Where response is intermittent or the reliable operating distance is reduced, first check the batteries and battery contacts. If some buttons are intermittent or dead, than the most likely cause is dirty or worn contacts under the rubber buttons or on the circuit board.
If there is no response to any functions by the TV or VCR, verify that any mode switches are set correctly (on both the remote and the TV or VCR). Unplug the TV or VCR for 30 seconds (not just power off, unplug). This sometimes resets a microcontroller that may have been confused by a power surge. Confirm that the remote has not accidentally been set to an incorrect mode (VCR instead of TV, for example). If it a universal type, it may have lost its programming - reset it. Make sure you are using the proper remote if have multiple similar models.
Test the remote with an IR detector. An IR detector card can be purchased for about $6. Alternatively, build the circuit at the end of this document. If the remote is putting out an IR signal, then the remote or the TV or VCR may have forgotten its settings or the problem may be in the TV or VCR and not the hand unit. The following is just a summary - more detailed information is available in the companion document: Notes on the Troubleshooting and Repair of Hand Held Remote Controls.
Problems with remote hand units:
All except (1) and (2) require disassembly - there may be a screw or two and then the case will simply 'crack' in half by gently prying with a knife or screwdriver. Look for hidden snap interlocks.
(The following is from Duane P Mantick:)
An awful lot of IR remotes use IC's from the same or similar series. A common series comes from NEC and is the uPD1986C which, incidentally is called out in the NTE replacements book as an NTE1758. A lot of these chips are cheap and not too difficult to find, and are made in easy-to-work-with 14 or 16 pin DIP packages. Unless you have no soldering or desoldering skills, replacement isn't difficult.
There are a large variety of universal remotes available from $10-$100. For general TV/VCR/cable use, the $10 variety are fine. However, the preprogrammed variety will not provide special functions like programming of a TV or VCR. Don't even think about going to the original manufacturer - they will charge an arm and a leg (or more). However, places like MCM Electronics do stock a variety of original remotes - prices range from $9 - $143 (Wow $143, for just a stupid remote! It doesn't even have high definition sound or anything exotic). The average price is around $40.