How to fix an External Hard Drive that is Corrupted and Unreadable without Formatting

External hard drives are ubiquitous like PCs and are a huge lifesaver for PC users like you. Among other things, you use it as portable storage to haul your files from device to device. However, the big problem is: it can fail without warning. So here’s the question: how do you fix an external hard drive that is corrupted and unreadable without formatting the drive?

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I have an external hard drive that suddenly went kaput. It was working quite fine, until one morning when I plugged it in and got this:

The file or directory is corrupt and unreadable.

I began to frantically search for solutions to the problem. My files were intact, but the problem was that Windows just couldn’t access the drive. A quick search on Google will show you several articles which claim to address this issue. The problem is that most of them will simply advise you to format the drive.

Here’s what to do to fix this issue without losing your precious data. This is a product of my experience and some research. Formatting should be a very extreme measure, and I don’t even recommend it because it shortens the life span of your hard drive.

Why is my hard drive corrupted and unreadable?

A lot of things could be responsible for this problem of a corrupt and unreadable disk, such as power failure, improper cable connection, malware attack, and corrupt file system, among other things. Your files are still intact, just that Windows just cannot access them because the file system is screwed up.

The following are my recommendations on how to fix an external hard drive that is corrupted and unreadable, in sequence. What this means is that you should only try number 2 if number 1 fails to correct the problem, etc.

How to fix an External Hard Drive that is Corrupted and Unreadable

Can an External Hard Drive get corrupted?

Yes. A lot of factors can lead to this problem including file system issues, virus or malware attacks, power failure, and connectivity problems (connecting cable), among other things.

Hard drives don’t last forever, and as such, with time they will eventually wear out and are prone to data corruption. At this stage, it is better to backup what you can from the drive and consider replacing it.

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How do I fix a corrupted hard drive without formatting?

  1. Try changing the drive letters
  2. Try reinstalling the drive through Device Manager Utility in Windows
  3. Check the Drive for errors using the Chkdsk utility
  4. Reassign privileges
  5. Format the drive
  6. Replace the drive

Change the drive letter

Once your drive shows you the corrupt and unreadable error message. Don’t panic. Open up the disk management utility by typing Disk Manager in the Windows Search bar. You should see the drive listed there. Right-click, and select “Change Drive Letters and Paths”.

Choose a different drive letter and assign it to the drive. Click Ok and exit. Try accessing the drive through Explorer. If it opens, great. If not, please continue with the next step.

Try reinstalling the drive through Device Manager Utility in Windows

Next up, try reinstalling the drive through the Device Manager utility in Windows. Sometimes, a reinstall of drives may solve the problem.

Just head over to Control Panel and look for Device Manager. Open it up and look for the section labeled Disk Drives. Right-click on the problem drive and click on Uninstall device. Windows will remove the device immediately.

Next click on Scan for Hardware changes up on the menu above. Windows will immediately reinstall the drive. Try accessing it once again from Windows Explorer. If it opens, problem solved. If not, please continue with the next step.

Check the Drive for errors using the Chkdsk utility

Windows has an inbuilt disk checking utility, called CHKDSK in tech language. You can access it from Windows Explorer.

Just right-click on the drive and select Properties. Next click on Tools. Next click on Check under Error Checking. It may or may not run, depending on the mood of your Windows (funny). The system may tell you to schedule it to run when next you boot up your Windows. Approve this and reboot your PC.

On the other hand, you may choose to run CHKDSK from the Command Prompt utility. This is a preferred method. Just press a combination of the Windows key on your keyboard, and the R key. Type cmd and press Enter on your keyboard.

The Command Prompt interface will launch. Next, type CHKDSK /f D: (D being the drive letter of the problem external hard drive). Next, press Enter and allow the tool to check your disk for errors.

The Windows CHKDSK utility is pretty good at finding file system errors and fixing them. The process may take up to 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your drive.

It will fix the file system errors. In most cases, this will solve the problem of a corrupt and unreadable disk. However, in my own case after waiting patiently, what I saw next was this:

How to fix an External Hard Drive that is Corrupted and Unreadable

D:\ is not accessible

Access is Denied.

Windows was simply telling me that I didn’t have the privilege of accessing the drive on the PC. WTF.

If you encounter the same problem, please move on to the next step.

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