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Damaged MacBook Air finds a happy ending

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

I learned the hard way that, unlike Obamacare, AppleCare doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions or accidental damage.

In March, I spilled coffee on the keyboard of my 13-inch MacBook Air. I immediately turned it off and then turned it upside down to drain out the coffee. A day later, when I was sure it was dry, I turned it on hoping that all would be well. It wasn’t.

If this happened within 90 days of purchase, American Express, which I used to pay for the MacBook, would have covered it, but this happened about 20 months after I bought it.

I spent $249 on a three-year AppleCare policy when I bought the machine back in 2013, knowing that it didn’t cover accidental damage, but I brought it to Apple anyway after the spill, hoping they might take pity on me. No such luck, but they did offer to fix it for between $800 and $900, which was probably more than the machine was worth at that point.

So I took it to a local place in Palo Alto called Yea!Mac. It, along with its neighbor, We Fix Macs, is one of several places that specialize in fixing Apple equipment.

Unlike Apple — which would have replaced the logic board — they saved me money by cleaning and repairing the board, but did have to replace the keyboard. The repair cost: $450. Two days after I brought it in, my Mac was happy as can be and served me well until last week.

I’m not sure why, but the weirdest thing happened one day last week. The Mac worked fine while on battery, but as soon as I plugged in the power supply, the screen went blank and the little light that goes on when you plug it in was off, indicting it wasn’t taking a charge.

Since it didn’t appear to be accidental damage, I brought it back to the Apple store, which sent it off to a repair facility in Memphis. Two days later I got an email telling me that they’d be happy to repair the device for $695.

A 2013 13-inch Apple MacBook Air. Coffee damage not included. (Apple photo)

A 2013 13-inch Apple MacBook Air. Coffee damage not included. (Apple photo)

The technician rejected my AppleCare claim because of the earlier water damage that was repaired by an unauthorized facility. But, as I now know, the new problem wasn’t related to that old damage — it wasn’t a pre-existing condition. It would be like an insurance company refusing to pay for an appendectomy because you had once broken your leg.

Not expecting to ever be able to use this Mac again, I bought a replacement machine, but this time I didn’t get AppleCare. Instead, for about the same price as a three-year AppleCare policy, I bought a three-year policy from SquareTrade, one of several third-party insurance companies that do cover accidental damage for laptops, phones and other consumer devices, including home appliances. SquareTrade’s Jessica Hoffman, vice president of global communications, assured me that they would cover spills, drops and other damage and I could bring it wherever I want — including Apple and be reimbursed by SquareTrade. The cost of the policy is based on the price of the machine and whether you decide on no deductible or a $75 deductible. If you take the deductible it’s a bit less expensive than AppleCare.

But there is also a happy ending for my old MacBook Air.

When the genius gave me back my broken Mac, I immediately plugged it into a power supply at the Apple store and the little charging light lit up, making me think that Apple’s taking the machine apart and reassembling it might have solved the problem. But, when I tried to turn it on by pressing the power key (which is on the keyboard), nothing happened.

So, I brought it back to Yea!Mac and a day later I got a call from an incredulous technician. He asked me if I had taken the machine apart and I told him that I hadn’t but that an Apple technician had, which is how they discovered the water damage that caused them to reject my claim. Well, he told me, they forgot to reconnect the keyboard, the trackpad and the fan. But the Yea!Mac guy did reconnect those cables and, miraculously the Mac sprung back to life. The only logical explanation as to why it works is that perhaps something had come lose to begin with and putting things back cured the original problem. They kindly didn’t charge me for fixing Apple’s mistake, but even if they had charged me for taking the machine apart and reseating the cables, it would have been a fraction of what Apple wanted for a new logic board.

Because it was within Apple’s 14-day return policy, I could have returned the replacement Mac, but decided to keep it and sell the old one, with full disclosure about its repair history, to a relative at what she agreed was a very attractive price. She’s happy, I’m happy and maybe you’ll be happy to know that the next time you buy a product from Apple or any other company, examine all the fine print on any extended warranty and compare that to what’s available on the open market.