Sending a Mac In For Service

I’ve been having some trouble with my MacBook Air the past several months and had to send the machine in for service three times this summer. Twice to the local Apple authorized repair shop and then finally to Apple’s Texas repair depot. I’m hopeful my problem is finally solved as the Apple depot replaced several components and so far the computer seems to be running without incident. 

While this ordeal has been frustrating, it has given me a couple of new experiences I can share. First, I now have quite a bit of experience prepping a machine to send in for service. I was fortunate my issue (an intermittent screen flicker) has been more of an annoyance rather than a catastrophic failure. This gave me adequate time to prepare my computer and data before sending it in for service. Additionally, I’ve had an opportunity to evaluate my contingency plan for working without my primary Mac for several days at a time. 

While I’ll probably blog more on that second topic later, here’s a few things to think about when sending a computer off for repair.

Backup, Backup, Backup

Anytime you send a device off for service it’s very possible that the drive may be erased or replaced as part of the troubleshooting process. Sometimes, you may not actually end up with the same device you sent in but a similar replacement. Regardless, you should never expect to see the data on the machine again so it’s critically important to have a backup, and preferably more than one that you can easily restore data from when your machine returns. 

I like to have an additional clone backup of my machine made just before I sent it in for service that I can set aside for several weeks after the computer returns so I can restore the machine to a known good state even weeks later in the event I find any lingering problems.

Secure Your Data

Apple and Repair shops are going to ask you for your primary account username and password. I’m always hesitant to give this out and sometimes create a “Service” account for a tech to use in an effort to avoid this. While a service account may be okay for some straightforward hardware replacement, it’s not going to be acceptable for many things. In cases where techs are troubleshooting an issue that might be software related, there are legitimate reasons they will need access to your primary account. 

Be aware that giving a technician physical access to your computer and an administrative password is essentially giving up the keys to your kingdom. I’m sure that Apple and their authorized repair shops have high standards for their employees and codes of conduct. That being said, you may want to take an opportunity before you hand over your machine to secure any sensitive data. Here are a couple things to consider:

  • Change your login password to something other than your standard password and something that you would never use for a password. I sometimes use my AppleCare case number. This way you can keep the integrity of your password.
  • If you have confidential files on your computer encrypt them or, better yet, simply remove them and restore from a backup later.
  • Remember that files and data can be stored or retrieved from email so consider disconnecting your email accounts and deleting the cached copies of the messages from the ~Users/Library/Mail/V2 folder.
  • Disconnect and log out of any cloud storage solutions (Dropbox, Evernote, and additionally removed any locally saved or cached copies of sensitive data.
  • Remove any sensitive entires from your login keychain. You may want to create a secondary keychain (with a separate unique password) and export these entires to the new keychain to reimport to the login keychain later. Alternatively you could delete the sensitive entries and then restore your keychain from a backup.
  • Check your browsers and log out of any active sessions. Consider clearing your history and removing cookies that may automatically log you into certain accounts.
  • Disconnect your iCloud account and consider deleting the locally saved data - just make sure you still have this data in the cloud or accessible on other devices. Don’t forget to also disconnect your Messages account and possibly delete your message history.
  • If you use your computer for work, be aware of your company’s policies for data protection and act accordingly.
  • I suggest making a list of all the steps you took to secure your data so you can easily reverse them when your machine returns without missing anything.

Document Your Case

Provide your technician with as much information as possible about your problem. My issue was intermittent which made it particularly problematic to diagnose. I kept a note in Evernote that was a running journal with dated entries of each time I experienced the problem and what was happening just prior, each conversation I had with Apple or their support agents and troubleshooting that had been performed thus far. I also supplemented the note with photos, videos and PDFs of my repair documents.

One of the benefits of using Evernote for this project was the ability to create a public link to share with my AppleCare agent so it could be added to my support file and I could keep it continually updated. When the machine went off for service I placed my notes, photos and video clips in a single folder on my computer’s desktop that said “APPLE READ ME” and left a post-it note on my computer alerting the tech to the documents and including my cell phone number.

It’s also a good idea to take photos of your machine’s physical condition before sending it off, just to make sure that it returns in the same condition.

Be Kind

Having problems with your technology is never a pleasant experience and it’s easy to lose your cool. If you’re a “power user” it can be especially frustrating because sometimes you may feel like you now more than person who is trying to solve your problem. You have to work the process, which means many times jumping through hoops you may deem unnecessary. I’ve found generally that Apple Support is staffed with people who are generally trying to solve your problem. 

I encourage you to be patient and polite while you work the process. Sometimes you’ll be surprised and something you thought was silly might actually solve your problem. But if you hit a wall, consider respectfully asking for an alternative or to be escalated to a senior technician who may be better suited to solve your problem. I’ve found keeping calm and being polite will generally get you a lot further than anything else.

Good luck with your service experience.