Toning down thoughts on phone repair

TRYING TO FIX a telephone these days is frustrating.

First of all, the notion of repairing a telephone seems to strike many as an outdated concept. The popular method of dealing with a dead phone is to abandon it.

That is what the clerk at Circuit City suggested this week when I tried to revive a troubled Toshiba cordless phone by giving it a new battery. That is also what the two Toshiba representatives implied when I talked with them on the so-called "customer service" line. They made me mad, but they might have been right.

This cordless phone is 5 years old, which I guess makes it ancient by modern standards. Judging by some of the ads for Valentine's Day gifts that I saw this week, a phone is an impulse buy for some folks. It is something they purchase at the spur of the moment, to replace one that is a "bad" color, or a "wrong" style. Not me, babe. I grew up in a "phone for life" environment. The telephones were big and black and bulky, but they didn't break.

So when the newfangled phones, the type that my kids prefer, break down, I feel obligated to try to repair them. My success rate is pretty low. I don't really keep statistics. But I keep the carcasses of the failed phones on my basement workbench.

Right now there are two sitting there, waiting for inspiration to strike, for some procedure to bring them back to life.

The household's most recent phone fatality occurred last week after one of our sons dropped a cordless phone. He reported that after hitting the floor the phone not only stopped working but had started smoking. This didn't happen in the old days.

I disconnected the phone and sniffed its nickel-cadmium battery. It smelled fried.

When I bought a new battery, I mentioned to the Circuit City clerk that I was going to put the fresh battery in a phone that had been smoking. He recommended against it, saying he would not trust a smokin' phone. The clerk looked like he might have been in his early 20s. I figured he was part of the disposable-phone generation, so I didn't take his advice. I probably should have.

I got home and put the new battery in the troubled phone, plugged in its AC adapter and let the battery charge for 24 hours.

The next day, when I tried using the phone, the good news was that there was no smoke. The bad news was there was still no dial tone.

That was when (using another phone, of course) I called the 800 number printed on the telephone, the Toshiba customer service line. I ended up calling it twice and talking with two representatives who did not seem deeply interested in my problem or very hopeful that it could be fixed.

They rattled off a list of procedures I could try to bring the phone back to life. I tried them. I put the handset (the part you talk into) in its cradle (the part that sits on the table). I disconnected the power, removed the battery from the handset, depressed every key on the handset for two seconds, then reinserted the battery and let the handset sit in the cradle, unplugged from the electricity for 20 minutes. This accomplished nothing. There was no smoke, but still no dial tone, either.

I called the 800 number again, and again went over the steps in the resuscitation procedure. I also asked what other life-saving measures were possible. I was told I could ship my failed phone off to Tennessee for revivification. Healing would take about two weeks and cost $60. I told the customer service representative I was not sure I wanted to make a $60 commitment to fix a 5-year-old phone when I could probably buy a new one for the same amount of money.

This response seemed to please the customer service rep. If I had chosen to ship the phone to Tennessee she would have had to enter a lot of information into the company's computer. That, I surmised, was too much trouble to go through to fix an old phone.

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