What is a Head Crash? (Causes & Fixes)

What is a Head Crash?

A head crash refers to a physical defect in which the read and write heads of a hard drive stop working. In simple terms, it refers to a hard disk failure due to an inoperable read/write head.


  • A head crash signifies a condition of the hard drive in which the actuator heads, also known as the read/write heads, touch the platter that stores data. And, there are also several other reasons for head crashes to occur.
  • A head crash is a grave issue that does not only result in data loss but can also damage the disk inside the hard drive, needing a total replacement.
  • However, in most of the cases, you can recover data from a crashed hard drive, and in a few cases, it can be repaired. However, both these are best done by qualified and professional technicians.
  • The hard drive will not fail all of a sudden. It will show some signs before that. One of the most significant signs is abnormal noises such as clicking and whirring being emitted from the hard drive.
  • When a head crash occurs or is near to occur, shutting the computer down is the best thing to do. This will prevent it from damaging the disk as well as the data stored on it further. It will give you a higher chance of its recovery.

Understanding Head Crash

Understanding Head Crash

A head crash is a condition that typically signifies a hard disk failure. When it happens, the head cannot read or write data. In such situations, the hard drive needs to be replaced.

Ideally, head crashes are a common issue on laptop computers with Hard Disk Drives (HDDs).

This is because these movable devices are more vulnerable to shocks, vibrations, drops and other external conditions as compared to a stationary desktop machine.

It is needless to say that the Solid State Drives (SSDs) usually do not have such issues since there are no moving heads, disks or any other component inside them.

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Though the symptoms of a hard drive head crash may vary, one of the most common signs of it is hearing unusual noises emitted by it.

When a head crash occurs, or you see the symptoms of it happening soon, one of the first things that you should do is turn the system off immediately, even skipping the normal shutdown process.

This will prevent further damage to the drive and may even increase the chance of recovering data from it.

What is a Head Crash

What is the Cause of a Head Crash?

The main cause of a head crash is the physical damage caused to the hard drive, which may not even allow the computer system to start up.

Sometimes, head crashes can also be the result of some kind of logical failure, where the drive stops functioning due to issues with the software.

There are several reasons for the read/write heads of a hard disk drive to crash. Some of them are summarized as follows:

  • When the hard drive is jolted
  • When foreign materials such as dust build up and block the head from the platter
  • When there is a defect with the actuator arm or the head itself
  • When the actuator head is physically misaligned due to electronic issues
  • When the spindle moving the platter stops rotating with sufficient force

A head crash may also occur when the head touches the rotating platter inside the hard drive, which it is not supposed to do.

This typically happens when the airflow inside is not enough to prevent the actuator head from touching the platter. This usually happens when the disk moves severely all of a sudden.

It may also happen when the computer system experiences a sudden physical shock, dropping a laptop on the ground while it is running, for example.

This typically slashes or scratches the surface of the disc causing permanent damage to the magnetic medium which stores the data.

Some other causes of head crash are:

  • Excessive wear and tear
  • Excessive temperature variances
  • Exposure to strong magnetic fields
  • Older drives that wear out over time
  • Bad parking or lack of auto-parking of heads
  • Power surges and power cuts
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Some of the causes of hard disk or head crash may not always be preventable. That is why experts recommend keeping proper backup of your data and files stored in the hard drive.

Also, proper care and use of your system as a whole are crucial to preventing such issues and others.

How Do You Stop Hard Drive Head from Crashing?

Ideally, there is no way in which you can stop the occurrence of a head crash on your hard drive because it will wear out over time, which is one of the primary causes of the event.

However, you can just prevent it from happening soon and follow a few specific steps to prevent loss of data when such an event happens, such as:

  • You should create a proper backup of all the data on your hard drive on a regular basis. This will help you to restore them on a new drive after you replace the crashed hard disk, saving you the trouble of recovering your files and data.
  • You should turn the system off when the incident happens. This will prevent further damage to the data stored on the disk.
  • You must also shut down the computer when you see an unusual increase in the temperature, which is another primary reason for a hard disk crash.
  • Make it a point to check the fan of the computer and unblock it if it is. This will ensure proper airflow inside, which is necessary to keep the head from coming into contact with the platter.
  • Always use your computer in a clean and well-ventilated room, preferably one that is air-conditioned. This will not only keep the system cool but will also prevent dust buildup, which also causes the head to crash.
  • Finally, ensure that you shut down your system when it is not in use.

Can You Fix a Hard Drive Head Crash?

Typically, a crashed hard disk is very hard to repair, if not impossible. The main reason is that the disk inside, along with the head, lens, and other components, are vacuum sealed so that not even the slightest amount of moisture or dust can enter inside it.

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Once you open it, which is very hard and needs technical expertise, there is very little chance that the disk will be up and running again.

However, in some rare cases, depending on the amount of physical damage, it can be repaired. This certainly is not a DIY project and should be done only by a certified technician in a very clean environment.

Donor parts are required for it from another working hard drive so that it can be installed in the hard disk you want to repair. These donor parts should typically match the original and be recognized by the computer system.

On the other hand, in some instances when the head crashes due to logical failure, formatting the partition of the hard drive may help in fixing the logical errors, provided that these are common issues and are not too complicated.

Whether it is repairing the hard drive or doing data recovery, seeking help from professional services is the best way to go ahead.

What is the Sound of a Head Crash?

When there is a head crash on a hard drive, it will emit abnormal sounds once it starts.

These sounds include clicking, ticking, whirring, whining, screeching, occasional scratching, beeping, and a low humming noise.

When you hear any of these sounds, switch your system off and make the call to a certified technician.


A head crash is a serious issue and can cause a lot of inconvenience, such as data corruption and even more catastrophic damage.

Therefore, you should not ignore the symptoms of a head crash and take proper measures so that you have a better chance of recovering the data if it crashes, as this article pointed out.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers since childhood. He has over 12 years of experience in writing, computer testing, and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin