New-ish Macbook Air Won't Charge
January 12, 2021 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Our 2018 Macbook Air doesn't want to charge, except when it is shut off. Help?

We have a 2018 13 inch (Retina) MBA. There is something wrong with the batter/charging process and I'm trying to figure out if I can fix it without sending it away (we need it for kid e-learning). Over the past few months, it has been showing the "service recommended" warning under the battery icon because of "reduced capacity" or something like that (the kid has the computer at the moment for school). The kid reports that, when the computer is plugged in and he is using it, it intermittently shows a charging symbol or just a plug symbol (i.e., plugged in but not charging). Yesterday, he was working unplugged and the battery ran down to less than 10%. I plugged it in and it showed the plug symbol without charging. I tried several different outlets and restarts, etc., but could not get it to charge. It eventually ran the battery all the way down and died without taking any charge. The only thing that seemed to work is shutting it down all the way and plugging it in - it seems to charge when it is shut down, but when I start it back up, I get the plug symbol without a charge.

I think I could replace the battery myself (the Youtubes don't look that hard), but I am concerned that the problem is not really the battery but instead something having to do with power management. I have tried various key-command resets for the SMC and PRAM but that does not seem to have done it (though I am not sure I have exhausted this route).

What do you think is wrong and do you think I can fix it with a battery swap or something else I can do at home? Thanks
posted by Mid to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Are you using the original power adapter? Not charging can be a symptom of using an underpowered adapter.
posted by irrelephant at 7:03 AM on January 12

Yes, I think we are using the original, though it is possible it got mixed up somewhere with all of our Apple plugs etc. I have ordered a new adapter that is supposed to arrive today - it would be great if that is it.
posted by Mid at 7:06 AM on January 12

Actually, I just looked more closely at the adapter and I think that is the problem - he's using a 29 watt adapter and I think this model needs 30w. I am not sure where he got a 29w adapter or where the 30w went. Could the 29/30 difference explain all of this? I have a new 30w on the way.
posted by Mid at 7:16 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

The 29-watt adapter would have come with an iPad (or been purchased separately). The MacBook Air ships with a 30-watt one and there's more than just the one watt difference between the two. (It's really confusing.) You can also get one of the Apple 60 watt or 87 watt ones too (that would have come with a MacBook Pro); it won't use any more actual power than it needs.

(Or a third-party one from someone reputable, like Anker or RavPower, will work too, but be careful to get a decent one that's meant for charging a laptop - some of them advertise 60+ watts but the USB-C part of it only gets a max of 25 or 30 or something.)
posted by mrg at 7:24 AM on January 12

Looks like you found the cause. Definitely get a real laptop charger! You want to use the wall and not the battery as that will help your battery last longer.

I have an old macbook air (2013??) who's battery was definitely failing. It would turn off at about 50% and looking under System Information -> Power you could see that the Full Charge capacity was lower than it was supposed to be by a lot.

Took it to the apple store and they were like "woops, that's too old we don't have those batteries any more, take it to any computer repair shop for $150 or do it yourself for $80". I wasn't suuuper excited about opening a laptop myself, but it's dead simple and the new battery comes with the 2 special screwdrivers you'll need to do it. Still, given how new it is, I'd go to the apple store if you have one nearby, but if the battery is toast, know that the DIY fix for that is easy and cheap.
posted by Phredward at 8:06 AM on January 12

But if the battery is toast, know that the DIY fix for that is easy and cheap...

Maybe, but then again, maybe not...
posted by hydra77 at 9:11 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

The older (pre-Retina) Macbooks are pretty straightforward to repair. Starting with the Retina Macbook Pro, they became way less repair-friendly, even though they look the same on the outside.
posted by neckro23 at 10:44 AM on January 12

> but if the battery is toast, know that the DIY fix for that is easy and cheap

I don't think that's true of the Air .. there was a post just a day or two ago about how very difficult it was to replace a battery in a Macbook Air (and iirc the computer ended up in flames)
posted by anadem at 11:48 AM on January 12

Sadly, the 30w adapter does not seem to have fixed it. The computer seems to charge only when closed/powered down. Also, when the computer is on, it shows the "plugged in but not charging symbol" even when I remove the plug - i.e., it seems stuck/confused about what is happening with the A/C power.

Basically, I can charge the battery by plugging it in when powered off, but when I then try to use it - even if plugged in - the battery slowly drains and it eventually dies.

It seems like something related to power management is messed up. I was hoping it was something I could reset/fix through software or firmware. Not sure anymore...
posted by Mid at 2:05 PM on January 12

MacBook Air 13” Retina Display Late 2018 Battery Replacement. Note the warning:
To minimize risk of damage, turn on your MacBook and allow the battery to fully discharge before starting this procedure. A charged lithium-ion battery can be very dangerous if accidentally punctured. If your battery looks puffy or swollen, take extra precautions.

In general:

MacBook Pro 2012 and MacBook Air 2012-2015: easy. Unscrew a bunch of weird screws (usually a new battery comes with the correct screwdrivers) pull the old battery, plug in the new battery, screw everthing back together

MacBook Pro 2013-2015: extremely difficult. Unscrew a bunch of weird screws (usually a new battery comes with the correct screwdrivers). Use a solvent to dissolve the glue holding the battery in place. Glue the new battery in place, screw everything back together. Solvent is flammable.

I've replaced the battery in several MacBook Air machines and they aren't difficult, just slightly tedious because of all the screws.

I have trained professionals replace MacBook Pro batteries.
posted by blob at 2:08 PM on January 12

Follow-up/conclusion: I broke down and took it to the Apple store and they said it needs a new battery, which they are replacing for $129. They are doing it about 2-3 business days without shipping it away from the store. I'm really impressed by how fast and straightforward the process with Apple has been and feel kind of silly that I was planning on doing the battery myself.
posted by Mid at 12:01 PM on January 17

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