Laptop hinge repair: epoxy or case replacement?
December 9, 2021 7:09 PM   Subscribe

What's the safest way to repair a broken laptop hinge? Disassemble+ swap the shell, or rebuild the busted hinge housing with epoxy? Help me not destroy my machine, metafilter

I have a Dell Inspiron 7000 series with a broken hinge-- all three of the plastic screw casings on the shell snapped off, and I have all the hinge parts and brass threaded screw backs. It looks like my two options are to either repair the current shell with epoxy/epoxy putty to rehouse the screws (or by drilling through the case itself to mount heavier screws) OR to get a replacement shell component, disassemble the laptop, and swap them out. I'm leaning towards disassembly because it's about a $15 price difference and seems like a much neater result, but I'm hearing mixed things from the people I know-- either it's no big deal and a fun project, or if you open up a laptop for more than a RAM upgrade you might as well expect to fry it and never use it again. I'm curious what you all think-- which would be the safest way to repair this problem without damaging my computer?
posted by moonlight on vermont to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Even with the best of epoxy, it's incredibly hard to get a repair like this to work. There's just not enough material to work with and the hinge carries too much (relative) stress to make this last more than a few openings.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and replace the case.
posted by dg at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2021 [5 favorites]


I've used JB Weld and small self tapping screws to repair the right-hand hinge mounting on a Toshiba Satellite after all the brass inserts pulled out, and my repair lasted longer than the rest of that horrible machine's casing; unfortunately the owner could not be persuaded that picking the opened machine up by the screen was a bad enough idea to be worth actually, you know, not doing. But the right thing to do depends really heavily on exactly what's failed, and I couldn't offer useful advice without at least eyeballing that.

That said, replacing the casing on a laptop is in no way fun, but it's completely achievable without doing damage if you work on a conductive mat with a grounded wrist strap, take plenty of photos during the disassembly, pay close and careful attention to the sizes of every fastener you remove, keep unlike fasteners rigorously separated, make sure you put the right fasteners back in the right places, and don't take apart more things than you need to.

You also need to be absolutely certain you know how to unlatch any flat ribbon connectors properly before removing the ribbons, and have a plan for reattaching those that happen to have been designed into places that only slim and highly skilled factory worker hands could possibly reach. That last is probably more important for Toshiba than Dell, because Dell's designs tend not to be completely insane, but you never know. And there are lots of little cables with lots of little routing clips and guides and you absolutely must get them all back where they're supposed to run, or they'll get pinched and interfere with getting the machine closed up again.

Finding a few YouTube videos for teardown and reassembly for your particular model, and watching them all the way through before you begin, is helpful as well.
posted by flabdablet at 9:51 PM on December 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Depending on the exact model you can find a working replacement on eBay for as low as $250. I am not sure it is worth it to attempt a repair yourself. It definitely is not worth paying someone else to do it.
posted by kschang at 2:01 AM on December 10, 2021

I haven't worked on Dells specifically but in my experience laptop parts are easily replaceable as long as you take it slowly. Videos like this can be really useful. For a simple mechanical failure, my plan would be to get a nonworking unit on ebay and pull the parts you need from that.
posted by jy4m at 6:13 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't worked on Dells specifically but in my experience laptop parts are easily replaceable as long as you take it slowly.

Hah, it's clear you haven't worked on Sony or Acer laptops.

Dell tends to be fairly serviceable. Here is the hardware maintenance manual and while it's not as thorough as the Thinkpad manuals I'm used to, it does show you how to remove the screen, the system board and the other bits and bobs, and reassemble them.
posted by Stoneshop at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think in the automobile world you would be dealing with a totaled car. Your laptop is totaled. I'm pretty sure that your best option is to gently accept dealing with the broken hinge for as long as it takes until you're ready to replace your old laptop with a new laptop. Skip epoxy strategies and explore duct tape strategies. You're never going to repair this for less than the cost of a new laptop. Now, that certainly doesn't mean that this laptop is toast -- if you drop your standards, it can be super useful with a mucked-up hinge for months and years. So, depending on your tolerance of a laptop with a wiggly hinge, either tolerate that, perhaps for a long time, or get ready to buy a new laptop.
posted by Scarf Joint at 6:18 PM on December 10, 2021

You've not said if it's a 13" or 15” Inspiron, but if someone has put a step-by-step guide on iFixit you can have a sense of how tricky it will be.

The tricky part with Dells can be the latched connectors for flat data cables. They can be one-shot for assembly and need delicate handling to reuse. I've broken them in the past and needed a replacement soldered in place.
posted by k3ninho at 11:31 PM on December 10, 2021

the latched connectors for flat data cables.

The reusable ones come in roughly two variants: one where the latching part slides out of the connector parallel to the cable for maybe a millimeter but stays captive, the other has a hinged latch that you flip up. Those hinged ones tend to have a ridge on the latch on the side away from the connector body, allowing you to hook a fingernail under it and flip it up.

Treat one as the other and you will break them.

To be honest, I've never encountered those one-shot connectors, or at least haven't had to deal with one to disconnect the cable from it. With such a connector I guess I would try to remove both sub-assemblies in one go.
posted by Stoneshop at 2:35 AM on December 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

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