You watched your fragile, complicated, expensive flying camera bounce between tree branches like a pachinko machine, then thud against the ground. Or maybe you hit the throttle, then let off on the throttle, only to have the drone refuse to listen and shoot out of sight into the sky. It happens to everyone. Everyone we know, at least. But what no one seemed to know was what do you do about it? We kamikazeed a drone and found out.
Option 1: Find a Repair Center
Even if the damage looks minor, pay for an authorized shop. The crash may have knocked circuit boards loose, affecting much more than you see. Call the manufacturer or check its website to see if there's an authorized repair center anywhere near you. There are about a dozen scattered throughout the country. Only two do sanctioned DJI drone repairs. The rest work with Yuneec and other brands. The biggest benefit here will be turnaround time, which, compared to the huge queue you'll face when sending a drone back to the manufacturer (see Option 2), will take around two weeks instead of six or more. You're also more likely to deal with an invested human being.
Option 2: Send it to the Manufacturer
Returning drones to the manufacturer can be a horrible experience—multi-month waits, indifferent customer service, warranty disputes—but if you don't have an authorized repair shop nearby, there's no better option. The huge facilities have factory parts and calibration software that ensure a proper repair. If you are among the 5 percent of pilots who crash due to build defects, not pilot error, and you're within the warranty, repairs are free. Just don't expect to convince anyone that the crash wasn't your fault if it really was. Drones have internal black boxes that record exactly what happened before a collision.
Some manufacturers have made the return process easier, providing an alternative to DJI's notoriously difficult customer service. EHang will repair a new Ghostdrone 2.0 VR up to three times within a year of purchase, and they claim that they'll do it with only a ten- to 14-day turnaround. Autel Robotics has live customer service on call seven days a week and two-week returns. Another option is to buy something like GoPro's two-year Care coverage ($149), which allows you to get your $800 Karma not just repaired but replaced for $199 with about a two-week wait. Even DJI came out with DJI Care ($219 for the Phantom 4), which will pay for repairs up to the value of the drone. Whatever drone you get, if the company offers insurance coverage, buy it.
Option 3: DIY
If you clipped a propeller on a branch, or if you cracked the camera component on a simple model, like the Parrot Bebop 2, which has manufacturer instructional videos online, go ahead and replace it. Beyond that, don't try it. "You can replace a motor if you're good at soldering," says Werner von Stein, an engineer and head of the SF Drone School in San Francisco. "But if you had a pretty hard landing, it could be something else. When parts cost $600 or $700, it's better to replace the whole aircraft." If you want to try to repair it anyway, companies like Yuneec and Parrot sell parts directly. DJI doesn't sell as many parts, but you can buy scrap drones on eBay and use those components. And if you mess things up, well, you can get a little money selling your drone for scrap on eBay.
*This article origionally appeared in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Seniorhelpline.