Fix a broken Nintendo Switch: How to overcome your fear of DIY game console repairs
The Nintendo Switch needs the occasional repair, but you can fix that cracked back cover on your own.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Last year, my Nintendo Switch had become a grimy mess. Smudged, dust-caked screen. Oily Joy-Cons. My kids had been playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons for days, jostling it out of the dock in the mornings. I told them to be careful -- then I saw the crack on the back.
It wasn't a big crack. But it was there. Of course, I freaked out.
I have issues with things breaking. And I'm not a repair-oriented person. I don't have fix-it in my blood. My backyard is a mess. Disorder terrifies me, and yet it happens. And sooner or later, electronics get damaged.
I Googled my problem and saw a lot of other people had similar cracks in well-used systems.
I've seen others posting pictures of their Switches with new colorful cases they put on, and Joy-Con kits they carefully assembled -- or even Joy-Con fixes. A cracked plastic back? Come on, Scott. You can do this.
Price: How much does it cost to fix your Nintendo Switch?
I went to Amazon to get some spare parts: a rear case and front cover set that seemed very well-reviewed, so I bought it ($9.95). I looked for Switch repair tools, and went with a set that had a bunch of big, separate (as opposed to interchangeable-head) screwdrivers (currently $15, but I paid $18.89). Total: $30.79.
They took a week to arrive -- not as long as some orders in the beginning months of the coronavirus pandemic, maybe because they're for repairs.
Then, I started.
Unscrewing your Nintendo Switch: How to take off the game console's backplate
The next steps involved taking the original rear case off. Some advice before proceeding:
Lay the Switch facedown on a soft cloth. You don't want to scratch it up.
Pull off the kickstand. You'll need that off before removing the rear cover. It's easy to take off, and Nintendo has a guide. Push in a bit on one side. Reattaching it later is similar but in reverse.
Be very careful with the screws. The tri-wing specialized screws, and some Phillips-head screws, are incredibly small. Some are also very short. I unscrewed them all in the order iFixit recommended, four corners first.
Those were OK, but some felt stuck with grime. I was extremely worried about stripping the tri-wing screws. I kept the screwdriver still and turned firmly but gently at the same time.
Thank goodness the screwdrivers are magnetized, keeping the screws attached a bit after removing. I placed them in little dishes, to remind myself what step they were from. I dared not drop one by accident.
Next came the microSD card slot screw, which wasn't as tightly attached.
Then came two Phillips-head screws on the bottom, on either side of the USB-C port.
Then, a Phillips-head screw just to the side of the top vent.
Then, the middlemost screw on the side rails where the Joy-Cons normally slide in, one on each side.
I pulled the plastic off gently; it got stuck a bit. I noticed how much dust there was, and that some of the plastic tabs had already broken off.
Unexpected additional steps: Transferring the microSD bracket and game cartridge cover
At this point, iFixit said to reverse the steps. But I realized there were still some missing parts to my Switch rear cover:
The cartridge slot cover was on the original cover, but not on my new one.
A little bracket near the microSD card slot wasn't on my new cover, either.
Nor were the little vent grille covers on the bottom of the cover, nor little foam squares on the corners.
I went into a panic now, but decided to just move the parts over. I gently unscrewed the SD card and cartridge parts and reinstalled them on the corresponding areas of the new cover.
The vent covers, those weren't as easy. I saw people online had gently peeled them off and glued them on. They're little strips of plastic. I pulled them off, and found they had just enough stickiness left to stick on again like a sticker, and kind of move on from there. The foam corner squares I didn't worry about.
What's the hardest part of the Switch DIY repair? The lower plastic tabs
Then I hit a serious snag. I tried snapping the new cover on, but it wouldn't fit. One bottom plastic corner wouldn't snap in. It looked like the hole in my Switch wasn't deep enough for the tab.
I have no idea what happened here. Nothing was left in my Switch that I could see, and the rear cover I removed was missing that plastic tab completely. I couldn't find anything online that matched my problem.
It was time to improvise. I tried sawing the plastic tab off.
I used a pocket knife and started gently trying to remove the plastic tab from the rear cover without breaking everything. This is where I felt like I'd seriously gone off-road. Amazingly, the tab broke off and I was able to snap the cover on. Not ideal by any means, but it worked.
The rear cover was on, and all the missing pieces were now attached. Things looked like they were going in the right direction.
Last step: Screwing on the new Switch back cover (with caution)
I screwed the screws back in, in reverse order, backtracking through the steps I took in the first place. Tiny screws are even harder to get back in than they are to take out. I tried lowering them in and then positioning them on the magnetic screwdriver, and very carefully screwing back in, not overtightening at all. I sweated. I may have stripped a few screws a bit. I'm never doing this again, I told myself.
How long does it take to repair your Nintendo Switch? About an hour
I tried to document my repairs by propping up an iPad and showing what I was doing. And I took things really slowly. It was about an hour of work. I got really stressed. But I was damn proud when I was done. And then, I turned on the Switch to make sure it worked. Yes, everything seemed (and seems) fine.
I did it.
I showed my son how the cracked back was all nice and smooth now, all fine.
I gave him the Switch, and went to the kitchen to do dishes and make dinner. I felt more sure of myself in a world where I've been feeling out of control. I took a breath. Repairs can happen, new skills can be learned. Broken Switches can be fixed. This is my little story of my own anxieties. I hope you feel confident enough and careful enough to face yours, too.