Ask LH: Should I Password Protect My Machine Before Repair?

Ask LH: Should I Password Protect My Machine Before Repair?

Dear Lifehacker, My down arrow on my HP keyboard fell off recently as one of the hooks underneath the physical key broke off. I contacted HP and was told the company might roll back the OS from Windows 8 which I upgraded for $25 last year to Windows 7 as part of the repair. When I expressed concerns about this, the operator said that I should disable my passwords to minimise the chance of my hard drive being reset. I was wondering why such an obscure policy would exist and if it is actually legal for them to downgrade my system for no reason. Any thoughts? Thanks, Confused By Policies

Keyboard repair picture from Shutterstock

Dear CBP,

Seriously, this seems to be a very bizarre thing for HP to request. I’ve run teams of IT maintenance guys who have replaced dozens of keyboards on notebooks and the hard drive has never come into it.

I’d strongly advise you to make a full backup of the entire drive before you send it in for repair. And set a password on the device as well – there’s no reason HP would need to access the operating system to replace a keyboard. My gut feeling says that the process is in place so that they can run a full system diagnostic of any device that’s sent in to them for repair.

By the way, replacing a keyboard is not a complex repair, although some HP notebooks are more complex that others. I’m guessing that your machine is probably still under warranty which is why you’re going to HP. However, if you’re prepared to run the warranty gauntlet, you could do it yourself or find a decent computer tech to do the job for you. I’ve sourced replacement keyboards via eBay and local parts vendors for between $25 and $40. The replacement process takes about 15 minutes for someone that knows what they’re doing.

HP has been in trouble for some of its warranty practices recently and wasfined $3 million by the ACCC. I’m not sure this falls into the same category as the offences there but this policy does seem a little strange, to say the least.


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  • It is strange to perform a rollback for an issue like this one. Had a similar problem with one of our work laptop, the down arrow key came off but the tech came out and replaced it in under 5 mins. No need to access the HD or OS.

  • I highly doubt they would go to the trouble of rolling back the OS. It’s easy enough to have a USB HDD they can boot all the computers off for any testing they may need to do.

    It is more likely that they may replace your entire computer with a completely refurbished model that has the same specs, in which case all custom installed software, configuration changes and DATA, such as your update to Windows 8 will be lost to their repair department – and they do not track these things so you can recover your data.

    As Anthony says, take a FULL backup of your computer before handing it to anyone, anyone at all. Test those backups to ensure they work. Make sure you can do a full restore of both data and programs (just grabbing the “Program Files” directory won’t be enough). If you have a spare HDD, throw that into the computer before sending it back to them, then when you get your computer back put your original back in.

  • Another alternative would be to ask if it is okay to remove the hard drive before sending it in for repair. They can’t delete data they haven’t been provided with.

  • Replacing a keyboard on a HP Notebook, is generally a matter of removing a screw from the base, and then undoing three to four clips on the top, and sliding it out, undoing a ribbon cable, and then reversing these steps with a new keyboard.

    if they wipe your hard drive to do this, they are idiots, another option I have used, is find an old notebook hdd, install ubuntu or something on it, and put it in the place of the windows hdd before sending the machine in.

    That way, they can boot it to test things, but won’t cause you great drama if they wipe it.

  • Dear CBP,

    The advice you have been provided with is sound; that is, ensure you image your HDD (or at the very least, back up your sentimental and personal data) before it goes back.

    With regard to this “resetting” issue, putting a password over your account will do little to prevent HP from performing a factory reset on your device. So then you ask, “why do they need to do it”.

    There is not a necessity to reset your machine if it isn’t required. The operator is trained in basic technical support, and they are instructed to inform customers that any data should be backed up in the event that HP do perform any maintenance on that involves the HDD. For a superficial issue like yours, it is unlikely that HP will go near your HDD: the technician will receive a problem report and only fix and perform maintenance on the elements that require it. Time is money, so this makes perfect sense in a repair division. But, this does not obviate the fact that a factory reset or new HDD is possible, or as someone else said, you may receive a whole new machine (though unlikely).

    I deal with these guys quite regularly as I maintain and administer repairs and returns for a major office supply retail store. In my experience, keyboard issues are quick to fix and never have I seen a machine come back to us reset when a key broke off. Having said this, BACK UP YOUR DATA.

  • It is completely not legal for them to do this to your system. You are, as a customer, requesting a hardware repair, not a software repair. If I were you, and their policies are this moronic, I would firstly express, angrily, my dislike for stupid policy to their complaints department and as noisily as possible on social networks so their handling team see it, then immediately remove my hard drive before sending it off to them for repairs.

    Don’t just password it, there are plenty of ways around that–and as the gimp on the phone said it’ll INCREASE the chance they’ll roll your stuff back–just remove the hard drive completely. Screw them.

    • It’s common for them to do so around the world. They reset the HD to factory default and run burn-in test for 24 hours. They do that because some people (ie. idiotic customers) get their machines back and cry “It wasn’t fixed” when something totally unrelated happens.

  • My wife took her phone in to 3/Vodafone to get a button fixed. Not only did they fix the button but they also “upgraded” the OS without asking, which involved wiping all of her contacts, photos and music. We signed a form at the start which said if any data is lost we will not hold them responsible, but it was communicated as “could happen in an accident” rather than “will definitely happen”.

  • Ask HP to send you a keyboard, and do it yourself. When my HD failed under my laptop warranty, I asked if HP could send out a new HD rather than taking it to the store for them to send away and be gone for a couple of weeks. They sent out a new HD by courier the next day for a swap. Courier handed me the new HD, I gave him the old one.

    • Doing so would potentially void any warranty that remains on the unit (HDDs in most machines are hot swappable; keyboards are not). Plus there’s an accountability issue: if the user screws up, it’s not a position you want to be in as a company where you could have savoured the problem by just fixing it properly and quickly by using technicians who are employed to do so.

  • Many HP products have components that are mandatory or optional CSR items (Customer Self Repair), e.g. a server hard drive is mandatory – they’re not going to send an engineer to press a button, pull the drive and stick in a replacement. If you have a look here you can find if your laptop has the option of CSR for the keyboard, if so, get them to send you one and DIY.

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