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Rayovac Battery for MacBook Pro: A Cautionary Tale

Batteries for most of the devices that we as photographers use these days are far from common at local shops (especially here in Columbia, SC) and far from cheap at the specialty retailers who stock them.  Aside from a few devices that use standard AA (LR6) batteries, electronic camera accessories use special rechargeable or photo lithium batteries like the Canon Speedlite ST-E2 transmitter which takes a 2CR5 lithium, or the Sekonic L-358 Light Meter that takes a CR123A, or our backup Audio Technica wired lavalier mic that uses 357 button cells, not to mention the cameras themselves, on the notebook computers we use to process our images on location.  In situations where I’ve been in a pinch and needed something immediately the folks at the local Batteries Plus store on Harbison Boulevard have always come to my rescue.  They always seem to have what I need in stock at a fair price with good customer service. I can’t count the number of Rayovac Lithium 2CR5′s, CR123A’s, CR2450′s and 357 button cell batteries that I have bought from them over the years.

So when I was in a pinch and needed a spare battery for my 15″ MacBook Pro prior to an extensive location shoot last November, and the local Apple Authorized Retailer, and the Apple Kiosk at Best Buy didn’t have an OEM battery in stock, I headed to Batteries Plus. As I learned Batteries Plus only sells Rayovac brand batteries for laptops, and while I was a little hesitant about putting an aftermarket battery in a $2500 MacBook Pro,  I was assured by the sales associate that the batteries meet or exceed the same standards as the ones that are branded and sold by Apple Inc., come with a similar 1-year warranty, etc. I further justified the purchase of the aftermarket battery in my own mind by reminding myself that I had been using Rayovac Lithium, NiMH Rechargeable, and Alkaline batteries in a quite a few electronic devices for a long time with no negative effects or issues.  Having convinced myself that this was a safe bet I bought the Rayovac COM11061 which is listed as a direct replacement for the Apple A1175. The Rayovac battery had the same voltage (10.8v) and Watt-Hours (60Wh) as the Apple A1175, not to mention the Batteries Plus website says “They are engineered to meet or surpass OEM specifications.” The Rayovac battery was purchased on November 16, 2011 and went into service with the “Road Warrior” my  15″ MacBook Pro the following day, and all seemed well.

Fast forward just a little over six months to Wednesday, May 30, 2012. I was sitting in my office working on editing some images for a client, finishing up the design of our new business cards, and responding to a few emails when the track pad started acting up by clicking on and selecting things with the slightest gesture. I didn’t think anything of it, and figured that I hadn’t cleaned the track pad in a while, so I switched on the bluetooth mouse, and kept going trying to make the most out of the day, and eventually wrapped up.  When I sat down at the computer to edit some images I shot for a client the next day the issue was worse than before, so I gave everything a good cleaning. That didn’t help, and now the cursor was selecting, highlighting and clicking on items as I typed or even pressed down on the case.  I thought it was odd, but had too much to get done, so I grabbed a USB keyboard and planned to keep going. As I slid the computer back on the desk to make room for the keyboard I noticed that it rocked side to side in a way it didn’t typically do. As I tilted it up to see what was going on, my worst fears were realized.  I saw flashing lights on the bottom of the battery, and the casing of the battery was bulging out about 1/8-inch from center of the battery’s casing.  I had read stories of this happening online, but never thought it would happen to me (I’m pretty anal retentive when it comes to taking care of our equipment).

I yanked the battery out of the bottom of the poor “Road Warrior” as quickly as I could. Apparently one of the cells inside of the battery ruptured or exploded causing the entire case to bulge out.  I immediately pulled the receipt from my files and headed over to Batteries Plus (after taking a few photos of course). When I got there I was cheerfully greeted by a young salesman, who asked how he could help. I explained the situation to him, and looking very perplexed, said their wasn’t much he could do and that the managers for both stores in the Columbia area were at a trade show for the day, but would be back the following morning. Upon my insistence that something needed to happen, he called the manager on his cell phone, and after a brief conversation told me that I needed to bring the computer in with the battery for it to be sent off to their corporate headquarters to be looked at (a process which would take a few weeks). I don’t know many people who can go without their personal computer for a few weeks, let alone a primary business computer.  After informing him that I wasn’t able to be without the computer for a few weeks and was only comfortable with my computer being serviced by Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Center he called his manager back. After another 5-minute conversation he told me that the only other things that could be done were exchanging the battery for a new one (I wasn’t about to trust another one of these batteries), or issue a refund of the purchase price. I begrudgingly took the refund, and went home to order an OEM battery from Apple. Lesson learned, no more Rayovac or Batteries Plus for me.

All in all the damage done by this battery could have been worse. The bulge of about 1/8-inch on the top and bottom of the battery was causing upward pressure on the connection for the trackpad and keyboard, which is why things were acting funny.  Once removed things seem to have gone back to normal for the most part. There are a few lasting scars in the form of  a nice 1/32 to 1/16-inch gap between the top case and bottom case just above the slot loading Superdrive, which doesn’t seem to want to read or write to discs anymore (glad I have an external to fall back on), and I can only hope there was no other damage done to the logic board, or other internals.  Thankfully I’ve got insurance, so I will be giving my agent a call in the morning to see if it will be worth filing a claim for the repairs.

I hope all of you out there don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way (as I did). When it comes to professional photography, video, and computer equipment, stick with batteries from the manufacturer. They will likely not only stand behind their products better than the off brands, but will also stand behind  and make right any damage that one of their products causes to another in a time frame that is more suitable to someone who uses these items in a business environment.

4 Responses to “Rayovac Battery for MacBook Pro: A Cautionary Tale”

  1. Gayle says:

    The same thing happened to my Apple batter and I was considering the battery you are speaking about to replace. Thanks for writing this. I am sure they end up bulging like this because of the heat they produce or something. Very strange. Still not sure what I want to do to replace.

    • Brett says:

      Gayle, I’m glad it helped to inform you. I know others who had an issue with the Apple battery as well. I am working on an update to this post. Since I originally wrote it, the folks at the Batteries Plus corporate office have been in contact with me regarding these issues. This is apparently a first with the Rayovac Laptop battery they have seen with this issue. They have the battery and have pulled some others with matching lot codes and are working to test them to see if they can replicate the problem, or if mine was a one in a million issue. They have also told me that if I take my computer to the local Apple Authorized service provider and have them do a diagnostic and repair estimate, that Batteries Plus would take care of any issues the battery may have caused. I plan on taking the computer over there Friday to get it looked at. I will update this post with more information once everything has worked its way through.

  2. KP says:

    Than you for writing this. This happened to my mac book pro battery as well, 1 month after my 3 year warranty expired. I too thought at first there was just something wrong with the trackpad. Though it was the original battery, apparently this happens often, this is unacceptable.

    • Paul says:

      This is one of the normal failure modes of lithium ion batteries. When the capacity of one cell drops significantly more than its partner in the pack it overheats on charging and swells up with hydrogen gas. Nearly all of the time (>99%) all that happens is a swollen pack. The other times there is a risk of fire if it overheats enough.