Simple Phone Fixes

Although our company makes money selling telephone tools and test equipment, there are lots of telephone problems you can solve without even touching a screwdriver, and we're happy to share some of the secrets with you.

A lot of the time you don’t need any special tools, testers or training to diagnose the trouble. All that’s needed are a few minutes and a little common sense.

And if you can't fix it yourself, by investing a few minutes before calling for help, you can be reasonably sure that you’re calling the right people, and won’t waste time or money.

• When diagnosing a malfunction, test every piece of hardware that's involved. You'd be surprised at all of the things that can be improperly manufactured, inadequately tested, or ruined by human contact.
• Anything can be made wrong, or messed up — even a phone cord (but probably not the ones we sell).
• Things that people touch are more likely to get messed up than things that don't get touched.
• Unless you have mice or a toxic waste leak, wires inside your walls should last 50 years, or longer.

(1)  One of the most common dilemmas occurs when a phone line is dead or noisy, and you don’t know if it’s the fault of your own phone equipment, or of the local telephone company. If you call the phone company, and their technician decides (rightfully or wrongfully or even lazily) that the trouble was caused by a malfunction in your own equipment, you might get billed $75 for a false alarm, and you still have the trouble you had before.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution.

Most phone systems, particularly in small businesses and homes, connect to the phone company at a demarcation point, also known as a “demark” or “network interface,” that is not much more than a heavy-duty assembly of several traditional “modular” telephone jacks. Sometimes there is just a single line.






These jacks should be labeled to indicate their phone numbers, and there’s a cord plugged into each one that leads to your phone gear.

When you have trouble, simply go the interface, find the jack for the problem line, and press the tab on the plug so you can temporarily remove it.

Then you just plug in an ordinary analog phone. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be something that’s too ugly, dirty or bereft of features for your daily uses. The only requirement is that you know it works.

If this test phone works properly when you plug it into the interface, you know the phone company is providing proper service, and you have to complain to whoever is responsible for maintaining your phone system (which could be you).

If, on the other hand, your test phone sounds noisy, or you have no dial tone, or it doesn’t ring when called, you have found the phone company guilty. You can call them with confidence and not be intimidated.

(2) What do you do if the phone on your desk suddenly doesn’t let you hear other people, or doesn’t let people hear you? The solution could cost $350, $40, or $5.

You can probably find out without bringing in the expensive talent. Just swap some pluggable parts with a phone that works. The trouble is either with the base of the phone (maybe $350), the handset (probably under $40), or the handset cord. Unless you smash your handset down when you hang it up, or drop it on the floor a lot, the repair will probably cost you $5, or a little bit more if you want a long cord. (We'll be glad to sell you one or some.)

One of the biggest reasons for cord failure is the stretching that puts so much pressure on the plug connections, that the cord separates from the plug; so consider getting a longer cord, or a cordless phone, or a cordless headset.

(3) What do you do if the phone is completely dead, with no lights, no display, no ring and no voice?

Here, too, you might get lucky and have a five-buck solution. You might just have to replace the line cord between your phone and the jack on the wall.

If that doesn’t do it, swap your phone with another one that works. If your “bad” phone is now a good phone, it’s time to call the phone system fixer-upper, or get out your tools or computer. The trouble could be a broken wire or a programming error, or something unplugged at the phone system control unit.

If your bad phone is still misbehaving, you need to get the phone fixed or replaced.

(4) We call this the electronic enema, so maybe I should have made it number two. Ha-ha.

Anyway, if you have a Panasonic KX-TD phone system, and a phone is acting weird, dial Intercom 790 to clean out the crap.

This is also a good method for turning off a message waiting light that's on even though you don't have any voicemail messages waiting for you.

Other phone systems may have similar procedures.

(5) If you can’t take a call off HOLD, there’s a good chance that someone accidentally put the call on “exclusive hold,” and only the phone that put the call on hold, can take it off hold.

In many phone systems, if you tap the HOLD button twice in rapid succession (deliberately or by accident) you'll notice that the light does a “double-wink,” and the call is on exclusive hold. It’s more often a PITA than a useful feature.

If your phone system seems hopelessly messed-up, with weird light patterns, strange sounds, non-functioning features, etc, shut it off for a minute or two, then turn it back on.

There's a very good chance that the trouble will go away, without paying a penny for repairs.

This also works for computers, cordless phones, appliances, calculators, even cars.

On the day I typed this paragraph, I used this method to restore operation of the icemaker and water dispenser of a GE refrigerator. I probably saved $125.

(6) Microprocessors can get confused, and like human brains, they often work better after a rest. Lots of “defective” products work perfectly by the time they arrive at the repair place. If the malfunctioning machine uses batteries instead of AC, pop them out for a little while. In a car, carefully disconnect a battery cable.

(7) If your phone system seems somewhat confused, but not hopelessly messed up, perhaps with phones not ringing, or the wrong phones ringing, or the voicemail system delivering the wrong message, it’s possible that the phone system or voicemail system accidentally went into “night mode,” which may have different parameters selected. If it is daytime, make sure the equipment knows it. Also, if you don’t want different patterns for day and night, program the same settings for day and night so if the system is accidentally shifted into night mode, it will still work as if it is day time.









(8) Traditional telephones with round screw-on mouthpieces use “carbon granule” microphones that have not changed much over 100 years. They are inexpensive and reliable, but they have one problem.

In humid weather, they can absorb moisture — just like salt or kitty litter — and the granules clump together. The volume of your voice is reduced and both you and the other person hear a tell-tale shooshing sound.

There's an easy FREE repair that anyone can do.
Just take the handset and whack it on a hard surface, like a desk or a table, and the impact should separate the granules so you can have a normal conversation until the next deluge. It's a good idea to protect the whacking surface with a magazine so you don't damage the phone or the furniture.

(9) Companies that refurbish phones have access to various specialized chemicals and machines for renewing cruddy old phones. Amateurs don't have to make a major investment, because most people already have two very effective 
chemicals in their bathroom. Rubbing alcohol is almost a universal solvent, very effective at cleaning off ink, label adhesive, and all kinds of goo from phone bodies and handsets. It's also good for cleaning cords. Toothpaste does 
a good job at polishing out minor scratches and dull spots. You can apply it with a toothbrush, rag, or fingertip. If you want to give your phone a good shine, get out of the john and go to your garage, and get some car wax. Use these chemicals sparingly, and don't get water into the phone guts.

(10) Alarm systems that call for help in case of a burglary, robbery, fire or flood are often connected to a phone line through a special RJ31X jack that allows them to “seize” the line when needed. This ability allows the alarm system to interrupt a phone call in progress to make a vital call to the alarm company or police; and also prevents an intruder from picking up a phone and stopping the alarm system from calling. When the alarm panel is plugged into the RJ31X, the phone line passes through the jack, into the panel, back out to the jack, and then to your phones. If you lose phone service on the line that your alarm system uses, there’s a good chance that the alarm panel caused the problem. It’s easy to check — just unplug the cord from the alarm jack. If phone service comes back, call the company that maintains the alarm system.