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gailcalled's avatar

What does the fact that my charger no longer charges my Mac Air laptop mean?

Asked by gailcalled (54448points) January 13th, 2013

I have owned it for about 14 months and not used it regularly (but certainly used it). Is this the kiss of death? Do I have to replace the battery? Charging icon is down to about 13% and in the red zone.

Apple store miles away; the last time I drove to that horrible mall, I got a flat tire on the NY thruway (in the cold and in the snow.) Any other recourse?

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32 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

Either the battery could be dead or the charger. If the laptop is plugged in and still running off battery power which is what it sounds like if the battery indicator is running down even though its plugged in then I would suggest its the charger that’s screwed. Really to work out which bit is bust you would need another charger to see if it works. If you don’t want to go to the apple store is there anyone local to you that has a MacBook who you could borrow their charger from?

ragingloli's avatar

CrApple obviously designed it that way to force their victims to buy the next model.
Ditch that company and get a cheap laptop.

hearkat's avatar —for additional information

serenityNOW's avatar

@gailcalled – Don’t fret too much, yet. Same thing happened with my MacBook Pro, and although I shelled out $70 (or near that), a new charger fixed it right up. One perk of going to the Apple Store, was they told me I’d get a full refund if the new charger didn’t work; probably to get me to come in to buy a new Mac! Nonetheless, new charger worked and it was a sigh of relief. Or else, I would’ve had to take @ragingloli‘s and be shunned from the hip cafes in my locale.

hearkat's avatar

That ^^ just reminded me… my kitten has chewed up 2 Apple laptop chargers, and they are expensive! He hasn’t chewed and other cables that we’ve seen. Examine the thinner wire for chinks.

dabbler's avatar

@hearkat Smart cat.
The Apple chargers are some of those that conform to European standards that prohibit the use of toxic phthalates to soften the plastic used for insulation on the cable (Philips use the non-toxic plastics, too).
A lot of other wires in our homes have phthalates in their insulation.

gailcalled's avatar

@Lightlyseared: Could you explain again, in words of one syllable, how to differentiate between charger problems and a dead battery? I have only 3% left to experiment with, however.

I do have a friend with an Air and can try her charger. Good idea. Thank you.

I have owned the Air for c. 430 days and have not used it very much…days have gone by without my even turning it one. Is it true that I am supposed to get 300 full charges before the battery croaks?

It is certainly true that recently the battery dropped more quickly than it had a year ago and I had to charge it more often when I actually used it.

The charger light turned orange but not green the next to last time I tried. After that, there was no light.

dabbler's avatar

“300 full charges before the battery croaks” that depends a lot on usage.
If you’re not using it a lot that is approximately worst case for the battery. The battery can get ‘pessimized’ by intermittent charge/use.
Also it can depend on whether you leave it plugged into the charger when not in use, or just plug it in when you’re going to use it.
—I know, you should be able to just use the machine the way it occurs to you. After all, that’s the idea all the big tech companies “sell” to us. But the reality is we’re up against stuff like chemistry when it comes to batteries.

Google about for “rehabilitate lithium battery” for some methods to make the most of rechargeable batteries, and what to expect from them.

But it does sound like you either need a new charger or some connection is not working from the charger to the machine. (It can even be the power socket on the Air that you plug the charger into).

gailcalled's avatar

@dabbler; Thanks. I just talked to a nice guy at Apple Support. (Of course, i have paid for this service.)

He tried all the obvious tricks such as different wall outlets and cleaning various contacts on both the charger and the Air with a q-tip.

He said that with this generation Air I should get 1000 charges and can get a new, free battery under my Apple Care Warranty.

How to optimize the usage when I get the new battery? I’lll Google your rehab idea. (Will it help rehab me after this sweaty 40 minute phone call?)

I have charged it and then left unplugged and run it off the battery. Is it a better idea to run it with the charger plugged in?

They also found a legit. service place that is much closer and a much easier drive than going to horrible Albany. So I will run over tomorrow and solve the problem.

A very expensive and very irritating toy, I must say.

Thanks, everyone, for the useful help.

hearkat's avatar

Oh! You have the AppleCare… I assumed you didn’t have it, since you came here to ask. As much as I hate shopping malls and the people that frequent them, if my product is covered by warranty, I’m making sure it gets fixed properly. Schedule an appointment with the ‘genius’ and get there at least 5 minutes ahead of time. I see you have an authorized place to go to.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@gailcalled If the macbook air is plugged in then it will run off the power from the wall – you can take the battery out and it will still operate. When you plug the laptop in it charges the battery and the little battery indicator will change from 13% or whatever to a little symbol that looks like a plug in the battery. If you have plugged the MacBook air in and you don’t get a little plug in the battery then the charger isn’t working.

gailcalled's avatar

@hearkat: It was the really nasty long drive to a snarl of malls and urban blight that was preventing me. Apple Care Nice Guy found a place much closer and much more pleasant.

gailcalled's avatar

@Lightlyseared: Thanks. This is where the hyphen really matters; do you mean “plug-in”?

When all systems are operational, is it better to operate the Air while plugged in, or off the battery?

dabbler's avatar

Yay that they will replace the battery! And I’m glad you now have a shop closer to home that is not in a mall.

In general it’s better to cycle rechargeable batteries pretty far, that is use it on battery until it gets down below at least 50%. And don’t leave the charger plugged into it all the time at your desk. When you’ve drained it “pretty far” then plug it in to charge, while it’s charging there is no downside to using it at the same time except that it charges a bit more slowly.
“Pretty far” can depend on what you need. If you aren’t leaving home and can plug it in any time you want then you can get it down to the point the machine complains and shuts itself down – although factor in the inconvenience of that.

If you expect to leave the house with the machine fully charged the best thing is to have a fresh/recent full charge on the battery. Anticipating such an event, you could use it a lot the day before (even just leave it on and don’t let it sleep/hibernate) then charge it up overnight.

gailcalled's avatar

@dabbler: Props for clarity. This is the first time I have understood this issue.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@gailcalled I mean when the laptop is plugged in the little battery indicator should change from half full to having a little picture of a plug inside the little picture of the battery. If you plug it in and the picture of the plug doesn’t appear in the battery then the charger is broken. If you get the picture but the battery doesn’t charge then its probably the battery.

If you are at home I would operate with laptop plugged in. When plugged in the computer runs directly from the AC power not the battery. The battery charger is separate subsystem, imagine half the power going to the computer and half going to the battery – not all the power going in to the battery and then out in to the laptop. It will stop charging the battery when it is fully charged and shouldn’t make any difference to the lifespan of the battery.

gailcalled's avatar

@Lightlyseared: Thanks. I do know what the battery-charging icon looks like.

I can remind myself that it is exactly the same as my clock radio, which can either be plugged in or battery-operated.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Good. So when you plug it in do you see the charging icon?

gailcalled's avatar

Yes, it is now down to 3% so I am not plugging it in until after I get some help tomorrow.
(With a few extra commas in your replies, I would have understood everything.)

Lightlyseared's avatar

So it runs on ac power ok but isn’t charging the battery?

gailcalled's avatar

As far as I can tell. I’ll report back with diagnostic details tomorrow. Now it’s time to make some soup.

The little light on the charger no longer lights up, either amber or green.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Money is on the charge being bust.

Enjoy your soup.

gailcalled's avatar

How much? Maybe @dabbler will take the bet.

Or perhaps we could have a pool? I will spend about $40 on gas for the trip tomorrow.

dabbler's avatar

Nah, I agree with @Lightlyseared on that part.

However I think this is not really the case :“It will stop charging the battery when it is fully charged and shouldn’t make any difference to the lifespan of the battery.” Ideally that’s true but if you’re running on charger almost all the time, when you do unplug it the battery might last a short time only. From what I’m reading the lithium batteries like a deplete/charge cycle once in a while.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@dabbler Ni-Cad batteries liked a deplete/charge cycle – modern smart li-ion not so much so. If the battery “fuel gauge” gets out of whack you can reset it doing a deplete/charge cycle once in a while but you need to be careful as a deep discharge can damage the battery.

dabbler's avatar

True lithium batteries are affected by ‘memory’ much less than NiCad or NiMh, but they still like some exercise, especially when they are new’ish. If they are stuck on ‘full’ too long they won’t discharge very far without some rehab.

gailcalled's avatar

Can one of you codify the above remarks? Air has lithium batteries?

I have heard also that a deplete/charge cycle once a month or thereabouts is a good idea.

Did anyone mention that I need to use the charger when upgrading stuff? Or is that too obvious to discuss.

And is not using it for several days a bad idea? Not using it for a week?

dabbler's avatar

Yes, Air has lithium batteries.

I think once a month deplete/charge is reasonable minimum.

If you run out of juice in the middle of an upgrade it can be tedious to get the upgrade back on track. So, sure, plug it in if you’re upgrading.

A few days should not be a problem. Ultimately I think you should use it as often as you want to. If the battery doesn’t accomodate you get it replaced.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Ni-cad (nickel cadmium) were a type of battery commonly used up until about 10 years ago. To keep a ni-cad battery at its best it was good idea to fully discharge it and then fully recharge it on a regular basis. If you partially recharged it it was possible it would not fully charge again. With lithium ion this is not a problem at all but old habits die hard. Obviously it’s a good idea to use the battery (that is after all why its there) but by and large they need much less care than other types of battery. They are somewhat temperature sensitive and they won’t fully charge in a warm environment. The other problem with li-ion batteries is they age and are constantly losing capacity. The speed at which they lose capacity depends on the amount of charge in them and a battery kept at full charge loses capacity quicker than one kept at 50% capacity but fully depleting and then recharging it won’t improve the life if li-ion battery.

Like @dabbler says a battery is there to be used and they are and always have been a consumable item but on the bright side li-ion batteries tend to not be too sensitive to how they are used.

gailcalled's avatar

News flash;

I left the charger plugged into the Air on my desk and went out for several hours. When I returned, I noticed that the light on the charger was amber and then green. When I opened up the Air a few minutes ago, it was fully charged.

However, now the charger seems to be malfunctioning again, with no light display.

So , you are probably right about the charger being the problem. More tomorrow after I visit the Apple store. Let us hope that the battery is still strong, healthy and virile.

gailcalled's avatar

@Lightlyseared and @dabbler:

Second update: I just returned from my pleasant trip to the nearest sales and service center, manned by several very young and savvy guys. Instantly, one of them confirmed that the problem was…yay!... the charger. After they run a diagnostic, Apple will send me a new free charger because I have a three-year AppleCare contract.

I flushed a mature red-tailed hawk while driving and got a close-up of him as he flew across the front of the car. That alone was worth the 52 mile round-trip.

I drive back tomorrow (if there is no snow( to pick up laptop and new charger.

gailcalled's avatar

@Lightlyseared and @dabbler: Third update. The new charger is working.

You both get five gold stars for your diagnostic skills.

Have I already thanked you both?

If not, thank you, both of you, also for ancillary advice.

Apparently, the Air battery should be good for 1000 charges, which means that it may outlive me.

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