by Tom Kaneshige

Six Everyday iPhone Disasters and How to Handle Them

Sep 30, 2009
Consumer ElectronicsiPhonePersonal Software

From an impromptu swim through the washing machine to a hard drop on concrete, iPhone disasters happen to the best of us. Here's a look at the six top daily dangers for your iphone -- and what to do when disaster strikes.

Earlier this year, reportedly faulty exploding iPhones in Europe caused a whole lot of finger pointing at Apple and its suppliers—but more often than not, iPhones get sent to the repair shop because of user slip-ups.

Aaron Vronko, CEO of Rapid Repair, an iPod and iPhone repair shop, and one of the first technicians to take apart the iPhone 3GS and write a repair guide, has seen his fair share of reasons why broken iPhones need emergency surgery. Here are his six favorites, along with advice on how to triage the problems:

1. “My iPhone went through the washing machine.”

Liquid is public enemy number one of the iPhone. One reader wrote to me that Apple refused to fix her broken iPhone because the Apple technician saw a red line on the base of the phone where the charger attaches. “It’s some kind of liquid submersion indicator,” she says, adding that her new iPhone was never exposed to water, rain or humidity. “They insisted I must have somehow submerged the iPhone in water, voiding all warranties.”

When an iPhone gets caught up in the washing machine, you’ll probably have to kiss it goodbye. “This all-too-common cause has a high mortality rate due to the thorough and prolonged penetration of the water,” Vronko says.

2. “I plugged my iPhone into my car charger, and it started to smoke.”

Chances are you’ve fried iPhone circuits because of a power surge. The 12 volt electrical system of cars used primarily for headlights and interior lights was not designed to handle the loads of modern cars with their big stereos, myriad gadgets and electronic features. “It’s common to have power surges simply because we’re overloading a small capacity system,” Vronko says.

The good news is that the iPhone probably can be repaired cheaply, unlike the iPhone in the washing machine. In the iPhone, the dock connector acts as a kind of protective layer to the main board, and so a power surge will likely fry just the dock connector. You’ll need an inexpensive dock connector replacement, Vronko says. Of course, you’ll still have to go a couple of days without your iPhone.

A big power surge, of course, can make it to the main board. In these cases, it’s bye-bye iPhone. “It wouldn’t make economic sense to fix it,” Vronko says.

Vronko doesn’t make many recommendations about iPhone accessories, save one: Buy brand-name chargers because they’ll have a better fuse to protect the iPhone. A brand-name company will also be more likely to help you out if its product causes damage to your iPhone.

Also, if you’re intent on using a car charger, try not to have the iPhone plugged in when you’re starting or turning off a car. That’s usually when electrical spikes occur, Vronko says.

3. “I dropped the iPhone and the screen cracked.”

You may pull an iPhone from your pocket or bag 40 times in a day. Its thin shape and slippery plastic shell is a disaster in the making. I’ve probably dropped my iPhone once every other week, luckily on carpet, and thus had to replace the screen’s protective film or live with the scratches on the back. With a drop on concrete, though, it’s easy to see the potential for cracked screens.

A cracked screen is fixable, says Vronko. The combined LCD-digitizer screen module on the iPhone 2G will need to be replaced. On the iPhone 3G and 3GS, only the digitizer usually needs replacement, Vronko says.

4. “My iPhone won’t charge.”

When an iPhone won’t charge, consumer fears may turn to the highly publicized iPhone battery lemon phenomenon. More often than not, however, the problem is far less dramatic. “This is usually the result of a misaligned dock cable or a foreign object being forced into the dock connector, causing damage and requiring that this module be replaced,” Vronko says.

The advice is simple: take care when plugging the cable into the iPhone. Also, make sure it’s the right cable. Yes, people often try to force in a wrong cable into the socket.

Along these lines, some iPhone owners complain that their iPhone won’t charge fully—that is, the iPhone indicates a less-than-100 percent charge. Yet the problem might be that the chip on the battery and the chip on the device measuring the juice flowing back and forth are out of sync.

Vronko advises customers to run the iPhone completely dead and then charge it until it can’t take anymore charge. Repeat this process, “and this should sync up the chips,” he says.

5. “I tried to repair my iPhone myself, and now it doesn’t work.”

This common response often is accompanied with a bag full of parts and screws, says Vronko. Chances are, if you play Dr. Fix-It, you will do additional damage to the iPhone.

While we all took apart bikes or computers when we were kids, a person must know his limitations. Seek professional help when dealing with high-tech devices like the iPhone.

6. “My son (or daughter) says nothing happened, it just stopped working.”

There are just two kinds of parents, Vronko jokes: the parent who believes the teenager, and the parent who knows better. It’s a good bet that the son or daughter let water get into the iPhone, dropped it, or jammed the wrong cable into the iPhone dock connector.

Earlier this year, an 18-year-old French teenager complained his eye was injured when his girlfriend’s iPhone overheated and the device’s touchscreen shattered, according to a report by the AFP news agency.

After researching the case, Apple responded: The glass cracked “due to an external force that was applied to the iPhone,” and not internal heat, Alan Hely, a London-based spokesman for Apple Europe said.

Got a story about your broken iPhone? Send me an email at Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.