung up on. Keep this post bookmarked before your next electronic repair project, and enjoy the wonderful gift of lots and lots of hindsight.

Lose Patience While Heating Up Glue

An iOpener tube laying on a phone

There is a lot of glue inside modern devices. It’s largely what makes them waterproof. That glue is also strong. Using the iOpener is the safest way to apply even, steady heat to your device without damaging components, like you might with a heat gun. But it often takes multiple applications, even after you get that first pick underneath the glass. Trying to use force to get a screen, battery, glass back, or other piece out while the glue is still cool is a quick path to broken glass, bent parts, or other critical failures.

On that note: some devices keep very important components right near the edge of the screen—like the Pixel 2’s OLED display and front-facing camera. It’s not great design, but it’s also why bezels are not always a bad thing—they help hide pieces further in. Always consider where you’re going to make your first insertion into a glued-on screen, and always err on the side of a shallower cut-in.

Lose Track of Screw Sizes (or Just Lose Them)

All the screws inside a Nintendo Wii
All the screws inside a Nintendo Wii

There are two big mistakes you can make when you start removing screws:

  • Assuming that the screws will stay in place on a nearby flat surface
  • Assuming that there are only a couple lengths or widths of screws in the device, and that you’ll be able to remember them all.

These mistakes play nicely off one another. You might put all your screws in a little jar, but later find out that your laptop’s case uses three different sizes.. Or you might try separating them on the table, only for a breeze, footsteps, or your clumsy forearm to undo it all. It’s not just a pain to find the little buggers in carpet or behind furniture—the wrong screw into the wrong hole can puncture a component just below where the screw is supposed to reach.

Keep track of exactly which screw came from which hole on your device. Take pictures. Use the diagrams on our repair guides. Keep different screws in different, small containers. An empty egg carton works in a pinch, but we also sell a Magnetic Project Mat on which you can label, stick, and separate all your little parts.

Pull Open a Device and Snap a Cable

Fragile ribbon cable inside a Pixel 2

Getting a device to open after multiple, patient applications of heat and gentle prying feels great. Once the glue starts to give, it’s a deep instinct to reach into your leverage point and pull a screen or panel completely off. Do not ever do this. There is always something that connects the display to the main board, especially on phones and tablets.

When you gain the advantage over a screen or panel, always move it a small amount at first, checking underneath to see what cables are connected to it. When it comes time to disconnect that cable, don’t just yank it out. There are many kinds of cable connectors and ways to disconnect them, and patience is worth a lot when you’re wondering why one is so stubborn.

Forget One Last Screw Before Yanking Something Out

Tricky screws on the motherboard of a camera

Why won’t this thing just come out? Possibly because the universe is cruel, but more practically, there is one last thing keeping it in place. Often it’s a screw that’s hidden under a sticker. Sometimes it’s a screw that has a different color or head shape than the other screws you’ve removed thus far. Or, sometimes, you’re just in a rush. But if you’re trying to extract something and it feels like one part of it just won’t move, pull back and take another look.

A special shout-out to the ribbon cables or thin cables you might leave trapped underneath the item you’re replacing in a device, making you unscrew everything again to free them after you realize it.

Use Wrong Bits or Overzealous Screwdriver Tactics

A beautifully neat screwdriver tip sitting flush inside a screw head

Not everybody gets a tutorial in screwdriver use when they’re young—I know I didn’t. But you can generally put screws in and get them out, so you forge ahead, stripping a few along the way. This might not burn you much when it comes to cheap shelving, but ruining a tiny screw inside a phone or laptop is demotivating, and a punishment to the next person working with the device…which still might be you. 

Use the right screw tip for the right kind of screw, make sure the driver fills up the screw head, keep continuous downward pressure on the screw, and follow other screwdriver best practices. Start with a beginner’s mind and follow the steps closely the next time you’re working on a repair, and you might just get a new lease on your screwdriver prowess.

Damage Tiny Components with Clumsy Prying

Prying at a phone component with tweezers

Our repair guide team has been putting more warnings into their guides lately, whenever a guide calls for prying a component up from a device. Tiny devices fit their necessary components everywhere. All it takes is a little force to slip off a clip or battery compartment and onto a tiny little module, and now your DIY repair is not something you can do yourself.

Go slowly, always back off and look at something if you’re applying pressure and it’s not working, and check if there isn’t a clip, cable, screw, or something else preventing you from getting your object lose.

Fail to Disconnect the Battery as Soon as Possible

Disconnecting the battery inside an iPhone

This one’s pretty short and simple, but often overlooked. So much so that I, a person who has seen this step in dozens of teardowns, forgot to do it on my last repair and killed a beloved laptop. 

We include this instruction in every repair guide for a device with a battery for a reason. You just don’t know where charge can build up or come through. Your tools may be ESD-safe (at least if they’re iFixit tools!), but your fingers are not. Connecting components while the battery is active can cause shorts and sparks (which, in particular, I can verify). Don’t take the risk.

Remove the SIM Tray Before Trying to Remove Boards

Removing the SIM tray from an iPhone SE

This one comes from iPhones, but applies to other phones, too: the slide-out tray where the phone stores a SIM card goes deep into the phone, and it’s usually made of metal. At least two different iFixit teardown engineers told me that despite writing it into guides themselves, they often forget about it, until they’re wondering what’s keeping the motherboard from coming out smoothly. 

Don’t Give Yourself Enough Time to Do the Job

Close-up of the time required for a phone repair

If there was one repair tip every iFixit engineer agreed on, it was this one. For many reasons, you should set aside enough time, probably a bit more than you can estimate, to do the job and clean it up.

Not having enough time can make you do a lot of bad things you wouldn’t normally do:

  • Forge ahead with the wrong screwdriver, stripping screws
  • Prying at plastic parts with metal tools or knives
  • Leave cables disconnected or improperly inserted
  • Forget where things go when you come back to the job later
  • Leave the device open and allow dirt or liquids a much better chance of getting inside
  • Putting it down for later and never getting back to it.

This is not a job you can get done in the 20 minutes before work. Look at the time estimate in our guides, give yourself a little extra, and wait until you have time to really dig in.

Lack Confidence In Yourself

iFixit wrench logo on a canvas badge

Sure, we list everything that can go wrong, even when you’re an experienced device tinkerer, and then we tell you to get confident?

But you really do have this. If your device is malfunctioning because it needs a new part, there is not much to lose. You can learn a lot by opening up a device and seeing how, even at their most complicated, these things are just parts, cobbled together and sealed away.
Most gadget makers go out of their way these days to make their devices look like something you should never open. Blazing past this assumption is fun, empowering, and something most people can do.