Oh no, I dropped my laptop! What do I do?

It happened so fast and suddenly that everything goes in slow motion. The laptop tumbles onto the floor with an expensive sounding clunk. You panic and curse, then you realize it can’t be undone. Now you wonder, what do I do?

First, relax a bit to clear your mind. Accidents happen and its quite common nowadays for a laptop to be dropped. Now, let’s figure out what the damage is..


Was the laptop on or off when this happened?

When I ask if the laptop was on or off, I mean off as in shut down completely. Sleeping counts as on. Damage to the laptop can be much more severe if it was on when it fell. Parts could break in the shock and short out other parts. Memory could become unseated and damage itself. The hard drive head could smash the fragile platter that your data lives on. Laptops fall, they get dropped. It’s just better if they are off when it happens.

Check for damage:

Take a look at the laptop’s body and display. Is there anything broken or smashed? Plastic everywhere? A cracked screen means you will need a new display and that’s expensive. Inspect the damage to the body if there is any. Are the parts inside ok or did they get damaged as well? Ports, where accessories are plugged into can be smashed in during a fall. Even more so if something was plugged in when it happens. If there’s damage to a port, you will either have to live without the port or replace the motherboard. The ports are physically a part of the motherboard so when one is damaged, the motherboard is damaged. Motherboards (or Logic Boards as Apple calls them) are also expensive. Remember – if there’s any scrapes, cracks, scuffs or other damage, its not a free repair.

Check for power:

Was the laptop off when it fell? Try to turn it on. If the lights light up that’s a good sign. If it was on when it fell and now it’s off and won’t turn back on, that’s bad. Most likely a motherboard gone bad. It could be something else, but in my experience at least 75% of the time, its the motherboard. Listen for any sounds that you’ve never heard before and don’t sound right. Some noise may be normal. However a scraping sound or loud beeps are not. If there’s beeps, and it won’t start up then turn the laptop off and turn it back on again. This time, count the beeps. The number is important. Your computer is giving you an error code. If you are technically inclined, look up the error code and check the problem. (Most likely the RAM became unseated in the shock from the fall). If not, write the number down for when you call a computer tech and tell them the number.

Check the Display:

Now if the laptop is beginning to turn on, look at the display and make sure it lights up. Look for cracks in the crystal inside the display. If the display turns on and there is a crack inside the crystal, you will see it. It’s that gigantic mark, spot, or pattern on the screen that’s never been there before. That means you need a new display also.

Check your OS:

Ok, so you were lucky enough to have it start up and no problems with the display. Everything’s great, right? Not so fast. Your Hard Drive, which holds your data (files, pictures, movies, music) may have been damaged. Let the system start up and see if you can begin to use the computer. If the computer just hangs and freezes at a point in the startup, you could have hard drive damage. Now, you may be able to repair this by re-installing your system. But what about your files, pictures, movies, music, etc? Also, just because the system started up, all your files aren’t necessarily alright. If you’re like me, you have a current backup handy and it’s really not that big of a deal. I doubt you are as geeky as me… But that’s OK.

Backup your data:

Immediately begin to backup your data. I can not stress how important this is. A dropped laptop that sustained damage could fail at any time from now until you are done with using the computer forever. I have seen a sales rep spend thousands of dollars to recover his reports and receipts because he dropped his laptop, everything was alright and then three weeks later his hard drive completely failed. Put everything important on an external drive, burn CD/DVDs, stick your files on another computer or an iPod. Do whatever you can and do it as soon as possible. If you have corrupted or damaged files, you will find them when you begin backing up.

What to do if there’s damage:

If there is any damage or the computer doesn’t work anymore. You can either get it fixed or buy a new machine. If it’s purely cosmetic damage or something you can live with, you can keep using the computer. Just make sure you back up your files! If you have AppleCare or any other extended warranty, check their policy about physical damage or dropped laptops. AppleCare doesn’t cover physical damage. Sometimes property insurance covers accidental physical damage if you have a specific policy for your computer. If it was purchased with a credit card, check their policy as well. They may have some type of purchase protection or warranty that may cover physical damage. If the machine is more than 3 years old, seriously consider replacing it. Laptops more than 3 years old are at the edge of becoming obsolete. It isn’t worth the cost to repair a machine that is technically near the end of its lifespan. Remember, that a cheap low-end laptop being sold now is most likely better than or equal to your three year old laptop. It may even cost less than the repairs. Factor in all of this before you take the laptop in to be fixed.

Further reading:
Apple’s Three Options to Properly Fix your Broken Mac
To AppleCare or not to Apple Care

David Balogh tagged this post with: , , , , , , Read 228 articles by

7 Comments

  1. jeff says:

    Where could i possibly purchase a new screen?

  2. David Balogh says:

    Hi Jeff,

    It all depends on how old the laptop is. For older models, I’d recommend looking on Ebay or craigslist for either the parts themselves or a laptop with a working screen but a bad logic board. If it’s a newer laptop, then buying the screen new may make more sense.

    I wrote an article about sourcing repair parts a few months back, here’s the link:

    How to source Apple repair parts

    Good Luck,
    David

  3. Andy says:

    Excellent article. My brother dropped his HP Pavilion dv2941se notebook while it was on causing it to shut off. Afterwards it would not boot, only the indicator lights next to the keypad/touchpad showed a hint of wanting to start until the bios would beep 4 times then it went into sleep mode. ‘Monitor out’ method failed but upon checking the RAM sticks we noticed both had become unseated partially from their slots. Then it was able to fully boot although one third of the display had been damaged showing nothing but white green and red lines running top to bottom. Oh well what a relief to have recover it that point thanks to the many helpful and informative PC repair forums and articles.

  4. sandeep says:

    hi,

    i have a Compaq presario m2254 au laptop. It has an AMD Turion 64 processor and is 3 years old (has no warranty).

    i have dropped a reasonably heavy object on top the keyboard of my laptop this morning. The laptop screen froze and became blurred, I tried working on it, but of no use. I then shut it down. After some time i tried starting it, i found that it will work for some time say approx – 5-8 minutes and then gets shutdown.

    First i thought maybe the hard drive got lost, i tried keeping another hard disk, but the result was the same, it boots up, loads all icons in taskbar, i open firefox and browse a little and then suddenly shuts down. I tried the same wid linux, where it behaves in the same manner. If i just power on the laptop without doing anything, it does not shut down, after a while screen saver comes.

    I think my laptop has experienced some kind of shock, if this is the case is there anything i can do ?? giving laptop for outside repair is very expensive here …..

  5. David Balogh says:

    Sandeep,

    Sounds like the laptop may be overheating. Anything is possible when you drop something on the laptop but more than likely it’s either a fan not working or one of your heatsinks was dislodged. Another possibility is that a section of the motherboard is damaged.

    Unfortunately, you’re going to have to spend money to repair this one either for parts or for someone else to fix it for you.

    Good Luck,
    David

  6. Rudy says:

    Hello,

    My wife was holding her laptop by the screen, with the lid open, and it slipped from under her fingers and dropped to the floor from about thigh high. It turns on but it gives me an error saying: could not find OS. I thought it was just hardrive damage so I replaced it with a new one, but am still getting the same message. What can I do? I bought a new laptop (a TouchSmart) and it came with Vista but in a 64-bit version and restore disks (dvds), the old one had Vista, but the 32-bit version. Can I use those restore disks on my old laptop, or will that make things even worse? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!!

    Thank you.

  7. David Balogh says:

    Hi Rudy,

    New hard drives usually come blank, it probably just needs to have an OS installed. You can use the 64bit OS with your laptop as long as it has the appropriate drivers and a 64bit compatible processor / chipset. 64bit drivers are different than 32Bit, I would not try installing 32bit drivers unless the manufacturer says it will work.

    I’d look for the restore disks that came with the older laptop if possible.

    Good Luck,
    David