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The Nightmare of Replacing a Battery on a Mac Laptop (Why Your Machine Might Be Lying to You)

Batteries.

Seems a creative professionals life runs on batteries. The ability to work on the go, anywhere, any time. My phone, tablet, laptop, cameras all run on batteries.

The Problem with Rechargeable Batteries

Over time, rechargeable batteries wear out and need to be replaced. Im not talking about losing a charge, rather the total number of charges that a battery can hold before its used up. Batteries over time suffer from a few problems.

  • Cycles. A battery can only be recharged so many times before it essentially stops being able to hold a charge. This can be a total failure or a greatly diminished capacity. Ive also personally had batteries bloat and expand till the point of nearly rupturing their case.
  • Maximum Capacity. Over time batteries become less efficient. They are unable to hold as much charge and you’ll find yourself needing to charge more often.

Disclaimer 1: Before I tell you the following story, let me clarify one thing. Im a cross-platform kind of guy. I use both Mac and HP computers all the time in my professional life. I have preferences for different tasks and performance needs.

Disclaimer 2: These are my experiences, other people’s may be different.

My Machine Says I Need to Service the Battery

Recently I had a very frustrating experience with my MacBook Pro. Its a top of the line machine about a year and a half old. I run the latest operating system and keep it well-maintained.

The other day, a new error popped up that Id never seen before. My Mac told me that my battery was having problems. I got the very generic Service Battery when I clicked on the battery status menu.

servicebattery

A search in the help menu found this description for the weird message.

Service Battery: The battery isn’t functioning normally, and you may or may not notice a change in its behavior or the amount of charge it holds. Take your computer in for service. You can continue to use your battery before its checked without harming your computer.

I was on the road for work,so I wrote the error off for a while. For weeks though my Mac kept telling me the battery needed attention. This struck me as weird, so I made an appointment at the local Apple store to get the machine serviced.

Time to Do Something?

If my computer keeps telling me something is wrong, I figure I better listen. I made an appointment for the weekend when things were less busy for me. Got the first slot on Saturday AM. I loaded up a detailed description into the appointment system, precise notes abut whats wrong, my serial number, etc. Identified exactly what my machine said was wrong and that Id need a new battery.

I thought this would be an easy fix I was very wrong.

When I arrived at the Apple Store the tech checked my machine and the message and said that my battery had failed. To make extra sure he hooked it up and ran a diagnostic report.

diagnostic

The tech verified that “my battery had failed.” He then informed me that the repair would be about $400. I replied that seemed like an awful lot for a battery

When is a Battery Not a Battery?

It turns out, in modern Mac laptops the battery isn’t just a battery. In a quest to make machines thinner, Apple made the batteries unserviceable by the user (as well as removed much of the protective covering). The battery glued to your keyboard which means they have to replace both at the same time (even if your keyboard works just fine).

internalpower

Next toss in the problem that Apple thought I didn’t have AppleCare on the machine. This is Apples extended warranty. This was despite me showing a receipt that showed that I bought both at the same time. Turns out that if you don’t by the machine from an Apple Store, you have to actually fill out some online form to register your warranty. If you buy at an Apple store, they automatically attach it. Anywhere else, you have to do it yourself.

Should I Spend the Money?

Since Im not one to part with $400 lightly I ask for more details. In what way has my battery failed. After about 6 minutes of back and forth I finally get the tech to clarify that my battery fails to meet Apple standards.

Yes, you heard that right. Battery failure means a failure to meet Apple standards. This warrants telling a user to make a service appointment and shell out nearly $400.

I asked if my machine was at risk for damage nope. The only problem Id experience is that the battery wouldn’t hold a charge as long. Last I checked, thats what happens to all rechargeable batteries as they got older.

Still, I considered the repair my keyboard was a little worn out, I could use a longer lasting battery. The tech said he thought they could get the AppleCare issue worked out.

Start Your Engines?

Okay, I was going to do it. I figured I could pick the machine up at the end of the day (or maybe the next morning). Nope.

How long would it take? About 3 days.

Yes, three days to swap a battery. Three days to repair something on a Mac laptop that every Mac laptop is supposed to need done before the machine fails. The battery is rated to last less than the machine for most users. Nearly everyone who buys a Mac laptop should need to replace the battery (unless they are programmed to constantly upgrade).

Why? Well it turns out that battery is not just attached to the keyboard, but also the logic board which controls a lot of the computer. A very difficult repair Im told.

So in Apples insane quest to get laptops a few millimeters thinner, a standard repair like a battery swap takes 3 days. Now it turns out that it doesn’t actually take 3 days, its just the line is really long and it does apparently take several hours per machine.

I Thought I Made a Reservation?

But didn’t I make a reservation? I scheduled it 5 days in advance, I submitted all my details including the error message and serial numbers.

Doesnt matter. The tech informs me that they don’t even bother reading those notes until 3 minutes before they call the customers names.

At this point I ask for the store manager. I politely point out that three days time to service a pro laptop with a sticker price of 4,000 seems ludicrous. He informs me that for the Apple stores are really setup for consumers.

If you need professional level service you need to sign up for Apples optional coverage plan for businesses (called Joint Venture) for premium service. Its only $500 to cover 5 machines for one year each (in addition to having Apple care on each machine).

At this point, I just about lost it.

Pro Machines Aren’t Really for Pros

Doesnt matter if you buy a top end machine (or in our case about 5 machines a year for the office). If you want a pro machine to be serviced with one day turnaround you have to pay extra on top of the extra you already paid for the warranty.

At this point I leave the store and contact a local Apple Certified Reseller who has an extensive in-house repair center. Originally they quoted me same day service.

Except it turns out Apple won’t let them do this. Theyre not allowed to keep parts in stock. Apple requires that they run a diagnostic on the machine to verify that there was a problem. I pointed out that Apple just ran that diagnostic test. Didnt matter. The reseller had to run his own before Apple would send him the part. Paying of course for overnight express shipping.

How Long Does it Take to Change the Battery in a Mac Laptop?

So it appears the fastest you can get a Mac laptop battery changed is 2 days. And that you’ll have to make at least two car trips.

So Apple, the environmentally conscious company that it is, has failed.

The red tape and bureaucracy has created a system where a standard part (that has to be replaced on every laptop during its useful life) requires a minimum of two round trip car rides and an express overnight shipment for a single part.

Itll take two-four days without the machine you need to run your business too.

Yeah. that’s crazy.

Perhaps Im just not getting it, but it seems like a simple battery swap shouldn’t involve so much effort.

Service Battery is Likely a Meaningless Warning

And the key take away here, don’t believe your Mac when it says the battery has failed. The truth here is once your battery loses its ability to hold about 80% of its original charge Apple wants your machine. Be prepared to give up $400, 3 or 4 days, or both.

All because its failed to meet Apple standards.

Your thoughts welcome and I encourage you to share this story. Perhaps Apple can figure out a better way to service their customers and not waste so much in gas and fuel charges.

______

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