Why A Swelling MacBook Pro Battery Is No Laughing Matter

Last night I was fixing a problem with my wife’s MacBook Pro when I came across a really serious issue. But let me start with the issue that led me to this serious problem. My wife updated to macOS High Sierra, but something went sideways with the conversion from HFS+ to APFS. Thus the fastest way to remedy that was to take an SSD (in this case a Samsung 850 EVO Pro that I had lying around) and clone the data from the SSD that I installed in her MacBook Pro a while ago and swap the drives. That went off without a hitch. But when I cracked open the case to swap the drives, the case literally sprung open. It shouldn’t do that. Ever. Thus I knew that I had an issue. When I examined the computer, I found that the battery had swelled beyond its normal size. I snapped a photo of the bad battery and the replacement that I sourced: 

If you click the photo, you can see the swelling. The battery at the top is the one that came out of my wife’s MacBook Pro. The bottom one is the replacement. You can see the swelling that I am talking about in the top battery while the bottom battery is completely flat. Here’s why this is a very, very bad situation. In general, a swollen battery occurs when the battery’s cells are overcharged, as lithium-ion batteries “react unfavorably to overcharging,” according to Don Sadoway, Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT as Professor Sadoway explained to Electronics WeeklyNow, how do you know that you have a battery in this state? The most common things that you will notice will be any or all of the following:

  • The MacBook Pro will run hotter than normal.
  • The trackpad on older MacBook Pros that have a physical button will fail to click or be difficult to click.
  • The battery “says service” now or “replace now.” More details on that can be found here.

I quizzed my wife about this and she noticed the first two items but dismissed both. The problem is that you should never dismiss any of these as not being big deals. A swollen lithium ion battery is a fire hazard and is potentially dangerous, even if removed from the equipment in question. It can explode or catch fire at any time. Thus you shouldn’t fool around with a battery in this state. Any swollen battery should be removed from service IMMEDIATELY, placed in a location where fire would not be a problem (note – Lithium fueled fires burn very, very hot!!), and disposed of ASAP.

So in my case, as soon as I discovered this, I reached out to a company called iRepair who repairs iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. I ended up at their Mississauga location who sold me a new battery for $140 CDN. Installation is trivial if you have the proper tools. This link will walk you through the process. Two things that I should point out. First, you need a special tri-point screwdriver that will allow you to unscrew the three screws that hold the battery in. If you don’t have one. Get one as you can damage the MacBook Pro if you don’t have one. My suggestion would be to get a battery kit that includes the screwdriver that you need. Next, you should cross reference the serial number of the MacBook Pro to verify that you have the right battery for your MacBook. That’s important as these batteries can be different for MacBooks that visually look the same.

Now the entire process took me 10 minutes. And my wife will not only have a working MacBook Pro from an OS standpoint, but she will also have a MacBook Pro which will have the maximum battery life that it is capable of. This should give her another year or two of life out of this notebook. That’s a good thing. Finally, I will be taking the old battery to a City of Toronto facility to be disposed of properly. You can find a list of those facilities here. Your city or town likely has similar facilities. But under no circumstances should you simply throw an old battery into the trash. Let me reiterate that a battery in this state is dangerous. It could catch fire at any time and needs be disposed of properly. Even if it wasn’t dangerous, it has chemicals that shouldn’t get into the environment, so it needs to be disposed of properly.

The bottom line is this. A swelling MacBook Pro battery is not trivial. Keep an eye out for the symptoms and take action if you see them. If you don’t feel comfortable diagnosing this and swapping the battery, take it to an Apple Store or your local Apple dealer. But under no circumstances should you ignore it as really bad things will happen to you if you do.


4 Responses to “Why A Swelling MacBook Pro Battery Is No Laughing Matter”

  1. […] main reason I ended up replacing my the SSD in my wife’s MacBook Pro, which then led me to replace the battery as it was swelling and potentially dangerous was that after she upgraded to macOS High Sierra, she got this error message when disk utility was […]

  2. […] swapping my wife’s SSD for a faster one to solve an issue with macOS High Sierra, and in the process running into a serious issue that I had to deal with, After I dealt with that crisis, I needed to do something with her old SSD. So I decided to turn it […]

  3. […] part of fixing this problem with my wife’s MacBook Pro, which led me to fixing an even more serious problem, I replaced the Samsung 850 EVO drive that I popped into it with a Samsung 850 EVO Pro that I had […]

  4. […] so I knew that I had to cough up some bucks to fix it. But unlike my wife’s 2012 MacBook Pro which had a battery that was easy to replace, I had a bit of a challenge. The battery in my MacBook Pro is a pain in the backside to replace as […]

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