A broken suitcase doesn’t automatically have to go in the trash bin. That’s because suitcase technology has come a long way in the last century.
When I was a kid, my grandmother—who was born in 1919—told me the story of packing her cardboard suitcase to go on vacation. She strapped the suitcases to the back of the car and drove through a rainstorm, only to arrive and discover the suitcase had dissolved in the rain.
Rain is no match for most 21st century bags, but whether it’s a bent telescoping handle, stuck zipper, or wheels that won’t roll, suitcases still break. The good news is it’s often easy to fix a broken suitcase.
Fix a Broken Suitcase: A Step-by-Step Guide
Here’s a guide to some quick fixes for common suitcase problems. Many are just temporary solutions, but all are meant to get you up and running again while keeping the contents of your luggage safe until you get home.
Broken Suitcase Fix #1: Handles
If a telescoping handle sticks a bit, add a bit of lubricant and open and close it a few times. If it’s bent in a visible way that makes it difficult (but still possible) to telescope up and down, you could gently hammer it back into alignment with a hard object. This may or may not go well, but it’s worth a try.
If it’s totally broken, and you’re handy and determined, you can replace the handle entirely. This will involve taking the suitcase apart (there are usually small screws on the outside or underneath the inner lining of the bag), removing the old handle, and then buying and installing the new handle. Did I mention you’d need to be handy and determined for this approach? If you’re neither, but love the bag, it’s probably time to enlist the help of a suitcase repair professional.
Broken Suitcase Fix #2: Zippers
The only thing worse than trying to close your suitcase and discovering the zipper is stuck is trying to open your already-packed suitcase and discovering the zipper is stuck. Luckily, zipper repair is usually relatively low-tech, and can be fixed with items you’re likely to find in a hotel room.
A stuck zipper can be helped along by rubbing a bar of soap or a bit of lip balm along the teeth. If the problem is that the zipper teeth aren’t knitting together to stay closed, feel along the zipper—you’ll likely find a single tooth that’s bent. Enlist the help of pliers to smooth the path and get your zipper moving again. If your zipper handle goes missing, loop a paperclip (crude but effective) or a souvenir keychain to create your own zipper pull.
Want to travel prepared? Pack a small zipper repair kit.
Broken Suitcase Fix #3: Fabric
Whether you have a seam pulling apart or a full-blown rip, you can fix most fabric tears with the right tools. If you’re the sort of person who travels with a bit of duct tape for emergencies, you can patch the area—but this fix isn’t going to last for long. A stronger solution is Gear Aid Tenacious Tape, ultra-strong repair tape that comes in five colors. For larger holes and tears, you can also try fabric glue and patches, or even try sewing it together—in a pinch, dental floss can be a sturdy, strong thread alternative.
There’s some advice out there saying that if your plastic hard-sided suitcase gets a dent, you can put a hot hairdryer on the offending spot for a few minutes and then, when it’s hot and pliable, push it back into place. That sounds like a recipe for noxious fumes, so proceed at your own risk.
Broken Suitcase Fix #4: Wheels
If your wheels aren’t spinning well, first thing’s first: clean them. Wipe them down with a damp cloth and look for anything that might be wedged in the wheel and compromising its ability to roll. A wobbly wheel can usually be corrected by tightening the screws that hold it in place. Don’t have the right tool? Call down to the hotel’s front desk—they may be able to track one down for you.
If the wheel is clearly doomed—say it falls off completely or just won’t budge—you can replace it yourself. Amazon sells a variety of replacement wheels of different sizes.
There are plenty of resources out there for professional suitcase repair. Shoe repair shops sometimes specialize in luggage repair, and luggage stores often have a service department for fixes. Check your luggage brand’s website for other repair options; you can sometimes ship your bag (often at a subsidized cost) back to the manufacturer for fixes, some of which may be covered under warranty.
When it comes to warranties, some luggage companies are better than others. Briggs & Riley, Eagle Creek, and Osprey offer a lifetime guarantee on their bags, and many other companies offer limited coverage on repairs and replacements.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Rolling Suitcase vs. Backpack: Which is Better?
- How to Fit More Stuff in Your Suitcase
- Air Passenger Rights: The On-the-Go Guide
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.