My $300 Cup Of Coffee

I spilled coffee on my Dell Inspiron 4150 laptop today. It made a sad sort of grunt, and shut itself off… apparently forever. I’ve used compressed air and dried it all day, all to no avail. This was actually my largest impulse buy ever, at about $1,200. I’m very sad, this laptop has served me well for four years, and was my sole computer for a long time. Of course I bought the three-year warranty, which was never used. I don’t know if it covers spills anyways.

Now I’m considering my options:

  • Pay someone to fix it. Bringing it into a repair shop would probably cost $50 just for them to touch it… Then I’d have to pay for parts.
  • Fix it myself. Motherboards (if that is even what is broken) cost about $100 online. Probably not. Could it be another cheaper part? I don’t know enough to figure it out.
  • Sell it as-is on eBay. After looking on eBay, I see that my model would still sell at a pretty good price if it worked – about $300 before shipping. This broken one without a hard drive actually sold for $225. I can probably get any critical information off the hard drive myself and sell that too.
  • Sell the parts individually on eBay. There are all kinds of separate parts on that I could sell separately – hard drive (wiped first), monitor, keyboard, touchpad, memory, AC adapter, dvd/cd drive, recovery CDs? I don’t know if it would worth the hassle of dealing with possible returns as I can’t really test the items anymore.

Any suggestions? I’m probably going to take this chance to upgrade to a new laptop, given that you can get a basic one for under $500 these days.


  1. Check this out: link

  2. Sorry to hear about your laptop…i think u might wanne show it to someone at repair shop jus to find out what went wrong…then do some re-search online to find those parts for cheap….see if that works…i hope u can fix up ur computer

  3. Sell the whole thing at once on ebay. You could make more parting it out, but it will take longer, you have more shipping hassle, and you have to deal with returns as you mentioned. I recently sold a phone that had been chewed on by my dog for $130.

    If the LCD screen is in good shape, I bet there is someone out there with a working PC with a jacked up screen willing to drop some cash for it.

    Also, watch slickdeals and fatwallet for laptop deals. There have been some sub-$400 deals in the last couple months (Dells and Toshiba’s I believe) with some decent specs.

  4. I think you have the right idea — sell it on eBay and buy a new one. Four years is a decent life, especially if it was your sole computer for a while, and if you use yours as much as I use mine.

  5. Damn that sucks… I remember a few years ago my daughter pulled mine from the desk and caused the keyboard to stop responding. Aaarggh the feeling.

    I agree with Flexo, and good luck with the sale 😉

  6. ouchy wouchy. did you open it up to clean it up? regardless its probably too late to save it now. my friends and I have spilled various stuff on laptop before.. in which case we go into immediate ninja reaction.. shut off power, turn laptop upside down, grab the tools and begin opening it up. there will always be pockets of liquid still residing in there, even after you’ve dried it off for awhile.

    anyway. selling it as is on ebay may be a good idea. just make sure if do pull the hard drive and wipe it, to use some of those super wipe tools (or whatever heh) out there (so that people cant restore info).

    can’t really see you selling individual parts as is.. maybe the ones you know for sure that might be okay (like the LCD panel).

    it had a good run though, four years is pretty nice! time for one that’s 300x faster for only $600.

  7. Keep up your informative blog. Sorry to hear about your laptop, I’m sure you’ll be able to replace it without spending much. Have a better look at the closed auction you listed, the winning bidder was a deadbeat with many negative feedbacks and was just bidding up items. May want to look at other expired auctions to better guage your resale price.

  8. In store only now, comes with a printer. 😉


  9. Flexo’s right, sell it. Your warranty probably doesn’t cover spills. If you’ve had it for four years, it’s probably time for a new one anyways.

  10. If you want to try to fix it without buying a new motherboard, you might try this…




  11. Sorry to hear about the accident. I recently read an article Lifehacker had posted about cleaning laptops that had had this happen to them. I don’t know if you want to bother, though. I tend to agree with these guys – you got four years out of it. Time for a newer, faster one that will impress your friends and neighbors.

  12. I am the type that buys these broken laptops online, fixes them up and sells them for profit. Those of us who are into hardware hacking and amateur electrical engineering can clean the circuitry of the motherboard, replace any damaged parts and re-install it. If the motherboard is “beyond reasonable repair”, we can just buy a new one on eBay or get one from a used computer parts warehouse. The cost of a $50-$100 motherboard online surely beats shelling out another $400-$500 for a brand new laptop.

    I, myself, still use a Dell Inspiron 1100. I haven’t bought a new system since 2001. I’ve just upgraded with used parts. It currently has 1 GB of RAM, a 100GB 7200 RPM hard drive, an 64 MB video card, a Soundblaster soundcard, a DVD/RW+- drive, and Windows XP (will never ever upgrade to Vista)/Ubuntu Linux. I paid a total of $200 for the upgrades and the laptop itself was a Christmas present. It runs smoother than some of the new models I’ve been seeing come out.

  13. I’d go for a newer laptop, maybe a refurb from dell ( or something from tiger direct/ebay/etc. I know of a couple places that would buy the laptop from you – feel free to email me from the email address I put in the mail field for this comment and I can send you the email addresses of the companies, but you will probably get the most for it from Ebay. If you have stuff on the hard drive that you need, email me too – I can walk you through a way to get it all off with the help of a $20 adapter you can buy. I read your site all the time and would be happy to help-


  14. Elizabeth says:

    It is one of my worst nightmares. I am sorry. It is good to see life does go one, the sky didn’t fall I noticed.

    I have the luxury of being on a large campus where there is a computer store/repair shop where computer students take walk-ins with computer problems (you don’t have to be a student walk-in). They troubleshoot for FREE!

    Hooray for big college campus’s, think about it, can you get to one?

    Our computer fix-it place also sells computers and works on staff and student and computer lab problems, so they are ready and know computers.

    Also now that I have a staff ID I get AMAZING prices on computers and software.

    Good Luck.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    One more angle. Drinking coffee is pretty good. Isn’t that worth something, drinking coffee while tapping away…300 for years of tapping away with coffee in hand…maybe it is worth it.

    I am constantly insearch of a fat bottomed mug that won’t spill! Hard to find these days, instead all the travel mugs are the opposite, narrow bottoms just begging to be tipped.

    My mom once knocked over her iron and ironing board. The iron hit the laptop knocking it off the table. The iron then turned over spilling its water into the laptop at which point the computer started a very loud screaming sound! She pulled its plug, still it is screaming, then she pulled the battery, STILL it was screaming so loud she had to put it in the garage and shut the door! It was a fantastic chain of events.

  16. ~Long time reader; first time writer. (I really enjoy your blog – thank you).

    Really sorry to hear about your laptop. I know this is a little late for advice, but . . .. I am clumsier now at 28 than I was when two years of age trying to stuff cheerios in my mouth. I spill things. A lot. I’ve been using an ISkin for my mac ibook going on a few years now and it has saved me a few times. (I do a lot of work in coffee shops). At first, using the ISkin reminded me of sitting on my Grandparent’s plastic covered couch during summer. But now, I really don’t notice. If you do opt for a cover, make sure you get the Skin compatible/that fits with the model keyboard you’ll have.
    I hope this helps.


  17. My wife spilled coffee on her Inspiron which promptly shut off. I don’t think your laptop is necessarily toast. Standard practice is unplug, pull the battery, and dry the laptop upside down (I always make an ‘A’ and lay it on a towel).

    When my wife’s laptop dried out (took like a day at least), it started working again, except some of the keys. I found directions online for servicing the laptop and took out the keyboard which I cleaned with distilled water and let dry thoroughly. For some time a few keys were still a bit sticky, but that eventually went away.

    When it happened I did some checking and replacement keyboards can be had for under $30. Depending on where your coffee went, that might be all you’ve really gotta do. In our case, it was pretty clear that only a minimal amount of coffee made it through the keyboard and it ran out the vents when I tipped the laptop up.

  18. Mitchell says:

    You’re going to pay a few hundred bucks no matter what. On the one hand, you’ll pay it for the repairs. On the other, you’ll pay it and a few hundred more to get a fresh, new laptop.

    Odds are, your laptop is going to die within the next year or two anyway, whether you flooded it or not. The question is whether you want to pay $800 now for a new laptop, or $300 now and $700 next year, or something like that.

    And you might be able to pull $100 or so off ebay for the scrapped laptop.

  19. I definitely think that it is only your keyboard that is damaged. But replacing the keyboard on a laptop may be tricky — I would do a search for your particular model for “replacing keyboard” or something and see how expensive/difficult it is. It may be very cheap and easy; otherwise I’d just get a new one. Somehow, I don’t believe that your processor board was effected. It probably shuts down as a defense mechanism with the keyboard is fried.

  20. Here’s a link to the article lifehacker pointed to about spilling stuff on your laptop.

    I only skimmed it so I can’t tell you how good it is, but maybe it will help.

    Also if you sell your laptop or its pieces, I wouldn’t sell the hard drive at all, especially if it is full of financial information. There is a lot of debate about how many times you have to wipe a drive to completely clean it and people try and follow DoD rules and such, but I’ve worked in a classified environment and no one ever tries to wipe a drive, they are always destroyed because it just isn’t worth the risk.

  21. kseibert says:

    The first thing to do is to pull out the hard drive and save everything you can on it, especially if you haven’t been making all the backups you should. Even if it looks OK now, a little bit of coffee or a power surge while the laptop was dying could turn what now looks like a good disk into a small doorstop soon. Hard drive to USB connectors are pretty cheap (I bought one recently for about $20), and you might be able to borrow one from a friend for free.

    The rest of the hardware is replaceable, but the data might not be.

  22. Go get a new one, :D!

    It probably won’t be a good idea to get somebody else to fix it for you if you can’t do the job your self. I would go with selling it as is in one piece on eBay. Selling parts is just too much work and time consuming.

  23. cheapchinese says:

    You need to figure out how much time you need to spend in order to make the 200 usd. listing, description, check and answer email, go to post office and send it. My feeling is that sell it as is; this way is the cheapest( considering time you spend and all the trouble ).

  24. Man that sucks! But, 4 years is a great lifespan for a laptop! Be proud yours lasted that long.

    I’d pull the hard drive out and sell it as is on eBay. If you get $200, that’s a good amount to put towards a new laptop. Then you can get a notebook HD case and turn your old hard drive into a portable one.

    Look at the bright side: Now you have a great excuse to get a new system! 🙂

  25. I have been somewhat good at backing up, and have actually mainly been using my desktop after scoring a cheap LCD monitor. So that’s the good news.

    I haven’t tried opening it up and pouring water on it. It should be completely dried out. The coffee got spilled on the upper right side near the power plug (it was plugged in), so I’m worried something around there got fried. It smells like burnt macadamia nut coffee. 🙂 I’m not a hardware geek so I can’t be sure.

    I’ll probably try taking it apart and using some distilled water. Thanks for all the tips!

  26. Burned electrical smell is usually an indication of a more permanent problem, but even then it isn’t necessarily the end. I once dropped a loose connector on a 386 motherboard when assembling my computer. After 20 min I smelled hot electrical smell and then the computer shut off permanently.

    I mentioned it to my brother who at the time was doing some kind of electrical computer work. He told me to inspect the motherboard visually and look for any obviously burned parts. It turns out that the motherboard had a capacitor on it that would burn out with a short. So I mailed the board to him, and he put a $0.75 capacitor in for me.

    I sent him a thank you note and $75.00.

    I also visually inspect the interior of computers carefully now when I assemble them to make sure no stray screws or connectors are in there.

  27. i will no longer drink coffee and surf the net. i’m sooooooooooooo sorry to hear about your laptop. hope you can get a new one soon!

  28. Prashant says:

    I’m an electronics engineer, and I’ve spilled stuff on my laptops several times. Financially, it would be a better decision to get a new laptop for $650 bucks or so… and then sell the old laptop parts on eBay. Of course, it is FAR more interesting and fun to fix the broken laptop and having it purr back to life.

    Knowing that you always focus on the big picture first, it would be a wise decision to get a new computer (extended warranty is up to you; I would never get it) rather than spending any more time or money on the broken computer.

  29. Nony-mouse says:

    Sell it on ebay for $159.99….explain exactly what happened and mention that it is sold AS IS with no returns. It should get sold.
    Charge $34.99 for shipping + handling.

  30. I’d buy a new computer. There is no point in paying for repair services for a computer that is more than the lifetime of the warranty. I’d suggest an HP.

  31. I’d double check the Dell warranty – I’ve heard it told that Dell does cover spill accidents, but I don’t know first hand. Worth looking I’d suppose.

  32. The monitor on my laptop died early last year. I ran out and bought a new one then sold the old one on eBay. I explained the laptop’s problem in the listing. The laptop sold for 6 times my list price! I was satisfied with my decision to sell online.

    For more info, see:

  33. When I purchased my laptop several years ago, I added a rider to my renter’s insurance that covers it – including spills, theft, etc. I don’t think I even pay more for the rider – if I do it’s less than $10/year. Considering my deductible is far less than the $1,000+ it would cost to replace the laptop, I’m happy with my set up.

    Fortunately, I haven’t spilled anything… (yet)

  34. Decided to do some “kung fu fighting” on my computer. My computer is completely taken apart now, down to the motherboard. So many little screws… I’m off to find some distilled water now!

  35. Nony-mouse says:

    Distilled water will not work. Think of it this way….if u had plugged in an external keyboard and spilled coffee on the external keyboard…would the laptop have shut down. Well anyway, hope you are able to solve the problem.

    Are you still a student? you seem to have ‘free-time’.

  36. My computer won’t boot up at all, so I don’t think it’s the keyboard (at least not just the keyboard).

    Here’s why I’m hoping it works –
    this guy spills wine and lemonade on a Dell and resurrects it (taken from all the links mentioned above)

  37. I think I’d rather replace the keyboard than try to dry it out. I’ve dried out a few keyboards (I’ve spilled lots of coffee, water, etc., complete klutz) and the keyboards rarely come fully back to life. Most keys will work, but then, like ‘a’ or ‘e’ won’t and there’s really no easy way around that! There’s magic electromagnetic junk with the keyboard that just gets completely messed up – it seems impossible to fix.

  38. That sucks man.. 🙁

  39. There have been a lot of laptops with the Core Duo T2060 chip. Acer Aspire 5610z for instance, for about $600. Gateway has a similar offering. Thes machines all come with 15.4″ screen (or 14″ for lighter weight), 80-120gb drive, DVD +/- burner, 1gb of ram, 802.11g, vista home premium. The nice thing about the acer is that it comes already partitioned for a C (system drive) and D (data drive). If you need parts I have a couple of dead 4150s that you can salvage. If you have the funds a new even low end one will really serve you well. again, the acer is big but surprisingly light for it’s size.

  40. MN Scout says:

    Do not sell the hard drive if it ever had financial information on it, even if you erase it. There are a lot of people that buy hard drives off Ebay, and then proceed to recover all your files. Even if you run multiple passes of a program that writes all 0s across the drive, there are still tools and programs that will recover the old data.

    You run a great site and I don’t want to see your identity stolen.

  41. My last week in college I fried a mother board by continuing to use an adapter with a cord that was obviously on its last leg. Needless to say it was a total fiasco with finals and nothing backed up. Lesson learned.

    I also ordered a new motherboard on ebay and tried to install the thing myself. BIG MISTAKE. I’m just not that bright. I’m humbled. Laptops are not desktops. Again, lesson learned.

    I have a 3 year old dell laptop now, but I’m still longing for my thinkpad with the little red nipple mouse. Shhhh. Don’t tell the Dell, that thing is finicky enough as it is (currently it’s refusing to take a charge – 1 more year of warranty left and then I’m getting what I really want)

  42. Let it dry for at least 3 days after you run the parts under distilled water.

    Good luck!

    Let us know if it works! 🙂

  43. I found this on the web in a forum that I read:

    “So i felt i had to pass on some knowledge that i got a hold of from a guy i met that works at AMD, If you ever spill anything in your laptop other than water, Like soda,Beer ETC, Turn it off quickly, Take it apart as soon as you can big thing if you can’t take it all the way apart try and at least separate the screen from it usually a few screws and a ribbon cable, Get yourself some DENATURED ALCOHOL and straight FLood that whole thing with it and let it sit for a min or two and dump it out, Do that 2 or 3 times, and then let it dry for a hour or two, YOU MUST MAKE SURE IT IS DENATURED ALCOHOL!!! Rubbing alcohol will eat the protective coating off the circuts printed on the motherboard and destroy it, you can buy denatured alcohol at any walmart or hardware store, it is a little pricey about 10-15 dollars a pint depending where you buy it from, but will save you from buying a new laptop in most cases.”

    Hope it helps.

  44. You have had to have purchased dell’s completecare coverage which includes coverage for spills. for a laptop that you carry alot, if you are buying a dell, getting completecare is worth the money. it’s the only extended kind of coverage that i would buy for electronics or computers.

    you might also check your renter’s or home owner’s insurance policy, too.

  45. Sorry to hear about your laptop. I have provided through submission, my email address. My suggestion is to just go buy a new one. Any amount of money/time spent on this isn’t worth it.
    If you need help recovering data let me know (via email). I have gained enough reading your blog that I owe you that much.

  46. Dont panic! There is 90% chance that the laptop is fine. Just open up all the parts, label the screws and parts and let it dry for 3-4 days. Then you can put them back together. Most likely the laptop will come back.

  47. Chris in ABQ says:

    Douglas Adams said it best: Don’t Panic! Why, you wouldn’t believe it; just last weekend I dumped a quart of coffee straight into the keyboard of my Dell Inspiron 9400. Thing is 14mos old, cost 1250$ +/- ! It shut off, of course.. Here’s the deal: water evaporates, but COFFEE, well, the dried residue is electrically conductive enough to short pins on small ICs. It is IMPERATIVE to open it quickly, and wash it out with, yes, denatured alcohol. Let it dry, give it a kiss, and BAM back in bizness. I waited a few days, and it didn’t work, so I had to take a jeweler’s screwdriver and spent three hours OH-SO-Gently scraping and cleaning both sides of the MOBO and above-mentioned space between the legs of any and all IC’s Be careful, the little diodes and capac. and resist. are barely soldered on and will pop off if abused even slightly.
    > ‘course, that shiny new dual-core AMD is just sooo fun to rip out of its box!! Unless, your rich, it’s worth a shot.. I’m typing on mine right now! -chris

Speak Your Mind