Best way forward with water damaged iPhone 6S?
November 21, 2016 6:10 AM   Subscribe

My iPhone 6S got wet during a rainy hike two days ago, and despite my efforts to dry it out so far, I still see moisture under the front camera lens and the screen is having major issues. I do not have AppleCare+. Can you help me think through my options for either repairing or replacing my phone? Specific questions below the fold.

My efforts to dry the phone so far have consisted of taking out the sim card and simply shaking it out and leaving it to air dry for the first 24 hrs (no other choice as I was staying at a hostel), followed by putting it in a ziploc bag with a few socks (thin material) filled with silica gel kitty litter for another 24 hrs. As mentioned above, this does not seem to have helped as there is visible moisture under the front camera lens. Unsurprisingly given the unsuccessful drying, the display is still having the same issues it had when the damage first occurred (I did power off the phone as quickly as possible once I realized water had gotten inside, but I only realized that when the screen started acting up, since this was not a situation where the phone had actually been submerged in water). The display problem looks similar to extremely poor resolution, along with random patches of thin gray horizontal lines overlaying the screen content, or sometimes an effect that's similar to viewing the display with double or triple vision. I've now put the phone in a bigger bag of kitty litter so it's completely covered (after putting the phone into a thin sock to hopefully protect against dust... not sure if this was a stupid idea or not).

My first question is, if I take the phone back to Apple while it is having these water-related issues, is it likely that I could get a replacement at the cost of only the $299 out-of-warranty service fee, or is it more probable that Apple would deem the phone irreparable and charge me the full replacement fee (i.e. the full cost of a new phone)? I don't know if this question can be answered without looking at the phone itself, but perhaps some of you have personal experience with a similar situation?

An added wrinkle in this situation is that I'm currently in New Zealand, though I will be returning to the US in about a month. There are no Apple stores in NZ, only Apple-certified repair centers. The closest one to me would charge a minimum of $130 USD to have my phone issues diagnosed and repaired (automatic fee for diagnosis plus minimum one hour of billed service time for any repairs following the diagnosis), but I imagine it would quite possibly cost more than that depending on the extent of the damage. If it sounds unlikely that I'd get a replacement from Apple for $299 once I'm back in the US, is it even worth getting my phone diagnosed and attempting a repair here, or would I be better off trying to sell it for parts on eBay or something?

Ironically, I was going to have to get a new phone soon anyway, as I've been planning to break my contract with Verizon when I return to the US and switch to T-mobile (for reasons I won't get into here). My early termination fee from Verizon will be ~$300. I had been hoping to recoup most of that cost by either selling or trading in my phone, but with the water damage it's looking like that almost certainly wouldn't be possible and I'll just have to be out that $300 (plus whatever it takes to repair/replace this phone now)....

Anyway, which path sounds like the best option financially? In my ideal world, I'd have wanted to hang on to a 6S for at least another year (I'm not thrilled about iPhone 7, and while I'm tempted by the small size of the iPhone SE, it also seems like other aspects like the first-gen touch ID and lack of 3D touch would feel like a compromise after having had a 6S). Should I try to get Apple to replace my phone via out-of-warranty service or is that a sure way to end up paying $600+? Should I try to get it fixed here in NZ? Or should I simply accept this is a lost cause, sell it for parts, and get a new 6S/SE/7? Are there any other options I'm missing?
posted by st elmo's fire to Technology (14 answers total)
My early termination fee from Verizon will be ~$300. I had been hoping to recoup most of that cost by either selling or trading in my phone, but with the water damage it's looking like that almost certainly wouldn't be possible and I'll just have to be out that $300 (plus whatever it takes to repair/replace this phone now)....

This isn't a direct answer to the main question but tmobile is still paying early termination fees so the $300 shouldn't be a factor (it's also cheaper than verizon, especially internationally). If your phone at the time is unlocked you wouldn't need to get a new phone to switch. Also, you should be aware that there may be technical issues activating a phone (new or after resetting) with verizon on a US sim while not in the US, I know someone who ran into this under verizon a few years ago and was basically out a phone for the rest of the trip; this may be different now, but do some research.
posted by advil at 6:48 AM on November 21, 2016

My husband inadvertently jumped in a pool with his iPhone in his pocket this summer. It was dead. He took it to the Apple Store and replaced for the out-of-warranty fee (was then a bit higher I guess because the iPhone 7 wasn't out yet). Water damage voids the warranty, but you will have no problem paying out-of-warranty. So, yes, you can definitely replace it for $299.

I'm not sure that's the most cost effective thing to do if you're going to be switching contracts and replacing the phone anyway, though. It may be no more expensive to just forget this phone and start over with your new T-mobile phone.

It would be worth asking if Apple would let your out-of-warranty replacement be a T-mobile 6s. I doubt it, but it couldn't hurt to check.
posted by Kriesa at 6:54 AM on November 21, 2016

Leave it in the silica gel with the battery out for a week before you decide it's not working. The water is only going to come out by evaporating inside the phone and then diffusing out to the dry air outside, and that's always going to be slow because the channels between inside and outside are only very small. It will go a bit faster if you keep it in a sealed container of silica gel and put that somewhere warm.

If the silica gel has been stored in an unsealed container, it might already be saturated with atmospheric moisture. Try spreading a few cupfuls on a baking tray and sticking it in an oven on low for an hour or so, then transferring it to a sealed container to let it cool down, then burying your socked phone in that.
posted by flabdablet at 7:06 AM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, you can replace for $299. I just did this, for the same reason.

Tip: The first day I went to the store it was without an appointment, and it was too crowded to be seen that day. I told an Apple employee what my appointment was for, and she suggested I not mention water damage, or anything I did to it, when I brought it back for the diagnosis appointment. I followed her advice. I told them "My mic stopped working, and no one on calls can hear me." I didn't tell them it was because their stupid fancy phone can't be used in some moderate rain without losing the ability to speak to and be heard by my loved ones. The Apple employee doing the diagnosis gave me two options: Upgrade to a newer model for full price (no thanks), or give them my damaged phone and get a new replacement for $299. I did the latter.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:20 AM on November 21, 2016

$299 is the out-of-warranty flat "repair" (actually replacement) fee for an iPhone 6s. If you can get to an Apple store before the water damage drives you crazy you don't have to do anything special to get a new phone from $299. How do I know? Because I've done it! Dropped my phone into an 8-inch-deep puddle a couple weeks after buying it.

If you are also having problems with the phone shutting down at random moments you might want to lead with that rather than mentioning water damage - there's some kind of battery problem with a lot of 6ses and they're replacing the batteries (i.e. replacing the whole phone) for free, even if the phone is out of warranty (again, I know this from personal experience!). They will check for water damage, though, and if they see evidence of water damage then you may have to pay the $299. But waiting until you are back in the states and then paying $299 is your actual worst-case scenario.

Don't pay for actual repairs to the water damaged phone if you can stand to wait. Water damage is really hard to fix, and you'll probably end up paying the $299 in the end anyway.
posted by mskyle at 8:43 AM on November 21, 2016

If you transfer to T-Mobile, they have a program that will pay off your early termination fee with Verizon. More information here. You just need to trade in your 6s (value will probably by $0 given the water damage) and T-Mobile will pay off your ETF with Verizon.
posted by dubious_dude at 9:08 AM on November 21, 2016

Last May, my iPhone 6 had a similar experience where it did not get submerged but somehow water affected the screen - I think I had it in a bag with a cold water bottle and the condensation affected the screen. I took it to apple and did not have apple care. Because my water indicator hadn't tripped, they replaced the screen for I think $120. That fixed the issue for me although my camera wasn't affected. However my screen was completely non-responsive and I thought for sure it was toast after trying everything to dry it out. Maybe you'll be surprised that it can be repaired?
posted by polkadot at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2016

Just wanted to add that I had similar fogging on the camera and some issues on the screen after my iPhone 5 went through the washing machine, but these cleared up gradually over several week's time. (I wouldn't have tried to sell it to somebody else without disclosing the incident, though.)
posted by wyzewoman at 11:10 AM on November 21, 2016

Thanks all, for now I'll keep it in the kitty litter for another week and hope for the best... Regarding T-mobile's program for paying my early termination fee -- that still holds true even if I'm trading in a damaged device? I've been under the impression that the amount they'll pay off for your ETF is related to the worth of the device you trade in.
posted by st elmo's fire at 11:37 AM on November 21, 2016

Try rice (uncooked of course) instead of kitty litter.
posted by 445supermag at 12:48 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regarding T-mobile's program for paying my early termination fee -- that still holds true even if I'm trading in a damaged device? I've been under the impression that the amount they'll pay off for your ETF is related to the worth of the device you trade in.

My friend exchanged her cracked iPhone at T-Mobile back in 2014, transferring from AT&T, and got her ETF paid fully (but with a value of $0 for her previous AT&T iPhone). Of course, this was back in 2014, so not sure if things had changed since then, but I doubt it. Call T-Mobile and check with them first; if they stipulate only that you must give them the iPhone, but the condition doesn't matter, then go for it!
posted by dubious_dude at 12:56 PM on November 21, 2016

Another vote for leaving it in dry uncooked rice for longer before writing it off.

But I'll give you the bad news too - even if it comes back, the phone has a limited life, and will never work the same way. You should be making a full encrypted backup (to preserve all account and password info) and planning to restore to a new phone sooner or later.

(Of course, the 7 has seals which take care of this problem. My brother-in-law has dropped his in the sink and had no issues. Progress. But not helpful for your problem.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Try rice (uncooked of course) instead of kitty litter

I wouldn't bother. Silica gel is a much more effective desiccant than rice.
posted by flabdablet at 10:02 PM on November 21, 2016

For others who arrive here seeking phone drying advice: if you can't find silica gel cat litter, the clumping cat litters made from granulated bentonite are also a good bet.
posted by flabdablet at 10:07 PM on November 21, 2016

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