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Pretorien

macrumors member
Original poster
May 28, 2014
46
2
My mid-2014 15 inch MacBook Pro retina recently developed the dreaded SBS – swollen battery syndrome. Heeding the dire warnings offered by both Apple and general Internet conversations, I took it out of service and transferred current files to my MacBook Air, normally used only for traveling.

Apple was contacted, and an appointment made to deliver my ailing system to the “Genius Bar.” This was done at the appointed time and I was told that it did indeed appear that my battery was swollen, my computer would be examined and I would be contacted within 24 hours with the prognosis. I was delighted when less than 3 hours later I received a telephone call telling me that the battery was indeed the only issue, parts were available and my computer would be repaired within 3 to 5 days in exchange for $199.

That was Saturday. On Sunday I received an email asking me to contact the Apple Store about my computer. The store telephone remained unanswered but I did make contact with Apple technical service and the representative was able to access the store records and told me that my computer was ready for pickup on the following day. I was very pleased – 24 hours had been only 3 hours and 3 to 5 days and turned into 2 days.

Monday morning I received a call from the Apple Store asking me about a few moments to discuss my computer – Oh – not what I expected. I was told that the technician had found that my computer was contaminated with smoke residue and would not be serviced since this was considered to be hazardous. I was further told that if I have the system professionally cleaned (and certified) it could be returned for service. This was apparently in accordance with Apple “policy.” I spent a portion of the day examining all of the written policy but I could find on the Internet. It would appear that this “policy” has been in place for some time but, so far as I can tell, only an oral, not written fashion.

I called the store again to discuss the fact that I have been told that there were no issues other than the battery on inspection of my system and asked how this could be reconciled with the refusal to service it. The only response I received was that “it would be investigated.”

When I picked up a computer, it was accompanied by a written explanation which in part read “after inspection, our technicians discovered contaminants in or on your product. In this case, the contaminant found his nicotine. Due to health and safety concerns Apple will not be able to service the product until the contaminant has been removed.”

This raises several interesting questions.

Nicotine might be regarded as a toxin but to what degree, in what amount and by what route is open to question. I would not expect the technician to service my computer by licking it and further, I would imagine that given current concerns about surface contact the technicians are most likely working in latex or vinyl gloves. Additionally nicotine and dried tar residues are not particularly volatile so inhalation is unlikely.

By contrast, swelling is not a normal end-of-life issue for lithium-ion batteries and does, indeed, represent a real hazard of explosion and or fire, and is apparently the result of defects in material or manufacture. This was tacitly acknowledged by Apple by way of a recall and no charge replacement program for a time and serial number limited range of affected computers.

Apple has chosen to take advantage of the fact that unlike the automobile industry which must respond to all hazards regardless of elapsed time, they can apparently choose what portion of the defective and dangerous products that they sold are to be remedied.

So on one hand we have what I believe to be an overwrought and hysterical response to a vanishing small risk that affects their employees and on the other hand a “it’s your problem fella, we won’t fix it even if you pay us” attitude toward customers.

Words fail me in trying to describe my outrage at the situation. When I tried to do a simple calculation of the probability that I would ever buy another Apple product, I ran out of screen space for the number of negative exponents.

I certainly hope that their snowflake technician as a Star Trek transporter to get to work so that he is not exposed to automotive exhaust and I am certain that he would never touch, let alone eat a charcoal broiled steak!
 

Apple_Robert

Contributor
Sep 21, 2012
34,964
50,963
In the middle of several books.
Granted, the communication sounds like it should have been, and could have been more consistent and updated to reflect the current state of affairs.

With that being said, I think you are wrong to be angry at Apple for refusing to service your Mac as is. Apple has a right to protect its workers. Nicotine is a carcinogen and an Apple tech should not have to be exposed to it unnecessarily, in my opinion. For Apple to have complained like they did, it sounds like your computer was covered in the contaminant, which is of your doing and responsibility.

You get no sympathy here.
 

Pretorien

macrumors member
Original poster
May 28, 2014
46
2
Granted, the communication sounds like it should have been, and could have been more consistent and updated to reflect the current state of affairs.

With that being said, I think you are wrong to be angry at Apple for refusing to service your Mac as is. Apple has a right to protect its workers. Nicotine is a carcinogen and an Apple tech should not have to be exposed to it unnecessarily, in my opinion. For Apple to have complained like they did, it sounds like your computer was covered in the contaminant, which is of your doing and responsibility.

You get no sympathy here.
Nicotine is certainly addictive - the carcinogenicity is open to debate - not open to debate is Apple's double standard. An interesting question would be a comparison of the carcinogenic potential of a dirty computer vs the Apple cafeteria double bison burger with cheese. As I see it, the biggest risk in visiting the Towson, Md Apple store is slipping on all the snowflakes and falling!
 

hallux

macrumors 68040
Apr 25, 2012
3,437
1,005
This was apparently in accordance with Apple “policy.” I spent a portion of the day examining all of the written policy but I could find on the Internet. It would appear that this “policy” has been in place for some time but, so far as I can tell, only an oral, not written fashion.
The policy may not be a public policy, it may be an internal policy that hasn't made it to the internet.
 

hatchettjack

macrumors 6502a
Oct 1, 2020
509
371
well your worst problem is living in Baltimore! find a certified repairer, they will appreciate the business! smoke em if you got em
 

Pretorien

macrumors member
Original poster
May 28, 2014
46
2
Well - the "certified" repairer is..........me! I've watched a few videos and am not intimidated. The replacement is on its way from iFixit and I shall probably renew the heat sink compound while I have it open.
 

hallux

macrumors 68040
Apr 25, 2012
3,437
1,005
I can confirm that a search of Apple's internal service system DOES reveal an article regarding declining service due to contamination. I'm not comfortable posting it it here (or even in a PM) but I can confirm such an internal policy does exist. It's not nicotine-specific, it's more of a general contamination concern, of which nicotine is one of the listed contaminants.
 

Pretorien

macrumors member
Original poster
May 28, 2014
46
2
I understand your reluctance. Apple has a reputation for throwing lawyers at anyone who dares to disseminate any of their circuit diagrams, repair information etc. - a "keep it in the house" attitude like pentalobe screws. Of course, my son once observed that I am the sort of person to whom a "Do Not Open No User Serviceable Parts Inside" sticker is a red flag that has me immediately reaching for a screwdriver!
 

MultiFinder17

macrumors 68030
Jan 8, 2008
2,728
2,056
Tampa, Florida
A large part of their reluctance to repair it may not be simply the well-being of their employees, but the fact that they have to warranty their repairs. Smoke residue is conductive. If the internal components are covered in it, it can cause shorts, crossed traces, etc. Back when I worked on computers professionally, I have refused to work on machines due to the amount of residue in them, or told the customers that their machine would require a thorough cleaning for an extra charge before their other issues can be taken care of.

Replacing the battery on these machines is a very invasive procedure that can knock a lot of built-up crud loose. I’d tell you the same thing if I were working on it :)
 

Pretorien

macrumors member
Original poster
May 28, 2014
46
2
CODA:

Well, here’s how the process went:

It took a week for the parts to arrive – they came from California by ground since shipment via any passenger carrying aircraft is forbidden.

First step – remove the bottom panel (I shall have more to say about the pentalobe screws later) I was, of course, very curious to see what would greet me after this step.

Based on the fear and loathing expressed by the Apple tech, I expected, on opening, to see something akin to the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster. What I found was a clean, pristine logic board and the expected swollen batteries. The only evidence of contamination was a light film on the bottom cover in the immediate vicinity of the cooling fans - a wipe with a soft cloth removed it! The fans appeared to be clean and a cautious wipe across the heatsink and surrounding areas with a foam swab lightly moistened with rubbing alcohol yielded nothing. There was a very small amount of fluff trapped on the exhaust side of the fans. All the connections on the logic board appeared to be clean and shiny. It's a good thing that this overcautious technician is not on wolf patrol!!

I follow the process mostly as described on number of videos on the Internet. A couple of notes: I found it useful to apply the supplied adhesive solvent, wait about 10 minutes and, with the also supplied card lift the edge of the battery section slightly, apply a 2nd light application of solvent and wait another 10 minutes. The entire removal process took probably a bit more than an hour.

The next step was simple but tedious – removing the old adhesive strips cleaning up the residue. I moistened the strips with the adhesive solvent, wait a few minutes and lifted them with a single edge razor blade. The remaining residue was cleaned up with a cloth and rubbing alcohol. (Note in passing – the original adhesive strips were thick and only approximately placed. The adhesive system supplied by iFixit was precisely placed larger diecut thin hollow squares)

I did a trial “drop-in” of the replacement battery. The connector, supplied, was far from lining up with the socket on the logic board. I did a bit of pushing and shoving to improve alignment, fixed the battery in place and, working carefully aligned the connector and pushed it in place. (This was the only part of the process that I found to be a bit “edgy.” The actual connection points are small and appear to be delicate and the connecting wires do not bend easily.)

As soon as this was done and before reinstalling the bottom panel, I turned the machine right side up, pushed the power button and was rewarded with an Apple logo and boot-up. – Turn off, turn over and close it up!

I followed the recommended charge/discharge/recharge calibration cycle and everything appears to be functioning normally – my computer sits squarely on my desk and does not rock. Evidently the bottom cover was not permanently distorted by the swollen batteries.

Last note – about those “pentalobe” screws – I am a very experienced model builder and miniature machinist. I have used a wide variety of miniature machine screws including slotted, Phillips head, recessed hex and Torx. The only reason that I can imagine for the use of these odd fitments is to make access difficult.

Obviously, at 24 hours into the process, I cannot comment on the longevity of the supplied battery but I will say that the battery and tools supplied by iFixit appeared to be of good quality.
 

hallux

macrumors 68040
Apr 25, 2012
3,437
1,005
The only reason that I can imagine for the use of these odd fitments is to make access difficult.
It's not intended to be user-serviceable. Not because they want $$ for repairing them but because there simply isn't anything in there TO be addressed by the typical customer. Though I guess one can make the argument that one is the result of the other, but in the days of making everything as thin and light as possible they've removed the ability to swap out RAM and storage...
 
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