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liquid damage - replace keyboard only, or is the problem more serious?

I'm trying to help someone who has a MacBook Air purchased in June 2009, the 2.13Ghz model with SSD.

A couple of weeks ago, she reported that she was having problems with it. A little investigation revealed that the keyboard registers the left shift key as permanently down. She took it to the Apple Store and they said that the problem is caused by liquid damage (not unreasonably, since there were visible stains on the keyboard!), and that it would be $750 to fix.

She's been using it happily for a couple weeks with an external keyboard. (Interestingly, if you strike a key on an external keyboard, MacOS is then clever enough to report the shift key state of the external keyboard to applications, ignoring the internal keyboard.)

The machine seems to be working, although it is only possible to start it in safe mode, due to the fact that the shift key is permanently depressed.

I've blown air at the left shift key, and generally tried to see if it could be easily fixed, but the problem persists. I've actually ordered a replacement keyboard for it, thinking that this would be far cheaper than $750. (Apple, and Apple-authorized servicers, apparently won't replace only the keyboard, even on request, if there is evidence of liquid damage.)

However, she reports that the Air sometimes fails to wake from sleep, requiring a full reboot after she closes the lid. Also, it has once or twice refused to shut down, hanging with a beach ball for > half hour instead (at which point she forcibly powered off). She also complains that the battery life is unsatisfactory--and she has had this complaint for a while, since before the keyboard failure.

So the question is: should I install the keyboard, or is this evidence that there are more serious problems, and I should recommend that she accept the $750 repair from Apple?

Thanks for any thoughts!


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Just thought I'd add a follow-up--in the end, I was concerned by the other problems the machine seemed to be having and decided the wisest thing to do was to swallow the $750 repair fee from Apple. It's supposed to be back this afternoon--hope it works!


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The problem is probably not the key itself but the layers inside the keyboard. IMO the liquid is stuck between two layers causing a short in the conductive traces near the left shift key. Now the key acts as if it's always depressed because the contact is always on. I would order a new keyboard and try to open the faulty keyboard to dry the internal layers. If it works, perfect, then return the new keyboard, if not then install the new one.

Since you have to remove the logic board to access the keyboard it would be a good occasion to check for liquid stains or residues on the main board and clean it with electronics fluid cleaner.

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You have to replace the keyboard first before you can work on other problems. My question is why there is a battery problem if it's connected to an external keyboard? The machine would also have to drive the external keyboard if used on battery power. $750 ? Just how big is the diamond on your finger?

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Here's a place to look at which keyboard you need. Note the box on the bottom right to determine which revision is for you.

The contact iFixit to get pricing and availablity:


Have you tried removing the offending key or key to try to clean them?


mayer, yes, I've tried cleaning under the key but, as lemerise surmises, the problem is probably in a trace, because that didn't solve the problem. I do know what replacement keyboard I need; my concern is that perhaps the problems we're seeing (around coming out of sleep) suggest that the motherboard is also affected. And if that's the case, I think I'd be better off letting Apple handle it.

Regarding the power issue, the inability to come back from sleep only started when the shift key broke. She says that the short battery life (<1 hr, she says) was a problem before the shift key came.

All in all, I'm leaning toward thinking that this might be more than I should try to handle myself--in particular, that just replacing the keyboard won't solve the problem...


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