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The battery in my late-2008 model aluminium 13" MacBook became extremely swollen in early to mid-2012 after only 283 cycles (as per Cycle count under HardwarePower), and the button on the multi-touch trackpad stopped working due to the expansion of the battery. I have since had to remove the battery to get the button working again, but the battery itself hasn't leaked, just expanded very heavily to nearly 1.5× the height (perhaps ≈0.2 each on top and bottom). After removing it, it's basically nearly impossible to put it back in and still close the cover.

I'm convinced that this is a fault in Apple's design, because it seemingly started after there were a couple of times that I had a browser open with too many windows, and it busy-looped during the night, getting quite hot and with the fan kicking in. However, during such occasions, the MacBook itself sat on a rather clear desk in an air-conditioned room, so I find it unacceptable that plain-use self-overheating on the machine's part could possibly cause any such problems. (I only ever ran OS X on the machine, and it was very far away from any other heat sources or direct sunlight.)

I'm disappointed that now I not only can't use the MacBook as a portable with any kind of battery life at all, but also that it is now subject to resets during power outages and cannot be transported (e.g. in sleep mode) without having to be shutdown first.

Shouldn't extremely swollen and expanded batteries that completely obstruct trackpad button usage be covered by a warranty? This never happens with any other single brand-name manufacturer of computer batteries! What are my options? Do I have to buy another battery at full price, only to have it become pregnant and start obstructing my button again right after the warranty is out? I tried going to an Apple Store in NorCal, and they said they can't do anything about it, since it's out of warranty. They said that even at 1.5× the width, it is still supposedly safe to use!

My perspective here is that the battery has not been consumed, but instead became damaged through no fault of my own. It was either defective outright (either through design or manufacturing), or it has become damaged through hardware/firmware/software bugs related to charging and/or overheating. I wouldn't have cared if it simply stopped holding the charge for more than a dozen of minutes or so; that's clearly something that is very well documented everywhere and is to be expected.

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I've edited patrix's answer significantly, but I would say - go back to a genius bar after the holiday rush and have a sit down with a technician and not someone on the sales floor. An expanding battery is a sign that it is off gassing during charging and in my opinion, should never be used again. You don't want to start a fire on something that is consumable like a rechargeable LiPo battery that is designed to fail when it can no longer be recharged safely by expanding. The mac will run without a battery and can be replaced for less than $150, often much less as a repair part from the bar. –  bmike Jan 4 '13 at 22:29
Also - when did your warranty expire on that Mac? –  bmike Jan 4 '13 at 22:49
I didn't have any extra warranty, so it was probably January 2010 or so. I went to the local apple stores in mid-2012 during the holidays (that's when I first discovered it swelled), with the battery and a printout from HardwarePower et al. –  cnst Jan 4 '13 at 22:54
Thanks - I wish I had better news - it's going to be hard to get any company to cover something that far out of warranty - Apple does have a history of being better than most on extending deadlines, offering service extensions when there is a widespread problem, so it's not likely you'll get anything paid unless a whole raft of failures of models like yours crops up. –  bmike Jan 4 '13 at 22:59
@bmike, the thing is, this problem is actually more common than one might think. A google search alone has so many posts, plus the people here had the same issues! I wish I would have visited another store instead of asking the first supervisor in the first store on a holiday to document my problems; I think it was him who told me that he himself paid regular price for a replacement battery just a couple of days prior, so he probably made some comments on my serial number to deny me coverage. :-( –  cnst Jan 4 '13 at 23:12

2 Answers 2

I run into this as well with our MacBooks after a few years. You have to replace the battery. If you have an Apple Store or Reseller nearby, ask whether there is a replacement program ongoing (there sometimes is) which would allow you to get a new battery cheaper or for free.

It would be odd to have a 2008 model Mac still covered under a one year warranty. Even AppleCare with a three year coverage would normally be expired in this case. You might need to spend $129 for a battery at this point, but you could try one more time at a store if you read up on some details.

Towards the bottom it says:

However, the AppleCare Protection Plan for notebook computers does not cover batteries that have failed or are exhibiting diminished capacity except when the failure or diminished capacity is the result of a manufacturing defect.

Then you'll want to go to the full AppleCare document, http://www.apple.com/legal/applecare/appgeos.html, where if you search for battery and skip past the iPod parts, will be:

  1. What is not Covered?
    4.1 Hardware Service. The Plan does not apply to:
    (vi) Consumable parts, such as batteries, except in respect of battery coverage under APP for iPod or unless failure has occurred due to a defect in materials and workmanship;

So, with a battery that is rated at 300 cycles, and is listed as a consumable part (i.e. expected to fail over time), it's pretty common for some people with failed batteries to have to pay for a replacement. Now, the one thing would be if the trackpad still doesn't work after you paid for a battery exchange, I would ask them to consider repairing that.

Keep in mind - the warranty (or care plan) has a start and end date. During the time of the plan, it's Apple's responsibility to pay for repairs and service and parts for covered repairs. After that time, it's the consumer's responsibility to pay.

I would head to the genius bar, with an appointment, and ask them to look it over. Explain (briefly) that you were told at another store you had to pay for a battery and feel bad. You clearly wish it had lasted longer and ask if there is any way they could help you avoid paying for either a repair of the trackpad or a replacement of the battery.

Think of that person as your friend as opposed to someone "working for the man" and is there to say no. You might still get a no answer, but at least you read up and can talk with them over what would be covered and what wouldn't be covered. By trying to get a second hearing of your situation, you might either feel better or they might find a way to help and you'll be out a trip to the store and maybe the cost of a battery.

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I went to an Apple Stores during some holiday season (it happened a couple of months back), and without an appointment, and tried speaking to some supervisor or someone. They said they can't do anything out of warranty, and mentioned that they've themselves had to replace their own swollen battery on their own. I was disappointed, and asked for my inquiry to be documented. After that, trying to go to another store, they seem to find that earlier documentation all the time, and deny my request for any accommodation almost outright. They wanted 100$ to replace the defective battery, a ripoff. –  cnst Jan 4 '13 at 21:17
$100 is the standard price. And a replacement after four years shouldn't be considered a ripoff. –  patrix Jan 4 '13 at 21:21
@cnst Batteries are guaranteed for a certain number of cycles, but also a certain number of years. Battery expansion like you are experiencing is simply caused by age. Most people don't experience it because they use enough cycles that the battery doesn't last long enough. –  ughoavgfhw Jan 4 '13 at 21:59
I've made a huge edit to patrix's good and succinct answer. Hopefully it helps you @cnst and anyone else in a situation where they were told no about a repair - especially when the stores are busy or they didn't get to the genius bar and have more time to discuss repair options. –  bmike Jan 4 '13 at 22:21
@cnst - those batteries are the best that could be made back then. Apple spent a huge amount of R&D on making better batteries to avoid your situation - dissapointment that a battery of less than 300 cycles could fail. See youtube.com/watch?v=w6lLdFxiZPc and flowlr.com/technology/post/95734/… –  bmike Jan 4 '13 at 22:23

It's a little challenging to find the question in your situation, but it looks to be this:

Shouldn't extremely swollen and expanded batteries that completely obstruct trackpad button usage be covered by a warranty?

Yes, and they are so covered. As it happens, this recently happened to me on a 2010 MacBook Pro that was still under my 3-year warranty, and they replaced it without debate.

In your case it sounds like you're really asking if this isn't some defect so severe that they should decide to replace it for free without warranty coverage. While that would be nice, and I've found Apple to be pretty generous with repairs and replacements on close calls (recently expired warrantees, questions over impact damage vs. failure, etc.), I suspect they're not making such an exception here for a relatively understandable reason:

A five-year-old laptop battery is generally expected to be useless, and need replacement.

So, their view is likely that not only is your computer not under warranty, but that it's not under warranty, and the failed part is one that is expected to have failed by now.

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