What happens if a USB breaks?

A USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is a common type of connector used for connecting devices and transferring data. USBs consist of a plug and cable that connects to a computer or other device. They work by allowing communication and power supply between the USB host (computer) and the connected USB device (flash drive, mouse, etc.) [1].

There are a few key ways a USB can become physically broken or stop functioning properly. The USB plug is the most vulnerable component and can break if bent repeatedly or forcefully. The cable can also fray over time from normal wear and tear. Additionally, USB ports in the host device can break or collect debris that prevents the USB from properly seating. Corrupted data is another common USB issue, usually caused by improper ejection or file transfer interruption.

When a USB breaks or becomes corrupted, it can have major consequences for users. Important personal data like photos, documents, and other files may become irretrievable if the USB is damaged. A broken USB also creates the inconvenience of having to replace it to restore normal function. Preventing USB damage through proper care and handling is critical to avoiding these issues.

Physical Damage

One of the most common ways a USB drive can become damaged or stop working is through physical issues. Since USB drives are small and portable, they can easily be dropped, bent, or otherwise subjected to impacts that damage the drive.

Dropping a USB onto a hard surface is a frequent cause of physical damage. The impact can break the connector end where the drive plugs into a computer. It can also damage the internal circuit board or components inside the USB casing. Even a short drop onto a hard floor can generate enough force to break the small, delicate parts within.

Bending or twisting a USB drive can also cause the internal connections or circuit board to break. USB drives are not very flexible or resilient. Applying too much torque or pressure when plugging in or handling the drive can crack solder points or traces on the circuit board, interrupting the electrical connections.

Exposing a USB drive to liquids, such as water, can short out the electrical components and connections inside the device. Even small amounts of liquid can lead to corrosion over time. Spilling coffee, tea, or other beverages on a USB drive often ruins it.

Overall, the small size and portability of USB drives makes them prone to physical damage from drops, bends, twists, and liquid exposure. Damage to the USB connector, circuit board, or internal components from impact, torque, or moisture can stop a USB drive from working properly.

Corrupted Data

Data corruption commonly occurs on USB drives when the device is disconnected improperly or experiences a sudden power loss while writing files. This can leave the file system in an unstable state, resulting in issues like missing, inaccessible, or partially written files. Virus or malware infections can also corrupt data by modifying or deleting files.

File system corruption often makes some or all files on the drive inaccessible. The directories may display, but attempts to open files result in errors. In some cases, files may appear with 0 bytes size even though space is still consumed on the disk. Severely corrupted drives may not even mount properly when connected.

This type of data corruption can stem from both physical damage as well as software issues. Problems are more likely when the USB is removed without properly ejecting or during active file operations. Using virus protection and safely ejecting the drive can reduce the risks of software-based corruption.

Repairing Physical Damage

If a USB stick has physical damage such as a broken connector or damaged circuit board, it may be possible to repair it. Some options include:

Soldering/replacing broken connector – If the USB connector has broken off or become disconnected, it may be possible to solder it back on or replace the connector. This requires precision soldering skills and the right equipment. Professional repair shops can perform this type of repair.

Circuit board repair/data recovery firms – For more complex physical damage like a cracked circuit board, specialized USB flash drive repair companies and data recovery firms may be able to repair the drive and recover the data. This involves techniques like a “chip-off” procedure to move the memory chip to a new circuit board. Costs for a “chip-off” recovery can range from $300-$500.

Cost analysis – The cost to repair physical USB damage can vary greatly based on the specifics of the damage and required repairs. Simple soldering jobs may cost $125-$275. Complex circuit board repairs or “chip-off” procedures at data recovery firms could cost $300-$500. In some cases, the cost of repair may exceed the value of the drive and a replacement would be more cost-effective.

Recovering Corrupted Data

If the USB drive is not physically damaged but the data is corrupted or inaccessible, there are a few options for recovering the data:

Using data recovery software: Specialized data recovery software like Stellar Data Recovery can scan the drive and rebuild corrupted or deleted files. The success rate depends on the severity of the corruption.

Sending to a specialist: For more severe corruption that software cannot repair, a USB stick can be sent to a professional data recovery service. This involves opening the physical drive in a clean room and extracting the raw data. Success rates are generally high, around 85-95% according to this data recovery service article (Zero Alpha Group).

Reformatting: If the file system itself is corrupted, reformatting the USB drive may make the data accessible again. However, this erases all data on the drive. Only attempt if you have backups of the data or have exhausted other recovery options.

Recovering lost data from a corrupted USB stick is possible in most cases, but prevention via backups is ideal. Sending to a specialist service offers the highest chance of complete data recovery.

Prevention Tips

Here are some tips for preventing USB drive problems and data loss:

Handle USB drives carefully – don’t bend them, get them wet, or expose them to extreme heat or cold. Dropping or physically damaging a USB drive can break the internal components and make data recovery difficult or impossible (Source).

Always eject the USB drive properly before unplugging it. On Windows, use the “Safely Remove Hardware” icon in the system tray. On Mac, drag the USB icon to the Trash. Improperly disconnecting the USB drive while files are still being written can corrupt data (Source).

Use encryption to protect sensitive files stored on a USB drive. Encryption converts data into unreadable code that requires a password to decrypt. This protects your data if the drive is lost or stolen. VeraCrypt is a free encryption software for USB drives (Source).

Back up important files stored on a USB drive. Copy files to a secondary location like an external hard drive or cloud storage. Backups protect against data loss if a USB drive fails or is damaged beyond repair.


Some alternatives to USB flash drives include cloud storage, external hard drives, and optical discs like DVDs and CDs. Here are some of the pros and cons of each:

Cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive allow you to access your files from any internet-connected device. Data is stored remotely on servers rather than locally on your computer or drive. Pros of cloud storage include accessibility, ease of sharing, and not having to worry about physical damage or loss. However, you do need an internet connection, and there are monthly fees for paid plans after free storage limits.

External hard drives offer abundant storage capacity for local backups and file transfers. A desktop external HDD connects to your computer via USB, Thunderbolt, or eSATA, while a portable hard drive is bus-powered and lightweight for mobility. External HDDs prevent issues like cloud outages. But they can suffer from physical damage like USB drives and you’ll need to remember to manually back them up.

Writeable DVDs and CDs are very cheap for storing data. Optical discs are more durable than USB flash drives when it comes to physical damage. But they have much smaller capacities, can still degrade over time, and require an optical drive which many modern laptops lack. Reading and writing discs is also slower than USB 3.0+ drives.

Data Loss Impacts

One of the biggest issues with a damaged or corrupted USB drive is potential data loss. If important files such as photos, videos, documents, or other data are stored on the drive and become inaccessible, the consequences can be devastating.

For many users, the photos and videos stored on a USB drive are irreplaceable records of special life moments and memories. Losing access to these files can represent an enormous personal loss.

There can also be major professional repercussions if work files stored on a USB drive are lost. Important documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or other materials for business, school, or creative projects may be difficult or impossible to recreate. Data loss could derail work timelines or progress.

While there are data recovery options available if files are accidentally deleted or a drive is corrupted, recovery is not guaranteed. Plus, specialized data recovery services can be expensive. Therefore, preventing data loss by consistently backing up important files in multiple locations is highly recommended.

When to Replace

At some point, it may be more cost effective to simply replace a damaged or worn out USB flash drive rather than try to repair or recover its data. Some factors to consider in making this decision include:

Cost of a new USB drive – Basic USB flash drives are inexpensive, with prices starting around $5-10 for an 8-16GB model. Larger drives with more storage capacity can range from $15-50+. Compare this to the value of the lost data and potential data recovery costs.

Age of the drive – Most USB flash drives last 3-5 years with normal use before beginning to wear out. If your drive is older, replacement may make more sense than repair.

Extent of damage – If the USB connector is cracked or the drive casing is split open, physical repair may not be possible. Water damage or a fully corrupted drive may also be beyond DIY fixes.

Difficulty of data recovery – If you’ve already attempted drive repair software or consulted with data recovery pros, you’ll know if restoring the data seems achievable or unlikely.

Your personal technical skills – For those less tech-savvy, professional repair or data recovery assistance may be the only option, which could get expensive.

Ease of replacement – Replacing a low-cost, non-essential USB drive is generally simple. But if it contains valuable or irreplaceable data, more effort may be warranted.

Availability of backups – If you have backups of the drive’s content, replacement may be less disruptive than trying to salvage damaged hardware.

Before replacing, try less drastic troubleshooting like using the drive on other computers or with different cables. But if the USB drive is clearly worn out or damaged beyond physical repair, replacement is likely your most cost-effective option.


In summary, a broken USB drive can result in physical damage or corrupted data. Physical damage often requires professional data recovery services, while corrupted data may be recoverable using data recovery software. To avoid these issues, handle USB drives carefully, eject them properly, and keep backups of important data. Overall, USB drives are convenient for storage and transfer of files, but they can fail unexpectedly. When problems arise or the drive’s performance declines, it may need to be replaced. With proper care and backups, USB drives can safely store and transport data for many years.

The key points covered in this article are:

  • USB drives can break from physical damage like being dropped or bent.
  • Corrupted data is another common USB failure, caused by improper ejection or file system errors.
  • Physically damaged drives may require professional data recovery to access files.
  • Software can often recover data from a corrupted drive.
  • Back up important data and handle USB drives carefully to prevent problems.
  • If a USB drive fails repeatedly or shows declining performance, replacement is recommended.

In conclusion, USB drives are convenient portable storage, but prone to physical and data failures. Careful handling, proper ejection, and regular backups help avoid loss of important data. When problems occur, recovery software and services may retrieve data, but replacement is sometimes necessary.