Help! My MacBook is now a MilkBook.
December 7, 2007 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Spilled milk in my MacBook's keyboard, and the technician at Apple suggested I bend the rules to get it fixed or replaced. What does my warranty cover, anyway?

While I was away at work today, my 3 year old (bless him) spilled about 1/2 cup of milk into the keyboard of my new MacBook (purchased this past Sept.) It immediately powered off.

Then, my wife (bless her) unwittingly made things potentially much worse by attempting to turn it on several times and plugging it in, then using a hair dryer to attempt to hasten drying the milk. (It won't turn on.)

She called the Apple phone support 800 number, and the tech told her there's nothing they can do, that the warranty expires in 6 days, and that what she should do is buy the Apple Protection Plan, then send it in without telling them about the spill.

I found this information odd, to say the least. A little research online reveals that phone support is the "warranty" that expires next week, and the regular limited warranty is good until next September.

So my course of action to (hopefully) recover my computer or at least its data (what seems like my entire life) depends on a few things.

- Does the actual warranty status change 90 days after purchase of a MacBook? Would ponying up for the Apple Protection Plan change this?
- If we send it in to Apple for repair or replacement wouldn't they find it obvious there was a spill, and tell us we're out of luck?
- Is there any point to us taking the machine to the local Apple Store for a second opinion?

Where do we go from here? Thank you, MeFi, for any help you can offer.
posted by gazole to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i spilled water on my ibook (in the first week of school last year). my warranty was still good, but i had to pay around $750 to replace computer innards (motherboard?).

at first the apple technicians told me it would be taken care of FREE, so they sent me a box and i shipped my computer out to them. next i hear it is going to cost all of this money, and they basically have my computer hostage at that point, so i paid. and you will probably have to pay for the repairs too.

also, the technicians will also be able to tell if liquid was spilled on the computer, especially something like milk that leaves a lot of residue, so weigh how much the fix will cost vs. the cost of a new machine.
posted by laminarial at 5:19 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

one more thing. some credit card companies offer warranties for products, so if you paid by credit card, call your bank and see what they cover.
posted by laminarial at 5:20 PM on December 7, 2007

This happened to me last year. While I was out of the apartment, a roommate had people over, someone spilled beer in my MBP, and it bit the dirt. Wipes it up and doesn't tell me about it. I go to use it, it's off and not coming on. Took it to the Apple Store and they say "Yeah, we can fix it in store. It's under warranty, so it's free. Come back in 2 days." Then I get a call that they opened it up and found all this beer, so hey, it'll cost $450. They send it away to Texas to get it fixed. Two weeks later I go to pick it up at the store. They replaced the logic board, so we boot it to test it. It boots, but there's no login screen. Hey, that's funny, I had an account on here... "Oh, well, I guess they replaced the hard drive, too." Oh really? That's funny, I kind of had 120 GB of files on there I was growing attached to. (Luckily, I had back-ups.) Then they tell me that the total is $674. That's a far cry from $450 with no explanation as to how they could have told me a different price. After some conversation, they are willing to drop it back to $450, and it's back under warranty so should anything non-liquid happen to it, they'll fix it for free.

Sorry for the long-winded reply. The answer to your question is the following:

-Get renter's/property insurance on it. I now pay $10 a month and the whole system is covered up to $4000, immediate funds from my insurance company, no matter what happens - liquid, flood, fire, theft, etc.
-Check with your credit card company as laminarial said.

I love Apple for many reasons, but that time they really dropped the ball and I haven't gone back to that Apple store.
posted by Mr. Banana Grabber at 6:48 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The technicians at the repair depot will notice the milk and will probably make you pay to fix it.
posted by zsazsa at 7:12 PM on December 7, 2007

If you have a laptop (or a digital SLR, or any number of expensive portable toys), get yourself a personal items insurance policy (sometimes called "inland marine"). It will cover theft as well as accidental damage and will cost under $50 a year for a typical laptop.

You can also get a rider for your homeowner's or renter's insurance to cover these items, but sources I've read recommend the separate policy. You don't want them jacking up your homeowner's rates because you've made a claim for a milky laptop.

Some computer manufacturers offer a premium warranty that covers accidental damage as well as defects, but this is probably more expensive than the personal items policy. (And Apple doesn't offer this kind of warranty; even AppleCare won't cover spilled milk.)
posted by kindall at 7:22 PM on December 7, 2007

Best answer: Apple service is very, very good at finding spill damage. I repair Apple laptops for a living at a college and see many, many machines destroyed by this kind of accident. The Apple techs have found spill damage on machines I've sent them that I was unable to find, even after disassembling the machine and looking specifically for spill evidence. I'm afraid there aren't many ways around having to shell out a lot of money to have a spill-damaged machine repaired, especially by Apple.

If your machine is damaged to the point that it powered itself off and won't come back on, they WILL find it. What will happen if you send it in is they will call you to let you know what they've found (they might even email you a picture of the corroded board!) and that point you'll have to pay for Tier IV spill damage. On a Macbook, that'll run you between $750 - $900. The warranty (which is good for one year after the original date of purchase-- that rep was talking out of his ass unless you bought the machine used) won't cover damage from a spill, nor will AppleCare. You can pretty much consider your warranty voided unless you have the machine repaired. Buying AppleCare at this point will make zero difference in getting this issue fixed-- you'd be wasting your money.

It sucks, but my advice would be to send it in and have it repaired fully by Apple. After that, you can decide whether you want AppleCare. I generally recommend that folks buy it.
posted by hollisimo at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

as for the data, you can probably get someone to take the hard drive out and put it in a new machine for you, as a last resort. don't think just because this particular computer wont turn on, the data is lost.
posted by white light at 7:53 PM on December 7, 2007

I'm sure it varies, but a member of my family killed a PowerBook with a 20 oz of Pepsi but still got the logic board replacement under warranty. I don't know if Apple didn't notice the soda, or just decided not to care.

He drained all the liquid out immediately, though (flipping it upside-down on a towel with the screen hanging off the tabletop), and it was diet soda so it wasn't sticky. I suppose it's possible they just never noticed. I always chalked it up to them deciding to give us a free pass, though.

This was 5+ years ago -- perhaps they're more persnickety about it than they used to be. (The perennial complaint of the hardcore fan: too bad they had to get popular and start sucking...) The last time I tried to take a computer in to Apple, I had to fight tooth and nail to get them to repair something that was totally under warranty.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:09 AM on December 8, 2007

Best answer: If you can bring it into an Apple store, try to sweet talk a Genius. I dropped my MB on the ground (smashed plastic and all) and after some small-talk with the tech about how bitchy the customer he was helping before me was, he told me "don't worry about this" and replaced a logic board, case, and hard drive for free. It was like being handed a new computer.

6 months later, a drunk friend dropped my iPhone, and the Genius gave me a new one, just because we small-talked about both being from New Jersey. (I think this was policy at the time, too... they were replacing iPhones with any problems whatsoever, even from drop damage)

I think they have a lot of freedom in the store to say, "Spill damage? What spill damage?" and replace your logic board with a wink and a nod, especially if you aren't a dick. A lot of people who go into the Apple store are fuming about their iPod batteries no longer holding a charge, and nobody who works in retail is going to out of their way for a d-bag.

Keep in mind that my experiences are probably not the norm, and I might have just gotten very lucky.
posted by jstef at 1:26 AM on December 8, 2007

You should get the AppleCare warranty while you still can (within one year of original purchase) anyway, FYI. I will not own an Apple portable without AppleCare.
posted by mrbill at 4:20 AM on December 8, 2007

I got my ibook keyboard replaced free 2.5 years into my Applecare, earlier this year, after spilling about 500ml of water onto it. I deal exclusively with university bookstore I bought it from, though -- I wouldn't be inclined to either buy or seek service from a corporate store.
posted by loiseau at 8:49 AM on December 8, 2007

Best answer: loiseau, keyboards are easy to cover under warranty even if spilled on-- Apple never wants the part back and will never see the damage! Parts like the the logic board have to be returned to Apple in order to be covered under warranty, at which point they'd see the damage and send a bill.
posted by hollisimo at 3:31 PM on December 8, 2007

Best answer: She called the Apple phone support 800 number, and the tech told her there's nothing they can do, that the warranty expires in 6 days, and that what she should do is buy the Apple Protection Plan, then send it in without telling them about the spill.

I used to work in an Apple repair depot. I will tell you now that:

1. AppleCare doesn't cover liquid spills. They classify it as "customer abuse", period. There are no exceptions.

2. We can almost always tell when it was a liquid spill, especially when it was not water. Some dude on the Internet might tell you he got away with it, but of the machines that were repaired in that particular repair depot that week that were spill-damaged, he was almost assuredly the only one who snuck one under the radar.

The CSR on the phone never should've told her to BUY APPLECARE FROM THE COMPANY and then ATTEMPT TO BULLSHIT THE COMPANY.

I love Apple for many reasons, but that time they really dropped the ball and I haven't gone back to that Apple store.

Assuming they told you that data backup/transfer was an extra charge, I don't understand what Apple did wrong in your case. If they didn't, they were indeed supposed to and dropped that ball.

Apple's depots have an insane throughput of issues to resolve, and their responsibility is not to customer data, but to making the machine work as advertised when it was sold to the customer. There are a number of reasons why your HD could've been replaced, and the liquid spill was probably the one. In fact, your HD--or the data on it--was probably fucked when your roommate spilled beer all over the laptop itself. What was Apple supposed to do, here?

Your data is never anyone else's responsibility.
posted by Mikey-San at 3:34 PM on December 8, 2007

Unfortunately, your data isn't just no one else's responsibility. Apple has been *actively* irresponsible about wiping and reformatting hard drives from machines sent for service. I know this because a friend of mine had his identity stolen and held hostage, in effect, because Apple resold his dead machine (which they had replaced) for parts without wiping the drive. Apple even admitted culpability, sort of, and compensated my friend richly. But nothing compensates for identity theft, really.

I would simply never send a computer back to Apple with my drive and data inside it, whether or not the drive was readable.

As for AppleCare, it's one of of the great scams going. Most Mac laptops give 2-3 years of service, but by the second year they are worth 2/3 of what you paid, and by the 3d year, 1/2 of what you paid. Any damage you cause by accident - spills, falls, etc. -- will not be covered. So what is covered? Parts failures, essentially. And most of the significant part failure problems most people have had with Apple laptops in recent years have been Apple's fault, and replaced at Apple's expense without AppleCare or any other warranty coverage being relevant. You might save $750 with AppleCare some day. But you'll pay half as much just for the possibility when you could buy an insurance policy that would cover the far, far more common causes of laptop damage (spills and falls/drops, by a mile) for far less money, and put the money you would spend on AppleCare into a pair of backup drives so you never lose your data.

Extended warranties are always a ripoff and a profit center for the company, and AppleCare is no exception, *especially* on laptops.

My opinion, only. A lot of people disagree with me, but I prefer to save the money and replace the machine every year. If I had to pay for it myself, I'd sell the old one for half the scratch.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2007

To clarify, by 2-3 years of service, I mean: before they are too underpowered to do any processor-intensive or memory-intensive tasks. If all you do is word process and surf, you might get more years out of a machine. But AppleCare is only for 3 years anyway.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:03 PM on December 9, 2007

One more point: the main part failure AppleCare insures against is a hard drive failure, which is of course very common on laptops. My Macbook (purchased last spring) went through 2 drives in 6 months. However, a new 160GB laptop drive can be bought for $140 or so, a new 80GB drive for less than $100. At least on a Macbook, drive replacement is as easy, almost (3 screws, basically), as RAM replacement, and is *officially* (I think) considered a legit user-serviceable part (never true in prior model releases, and probably not true for the MBP, which is tricker for drive replacement).

Even a modestly talented local tech person can replace a hard drive on a Macbook for less than $100 in labor, and most users could do it themselves, certainly once the machine was out of warranty. So for a $200 or less total repair, you would be spending $300 on insurance. Yeah, that also covers logic boards and the like, but when Apple logic boards have failed in the last few years, the company has fixed that for nothing, even out of warranty, because it has always been due to admitted defects.

The biggest mistake many people make about AppleCare is thinking they are buying *data* security. AppleCare does NOT cover data recovery from a dead drive or damaged machine. There is no substitute for an aggressive backup strategy that allows you to restore your life completely when your drive fails, as it most certainly will, some day. Or when your laptop is stolen (the third biggest source of laptop loss after spills and drops -- bad logic boards or video cards are much, much rarer).

Invest the money you would have spent on AppleCare in data security -- an external hard drive or two, and with Time Machine it's as easy as set it and forget it. If you're rich, buy both the drive and AppleCare. But you will likely be buying terribly overpriced and unnecessary insurance with the latter. And of course, wait to buy AppleCare until the last week of your original 1 year warranty.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:04 AM on December 10, 2007

Response by poster: Well, here's an update. I waited 48 hours (as recommended by numerous sites); then last night I reinstalled the battery and tried to start it up. To my surprise, it booted normally and it seems to be working flawlessly after a few hours of testing.

The only real issues are that the keyboard is sticky (though 100% functional) and there's a gross white milk residue in the various nooks and crannies of the machine.

I'm still considering having it professionally cleaned and/or trying to get a replacement keyboard. I had planned to take jstef's suggestion and have mrs. gazole take gazole jr. to the local apple store & make a sympathy play to the "genius", but I guess she's been spared that fate for now.

Thanks to everyone for your answers & shared experiences.
posted by gazole at 2:08 PM on December 10, 2007

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