Ten reasons not to fix computers for free

Do you feel like a heel if you don't want to fix computer problems for friends and family? Here are some of the reasons you shouldn't feel guilty.

Like most IT pros, I have had plenty of friends and family members ask me to fix their PCs. Although I have always tried to help people whenever I can, I have come to the realization that with a few exceptions it is a bad idea to fix people's PCs for free.

Don't get the wrong idea. There are some people that I truly don't mind helping. I would never refuse to help my wife with a computer problem, nor would I cut off my mother. Unfortunately though, the majority of those that I have helped have abused the situation. As such, this article is a list of ten reasons why I don't recommend fixing PCs for free.

1. Future problems are your fault

When a friend or family member asks you to fix their computer, they do so because they do not know enough to fix the problem themselves. Because the person typically does not understand the cause of or the solution to the problem, they probably also are not going to understand which problems are related and which are not. As a result, anything that happens to the computer after you touch it may be perceived to be your fault. All the computer's owner knows is that the problem did not occur until after you worked on the computer.

2. People may not respect your time

Before I stopped fixing computers for friends and family, I had a big problem with people not respecting my time. Friends would call me at all hours of the day or night and expect me to drop whatever I was doing, drive to their house, and fix their computer right then.

3. Things sometimes go wrong

The third reason why I don't recommend fixing people's computers for free is because if you break it, you bought it. I have never personally run into a problem with this one, but I do know someone who brought a friend's laptop home to fix, only to have his three year old daughter knock the laptop off the table and break it.

4. People don't value things that are free

People seem to be conditioned to accept the idea that the best things in life are those that are the most expensive. This can be a problem when it comes to fixing people's computers for free, because your advice might be perceived as carrying no more weight than anyone else's.

To give you a more concrete example, there is someone in my family who constantly calls me with computer questions. I try to be nice and answer the questions, but often times this person does not like the answer. In those situations this person will tell me that my brother, my aunt, or somebody else in my family with absolutely no IT experience told them the opposite of what I am telling them. Inevitably, this person ends up ignoring my advice.

5. They expect free tech support for life

When you fix someone's computer for free and you do a good job, you can become a victim of your own success. The next time that the person needs help, they will remember what a good job you did. In the future you may be asked to assist with everything from malware removal to operating system upgrades.

6. People adopt risky habits because they are getting free tech support

This one might be my biggest pet peeve related to helping friends with their computer problems. If a friend or family member assumes that you will always be there to bail them out when they have computer problems then they have no incentive try to prevent problems from happening. As such, they might adopt risky habits or even do some things that just do not make sense.

I will give you a couple of quick examples of this one. I have one friend whose teenage son infected his computer with all sorts of malware while trying to find free adult content on the Internet. The infection was so bad that it took me all weekend to fix. I suggested to my friend that he either keep his son off of his computer, or only allow him to access the Internet through a hardened sandboxed environment. A few days later my friend told me the infection was back. After asking him a few questions, I discovered that he had given his son the admin password so that he could "download something for school."

The other example was that I once did a hard disk replacement for a family member. I won't bore you with the details, but the hard disk replacement was anything but smooth. There were issues with everything from BIOS compatibility to the physical case design. After spending all evening working on it, I finally got everything working. By the time that I arrived home I had a message on my voice mail from the person whose computer I had just upgraded. She said that she had let her eight-year-old son disassemble the computer because she wanted him to learn about computers, but he couldn't figure out how to put it back together.

7. It doesn't end with computers

Another reason why I don't recommend doing free computer repairs for friends or family is because the job might not end with computer repairs. Once the person figures out that you are good with electronics they may have you working on other things. For instance, I once helped a neighbor recover some data off of a failed hard disk. Two weeks later he had me on the roof helping to realign his satellite dish.

8. Things can snowball

Sometimes when you fix a friend's computer for free, the expectations of free technical support can snowball into free support for everyone. I once fixed a computer for someone in my family. When I was done, the person told me that they have a friend who is also having problems and asked if I could look at that too.

9. Your service isn't just free, it is costing you money

For instance, you are probably spending money on gas to drive to your friend's house. You might also end up using supplies such as blank media or printer ink. I have even had friends who expect me to supply them with the software licenses.

10. Fixing computers is too much like work

The best reason of all for not fixing friend's computers for free might be that doing so is too much like work. If you spend all day at work fixing computer problems, do you really want to deal with the same thing when you leave the office?

What is your policy on volunteering your tech skills for friends and family?

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