A Halle's Service, Inc.
Phoenix, Arizona
est. 1964

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When Not to Repair

"It just needs cleaning. How much does that cost?"  Cleaning may be as straight forward as removing contaminants that are obscuring the gap in a video head, or it may involve complete disassembly to flush out and replace gummy lubricants and replace belts, clutches, etc.

Cleaning a VCR or Camcorder is not like changing the oil on your car. It doesn't need to be done unless you have cleaning related symptoms, so, lets talk about those symptoms.

No picture, just snow. This is the symptom we expect when video heads are contaminated or damaged. Tape path cleaning will usually take care of this symptom. If you feel lucky, you might want to try a cleaning tape, but that may put your machine at risk. Our flat rate for professional cleaning and/or estimate of $30 for VCRs and $75 for Camcorders should cover it.  If we find other problems, we will advise you, and the amount already paid goes toward those repairs if you so choose. If your problem was contamination, you must take steps to prevent it's reoccurrence. Remember, for obvious reasons we cannot provide a warranty on a cleaning job.

Picture not as good as it used to be. Probably not a cleaning related. Generally picture quality problems tend to be electronic rather than mechanical.

Eats tapes. Usually not a contamination problem. It can be caused by gummy lubes, worn, broken, or out of adjustment drive parts and timing issues. 

No eject, or won't take a tape. Most frequently these symptoms are caused by bent or broken parts. Did someone force a tape in or out of it?

Loss of sound, picture ok. Usually not cleaning related. Contamination normally affects picture before sound, except on older, non HiFi machines which use a separate audio head and 8mm equipment.

Most cases of tape path contamination occur from the use of dirty, damaged, or worn out tapes. Rentals are the worst offenders, especially kid's tapes. A fingerprint or a wrinkle on a tape can clog or damage video heads. Imagine what a glob of peanut butter from some little darling's fingers will do? What if the VCR that tape was in last malfunctioned and ate it, and that person just wound it back into the cassette and didn't tell the rental store? Those wrinkles and grease from the mechanism will put a damper on your evenings enjoyment.

Let's say you just sat down to watch that movie you rented. It starts out ok, but then you see white lines scrolling down through the picture. You may also hear a faint buzzing sound, then suddenly, just snow. If you're like most of us, you grab another tape and try it. Nope, that one doesn't play either, nor does the next or the next. What has just happened is you got hold of a wrinkled/contaminated tape, which smeared it's contaminants along the tape path and into the heads of your VCR. Worse than that, by trying those other tapes, you contaminated them also. Did you remember which ones they were so you can discard them to avoid recontaminating your VCR after it gets repaired or replaced?  OOPS...

So, what do you do if you lose your picture after one of those rental movies in your VHS or VHS-C VCR? First choice is to take a NEW, good quality unrecorded tape and label it "CLEANING TAPE - DO NOT REWIND". Then run it for 10 to 20 minutes in SP record. Chances are it will pick up most of the contaminants IF that is what is causing your problems, without putting your machine at risk. If this works, you're back in business. If not, then you have to make a decision. You can purchase a cleaning tape and take a chance of making your problems worse, or you can take your equipment to a qualified, FACTORY AUTHORIZED servicer and have it properly repaired. If the problem is only contamination, you will probably get by for less than thirty dollars. If not, the servicer will advise what you can expect to pay. Most competent servicers do charge for this service, so don't expect a free ride.

At least once a week a VCR or Camcorder comes in with a complaint of "It stopped working after I used the cleaning tape".  In a large percentage of those cases, the VCR or Camcorder is damaged beyond economical repair. 

If you are in a hurry, don't want to spend the extra money, or are just feeling lucky, the following information will help you make an informed decision about cleaning tapes.

bulletA cleaning tape wipes the same path as your regular tapes travel. They often end up smearing contamination from one area to another. If used when there is no problem, they can create one by moving goo or oxide from a harmless location into the video heads.

bulletNever rewind a cleaning tape, regardless of what the instructions say. If that tape picks up some grease or other contamination, and then you rewind and reuse it, you will smear that material back onto the tape path. Ever try to clean a window with a used towel?

bulletDry cleaning tapes are probably the least risky to use. They are abrasive, and put many hours of wear on your video heads in the few seconds they are run, but what the heck, those heads are good for 3000+ hours.

bulletWet tapes would be a good idea if they didn't have to pass over a spinning drum. They can cling to the drum, tangle, and break video heads. The liquid you put on them can wick into precision, pre lubricated roller guides, causing premature failure down the road. A VCR was designed to transport polished, 1 mil thick mylar tape, not a wet chamois!

bulletCleaners with brushes! We have no idea who came up with that idea, but those brushes can and do snag the video heads (which have a gap of only 20-30 microns). They only address parts of the tape path, and again, the liquid can damage lubricants in roller guides. Not all VCR mechanisms function the same. We have seen the brush type tapes jam and bend some mechanisms.

bulletRemember, as mentioned above, a New good quality blank tape makes a fairly good cleaning tape. Label it "Cleaning tape, do not rewind". Then put it in the VCR and set an SP record for about 20 minutes. This will pick up most contaminants without putting your VCR at risk. Never rewind it, as this may recontaminate your VCR. Throw it away when you have used it to the end.

The above information is also valid for 8mm, Digital 8mm and Mini-DV equipment, but due to design differences, they may safely have contamination on the tape path addressed by the use of proper cleaning tapes. For 8mm and Digital 8mm, we can recommend the SONY Hi-8/D8 cleaning tape, and for Mini-DV use JVC or Panasonic cleaning tapes.  These are dry types, and reasonably safe and worth a try before you bring the unit in for service. Avoid wet cleaners or anything with pads or brushes !!

To prevent recontamination of your VCR, and other tapes, the tape that caused the problem must be discarded. In addition, any tape that you tried after the problem occurred will have to be thrown away.


Courtesy, Halle's Service, Inc.

Last modified: March 31, 2007