Sonoma County cellphone repair experts share dramatic smartphone mishaps

Cellphone repair may not sound like the most exciting job, but it has its moments. A fire engine ran over a cellphone during the Kincade fire and when its protective case was removed, the shattered glass had turned to dust.

Seeing the ashes scatter made this cell phone repair the most dramatic one Luis Vargas ever tackled, and the manager of the RepairAll kiosk in the Santa Rosa Plaza has tackled thousands over the past two years.

“The fireman with Cal Fire looked really tired,” Vargas said. “At first glance, it didn’t look like his work phone would be salvageable. It had a curve but I bent it back. I removed everything, then I put everything back in, replaced the screen and when it powered up normally, he was surprised. He had been talking with his boss about getting a new phone.”

Vargas, 29, has seen a range of cellphone mishaps over the last decade. Before he joined RepairAll, he worked as a manager for AT&T and Sprint in the North Bay.

“One time some teenagers were messing around with a knife on a picnic table and a cell phone got stabbed,” Vargas said. “They were hanging out at a skate park and the phone got in the way. They got lucky because if the battery would have been punctured the cell phone would have combusted.”

Another time, an employee of a recycling company dropped a phone into one of the machines that sorts aluminum and glass bottles.

“It got soaked and the phone was no longer powering on,” Vargas said. “I ended up taking the phone apart and letting it dry out for about three days. Then I changed the battery and the charge port and it powered on.”

As for other complications, Vargas said people drop cell phones in toilets, throw them when they’re angry or leave them on the hood of their cars and drive off.

“It’s never boring,” he said. “But what’s somewhat shocking is how dependent people are with their phones. People can’t even go a couple of hours without them, let alone a day.”

Vargas said he can understand how a cellphone mishap would upset those who have their own businesses. Yet, he said, everyone seems to experience the same sense of urgency because few people back up their cell phones.

“For most people, everything they do is on their phones,” Vargas said. “Banking, photos, contacts and social media accounts.”

Vargas has a work cell, and he backs it up on his computer and iCloud.

“I grew up between two generations,” Vargas said. “One who doesn’t know about technology and the other who was born with it. I see toddlers in strollers with tablets.”

Chris Rountree, manager at My iPhone Repair in Petaluma, said he has noticed the technology and toddler trend, but “I can’t tell parents how to parent.”

Rountree, 27, also has seen a range of iPhone calamities.

“One cell phone ran through a washing machine, another was run over by a tractor, but most of the time people just drop them,” he said. “We’re human and we’re going to drop them from time to time.”

Rountree said when there’s water damage, about 50% of the time he can fix it.

“One time a cellphone went through a full cycle and it just needed the screen replaced,” he said. “Another time a cell just had sweat on it, but I couldn’t fix it. It just depends on where the water lands. Liquid and electronics don’t mix.”

Rountree backs his cell up on Google Cloud and Samsung Smart Switch.

“My advice is buy a decent case, a good tempered glass protector, then be sure to back it up and you should be fine.”

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