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Dirt in the focus motor drive gears right behind the lens at the front.
It's a **** design (my opinion). The lens at the front moves in and out depending on your zoom level. It can come right out of the lens barrell at the front. So, if it can come out, dirt can get in. and it's a pig to clean out and reset. Bin it or sell for parts.
How did this occur? If the lens was hit or dropped while the lens was out, that can cause a lot of damage. First, Look at the lens as it is extended. You may be able to gently push the lens in the opposite direction after starting the camera. This has worked for me on some. If the lens protector on the end of the lens has popped off, look at the problem. If the shutters have also popped out.... oh boy, that may not be able to be fixed. You may want to sell this camera on Ebay as a broken or AS IS, PARTS, FOR REPAIR. These lenses are not the easiest to repair, and the small parts inside may be broken.
First check the battery for full charge. This may be a damaged lens system. Lens error is usually E18 or text "lens error" or other error message.
What you both can try is something I have tried and fixed some cameras. As the camera starts, gently push in on the lens or pull..that may be able to be determined by the way the lens acts. You have to study carefully the lens as it is extending to see what happens. If any noise is present as it is extending, then you may have internal parts which are broken in the lens. Sell it for parts on a site such as Ebay. List it as is, parts, or repair. take care,
The C-50 camera is notorious for the broken door and/or broken track. It was fixed on the C-60 model. There are a few shops on eBay that sell the front door, its a very easy replacement, just two screws and a guide plate on the bottom that you install and assuming your track is still operational, you'll beable to use your camera.
Canon knew the lens on the a500 series was bad when they hit the market, but knew their name would continue to sell these poorly designed cameras. There are two gears that have stripped in the lens assembly and believe me, the average shade tree mechanic is not going to replace them. You can try to find a parts camera with the lens still working, or probably best just to trash it and buy another camera. I guess nearly all the manufacturers are using these little plastic gears that look like they came out of a 29 cent taiwan toy. If they made them out of nylon, or brass, then the cameras would last way to long and kill their sales. Good Luck
I have a "broken" A520 that needs a new LCD. I really don't want to spend another $90 to get it fixed so may be willing to sell it for parts. Let me know. I don't know about any guide for disassembly however.