Computer crashing? Internet lagging? Don’t call in the experts yet! You may not need to spend a bundle on new equipment or hire a repair company to fix some of the most common tech problems. Tech fixes can be costly when done by a professional, and new equipment can easily run into the thousands of dollars. Before you shell out your hard-earned cash, try these low-cost solutions instead.
Speed up your internet with a $10 cable.
Do your video chats or streaming movies freeze over and over? You don’t need a new $200 Wi-Fi router or extender to stretch your signal — nor do you need a better internet service plan that tacks $25 or more onto your monthly bill. All it takes is a “Cat 6 Ethernet cable.” Plug one end into your Wi-Fi router and the other into your computer or TV. By attaching these devices directly, you get a seamless internet connection at the highest speed available. And it works no matter how far you go in your house: Cable lengths are available from 8 feet to 150 feet, for as little as $10. (One to try: Cable Matters Snagless Cat6 Ethernet Cable — Buy on Amazon, $10.)
Upgrade your laptop with a $7 flash drive.
When computer programs run slowly or don’t work correctly, repair techs will charge up to $65 an hour to diagnose the problem — and a new computer costs over $600. But chances are, the PC or Mac you have now will run like new by simply moving big files (like videos, music, and photos that clog your computer’s hard drive and slow down other programs) onto a $7 flash drive. A flash drive is a lipstick-sized portable storage device that has ample storage for thousands of photos and hours of music and video. This frees up space, so your computer will be back up to speed. (One to try: PNY 32GB Turbo Attaché 3 USB Flash Drive — Buy on Amazon, $7.)
Revive a key fob with a $4 cleaner.
Has your car’s electronic key fob stopped responding when you press the buttons? If replacing the battery doesn’t fix it, you could face a steep bill of up to $400 for a new fob, plus another $100 to program it. To dodge the expense: Pry open the fob and gently rub the contacts (gold squares or circles) with a cotton swab that’s lightly dampened with isopropyl alcohol. This quick tech fix removes button-blocking dirt and dust, so the fob works perfectly again. (One to try: Solimo 91% Isopropyl Alcohol Spray Bottle — Buy on Amazon, $4.)
Tune up a heater with a $17 thermostat.
When your furnace won’t turn on or it shuts off before your home gets warm, bringing in a repair person to find out what’s going on can cost up to $250 for the service call, then up to $100 per hour (plus parts!) after that. So before you pick up the phone, check for one of the most common culprits behind HVAC problems — a faulty thermostat. Because thermostats get so much use from family members constantly adjusting the temperature, their parts can wear out. Luckily, a couple of easy tech fixes let you solve this yourself!
First, replace the batteries, since weak batteries can cause a thermostat to malfunction, even if you can still see digital numbers on the screen. If that doesn’t help, install a replacement thermostat. (One to try: Emerson NP110 Non-Programmable Single Stage Thermostat — Buy on Amazon, $17.) Simply turn off the power to the thermostat at your breaker, disconnect the old one, connect the new one, and turn the power back on. For easy step-by-step video installation instructions, visit YouTube.com and search “How to Install a Thermostat.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.