This Simple Tool Is How Geniuses Decide To Void Your MacBook Warranty

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Why is it that some people can walk into their local Apple Store with a broken MacBook and walk away with a free replacement, and other people are turned away, with Apple claiming the repair is due to user error… even if it isn’t?

It has less to do with whether or not you actually voided your warranty than if Apple thinks they can prove you voided your warranty. And the most important tool Apple uses to prove you’re responsible for the damage to your own machine? It’s a tool that inspects dents.

The guys over at Tested spoke to an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician, or ACMT. An ACMT is a technician who works at an Apple Authorized Service Center, where people can get warranty service when they don’t live near an Apple Store. In other words, this is a person with an intimiate familarity with how Geniuses determine whether or not to replace or repair a product in-warranty.

So here’s how it works. When a Genius or ACMT looks over an Apple product to see if it qualifies for warranty repair, what they are really doing is trying to prove it doesn’t qualify for warranty repair. The most obvious way to deny someone warranty service? Dents! And Apple has issued its Geniuses and ACMTs a special tool called the Dent Inspection Tool to help measure dents.

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Here’s how it works:

The Dent Inspection Tool is designed to check three types of visual damage on any portable aluminum Mac:

1. Dents in the Lower and Upper casing (bottom plate/sides/keyboard). This is tested by using the side with the 1mm spike and placing the spike in the center of the dent. If any part of the rest of the tool is able to lay flat, a repair center will be able to deny the warranty and in apples view the warranty is voided.

2. Dents in the display clamshell casing. This is tested using the opposite side of the tool, which has a smaller spike that is not labeled (possibly 0.5mm or less). The same rule applies: when siting the spike in the center of a dent, if the tool sits flat the warranty is voided.

3. Dents on the corners of the device. This is tested as seen in the image below, with the tool lining it up along the sides of the Macbook. If it does not sit flat along the edges, the warranty is voided.

That, of course, sounds hugely frustrating and arbitrary. I, for example, picked up a dent on my MacBook Air at some point, but the machine still works fine. If it were to suddenly have a logic board failure, Apple could refuse to replace my MacBook Air under warranty because of a slight ding in the corner of the screen.

Of course, not all Geniuses or ACMTs rely solely upon the Dent Inspection Tool when determining whether to take a machine in; some Geniuses might take pity upon you, so it doesn’t hurt to be polite. Even so, there are other ways in which Apple can deny you warranty coverage, including the famous liquid indicator test, and these two programs:

AST (Apple Service Toolkit)–A server application which allows machines to boot a quick and dirty diagnostics image that checks if it can detect and communicate to each part of the machine. It is also able to provide reports of the battery capacity and let technicians know if it required to be replaced. The AST Is designed to be run in front of the customer to explain potential issues when booking in the machine and to show them that the issue has been resolved when it is collected after repair.

ASD (Apple Service Diagnostic)–This is the REAL testing software. It runs actual stress testing software on the hardware. As an example it checks RAM for errors, test read/write speeds on the hard drive, monitors fan speed and temperature sensors, and runs OpenGL graphics tests.

There is a very long list of tests that it runs through, and at the end there will either be a massive green rectangle that says pass or a massive red one that says fail.

The walkaway here is that while Geniuses and ACMTs can use their better judgement when determining whether or not to take an aluminum Mac in for warranty repair, if you have picked up so much as a slight nick on your machine at any point, the dice are loaded against you. Put your MacBook in a case if you want the best chance at warranty repair.

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  • technochick

    Something tells me that a third party company isn’t really THAT aware of in store policies. In fact they would have a vested interest in exaggerating policies that might make an official store look bad so they look better. Or even if they aren’t lying they might not be fully informed since they aren’t part of the company and they only need to do warranty rules that affect them. Apple might allow their own people a little more leeway since its ‘in house’.

    And they aren’t always in the right in terms of helping customers. A couple of years ago my employer had a couple of tricked out 15 inch MBPs damaged when a major storm hit and they got water damaged and wouldn’t turn on. He had backups of his data so that was no big deal but he’s a cheap ass and they were only about 4 months old so he wasn’t about to buy new laptops. To have Apple fix them would have been like $1200 each and they would replace everything that could have gotten a wet circuit. But cheapo said no and when to a third party that told him it was just water in the power supplies and replaced those for no labor and like $300 each for the part (and told him that was a huge discount).

    They worked, for maybe 3 months. Then one had the hard drive fail. A week later the other had graphics card failure. And then a month after that the logic board failed in the one he’d just replaced the drive in. And so on. He ended up spending as much to piece meal fix these two computers over about 8 months as Apple was going to charge to basically replace them. But instead he kept taking them to this ‘better’ shop that was taking care of him when Apple said no cause of the water they say was clearly on the parts.

  • Hawk_Ky

    Well my family has owned 10+ macs, most with various dents, and I have never been refused service or replacement. If you go in and act nice, they will take care of you. I cannot count how many positive experiences I’ve had with Apple support.

  • staycool72

    I had a Mid 2007 Macbook Pro that had some scratches and dents on it and the Logic board and left fan assembly went bad and they replaced it under warranty with no Problems at all. so I don’t entirely agree with the abot posting at all. I Repair Computers and Laptops for a Living and the Repair shop I work for has had no issues with apple repairing any item under warranty at all.

  • lwdesign1

    I have had nothing but excellent service from the 3 Apple stores I’ve used over the last many years: Glendale, CA; Pasadena, CA and Tampa, FL. I’ve had batteries replaced, screens replaced, even a whole laptop given to me when my repairs were taking too long. Apple’s repair and replacement services have been wonderful in my case, and I have nothing but admiration for them.

  • Ronald10

    They’d turn me away in a New York second! Not only does my MBP have a huge dent in the case, but it’s almost seven years old. Not to worry, it also runs perfectly!

  • sebbiep

    Apple service experience is hands down the best in class. My wife had a dent in her iPad, replaced on site. I had issue with two my iPhones, replaced on site. My iMac never went wrong but I suspect this will be similar experience. Only comparable service experience was from Dell (express business service, £240 for year) where damaged motherboard in XPS laptop was fixed on site within 24h.

  • Mystakill

    We’ve had only good experiences in getting our devices repaired or replaced. My wife dropped her iPod Classic several years back; the back cover was clearly dented, but the Genius replaced it without any a second thought. My MBP battery was throwing “Service battery” errors for several months, and they replaced the battery under AppleCare, even though they couldn’t get the built-in AHT (Apple Hardware Test) to complete the directory structure test; I’d replaced the HDD with a Seagate hybrid HDD+SSD, which may have caused that issue, as it works fine otherwise. Most recently, I recently took in an iPad 3 due to light leaks along two of the edges; it was 4 days inside of the standard 1-year warranty, but the Genius replaced it with a new iPad 3 from inventory.

    Knock on wood, but my sons’ iPod Touch and iPhone 3GS have both never had an issue.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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