MacBook Pro trackpad erratic

MacBook Pro Trackpad Erratic (6 Easy Fixes!)

As a long time Apple device owner, I can say confidently that I would be lost without my MacBook Pro. While it is hands down the best laptop I have ever owned, it is not without its occasional issues. One such issue I recently encountered was my trackpad acting erratically. Here’s how to fix it.

MacBook Pro Trackpad Erratic

To fix an erratic MacBook Pro trackpad, disconnect all devices and disable and then re-enable the trackpad. Using an external magic mouse, navigate to ‘System Preferences’ > ‘Accessibility’ > ‘Pointer Control’. Unselect ‘Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present’ and restart your Mac. Lastly, re-enable the trackpad.

Performing each of the steps above followed by reinstalling macOS will solve the problem for most users.

In some cases it may also be necessary to reset the NVRAM and SMC. If all else fails, you may need to check for a swollen battery and thoroughly clean the trackpad and internal components.

Let’s review each of these steps in detail from start to finish.

I highly recommend you follow these steps in the exact order outlined below. We will start with the easier software related troubleshooting steps and then work our way to the more involved hardware related fixes.

Step 1: Disconnect All Devices

If you are experiencing a dancing or jumping cursor when using your MacBook Pro trackpad, the first thing you should do is disconnect all devices from your Mac.

It is extremely common for an external keyboard, display monitor or other connect device to be the culprit. So go ahead and unplug any devices and turn bluetooth off.

Now restart your Mac and attempt to use the trackpad again. If the issue has resolved, try connecting each device one by one while repeatedly testing the trackpad to isolate the device causing the problem.

Step 2: Disable And Re-enable TrackPad

Once all devices are disconnected, if your trackpad is still jumping around unpredictably, disable and re-enable the trackpad.

Prior to getting started, you will need to first connect an external magic mouse to your Mac.

If you do not have an external magic mouse available, that’s ok! You can use the Enable Mouse Keys option on your Mac as a workaround.

How To Enable Mouse Keys On MacBook

To Enable Mouse Keys, press Option, Command, and F5 simultaneously.

The Accessibility Options Window will now appear.

Select Enable Mouse Keys by tabbing the Tab key until you land on the box. Then press the Spacebar to select it and click Done.

Enable Mouse Keys on Mac

Nice work! With Mouse Keys activated you can now use your keyboard to move your cursor. Pretty cool huh? Simply use the illustration below to determine the correct directional keys.

MacBook Pro Mouse Keys Illustration

How To Disable Trackpad On MacBook

Now, by using either your external magic mouse or Mouse Keys, click the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences.

Then, click Accessibility and scroll down and select either Pointer Control or Mouse & Trackpad from the menu panel on the left side of the window.

Finally, within the Mouse & Track window, locate the option titled “Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present” and unselect it.

Disable and Re-enable trackpad

Your trackpad has now been disabled and will not respond to touch!

Once again, using your external magic mouse or Mouse Keys, restart your device.

Once your Mac has restarted, reselect “Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present” within the Accessibility application to re-enable the trackpad.

Your trackpad should no longer move erratically. You can now also go ahead and disable Mouse Keys if you turned this feature on.

It is important to note that in most cases, this fix will prove to be temporary! Therefore, even if this step fixed your trackpad, you should proceed to step 3.

Step 3: Reinstall macOS

Oftentimes, the issue is being caused by a broader software bug. For this reason you should also reinstall macOS to prevent this issue from happening again.

It is important to note that reinstalling macOS will NOT remove any data from your MacBook.

To reinstall macOS, enter macOS Recovery by holding down Command and R, while simultaneously pressing down the power button to turn on your Mac.

Then, simply select Reinstall macOS from the pop up window, click Continue, and follow the on screen instructions.

Reinstall macOS

If Command and R do not successfully initiate macOS Recovery, you can also try simultaneously holding down ShiftOptionCommand, and as well as just OptionCommand, and R during startup.

In the rare event that none of these shortcuts work, you will need to use an external thumb drive as a startup disk to install a new macOS.

Step 4: Reset NVRAM and PRAM

In addition to disabling and re-enabling the trackpad and reinstalling macOS, there are two types of resets you can attempt.

Nonvolatile random-access memory (NVRAM) is an area where a very small amount of memory is stored on the Mac for quick access. Parameter RAM (PRAM) is very similar and stores similar types of information.

Resetting your MacBook’s NVRAM and PRAM can solve many touchpad related issues.

Fortunately, the process for resetting these are the same.

How To Reset NVRAM / PRAM

  1. First, power off your Mac.
  2. Then, power your Mac on and immediately hold down CommandOptionand all together for 20 seconds.
Reset RVRAM / PRAM on MacBook

You can release the keys once you here the Mac startup sound or once the Apple logo appears and disappears for the second time.

Notably, if you have a firmware password set this reset process will not work.

You will need to first remove the password and then try again.

Step 5: Reset System Management Controller (SMC)

The other kind of reset you can try is a system management controller (SMC) reset.

Notably, the SMC dictates how your device manages power. Resetting the SMC can also solve all sorts of Mac issues.

Prior to attempting to reset your SMC, follow the steps below.

  1. First, shut down the MacBook.
  2. Next, press and hold down the power button for 10 seconds and then release it.
  3. After a few seconds, press the power button to turn your Mac on.

If the issue persists, you can move forward with the SMC reset procedure.

The process for how you reset the SMC varies depending on whether or not you have a T2 chip and the battery location.

How To Reset SMC – MacBooks With T2 Chip

  1. First, power off your MacBook.
  2. Then, press and hold the ControlOption and Shift keys at the same time for 7 seconds.
  3. Next, while still holding these three keys, press and hold the power button as well for an additional 7 seconds. After the 7 seconds, release all four keys.
    Reset SMC on MacBook
  4. Finally, wait 3 to 5 seconds and then press the power button once and release to turn on the MacBook.

How To Reset SMC – MacBooks Without T2 Chip & Non-removable Battery

  1. First, power off your device.
  2. Then, press and hold the ControlOption and Shift keys at the same time.
  3. Next, while still holding these three keys, press and hold the power button as well. After 10 seconds, release all four keys.
  4. Finally, wait 3 to 5 seconds and then press the power button once and release to turn on the MacBook.

How To Reset SMC – MacBooks Without T2 Chip & Removable Battery

  1. First, power off your MacBook.
  2. Next, fully remove the battery.
  3. Then, press and hold down the power button for 5 seconds and then release it.
  4. Reinsert the battery.
  5. Finally, press the power button to turn on the device.

Step 6: Remove And Clean The Trackpad

We’ve now come to the end of the software related troubleshooting steps and it is therefore likely that your trackpad issue may be hardware related.

The two most common hardware related trackpad problems are a swollen battery or debris buildup on the internal trackpad components.

To test if either of these hardware issues are present, you will need to open up your Mac and take a look inside.

Properly Ground Yourself

Prior to starting, you will need to learn how to properly ground yourself to avoid destroying your laptop with an electrostatic charge.

Do NOT skip this step.

MacBooks are made up of many fragile and delicate components that can easily be broken due to even a tiny static charge.

Remove The Bottom Base Of The MacBook Case

Ok, we are ready to open up your MacBook.

Before you get started, make sure that your Mac is unplugged and turned off.

Flip the device over and remove all of the screws.

The number of screws and their exact location will vary depending on your model and size.

Remove back of MacBook case

If you are having trouble finding them all, you can use the Apple MacBook manual lookup for guidance.

In most cases, a #1 or #2 sized Phillips screwdriver head will do the trick.

Once all the screws are removed, carefully separate the top and bottom parts of the case.

The easiest way to do this is to wedge a credit card or a guitar pick in between the top and bottom base. Run it along all four sides until it pops open.

DO NOT use a metal object as your wedge. Use something thin and plastic.

Once the case is loose, gently remove the base entirely.

Disconnect And Remove The Battery

With the MacBook now opened up, locate the internal battery. The battery has a smooth, flat black surface and is easy to identify.

Once located, gently lift up on the connecting clip and disconnect the battery from the motherboard.

Disconnect the Battery on Macbook Pro

Now remove any screws connecting the battery to the base and then lift and fully remove the battery. You will now have clear line of sight to the trackpad.

Take this opportunity to closely examine the battery. Is the battery warped or swelling in any areas? If it is, there is a strong chance it is pressing on your trackpad given its proximity.

MacBook batteries become warped like this over time due to overheating. While uncommon, an expanding battery can explode which can be extremely dangerous.

If this is the case, you should promptly bring the battery either to a nearby Apple or electronics shop. They will recycle the battery for you either for free or a small charge.

Unfortunately you will of course need to purchase a replacement battery. Notably, your battery service may be covered under warranty or AppleCare. If not, out-of-warranty battery replacements will typically run you about $200.

Additionally, because a dirty fan may be the underlying reason that your battery overheated in the first place, you should also clean your MacBook Pro fan while the device is opened up.

Disconnect And Remove The TrackPad

While it may not be visible to the naked eye, air is drawn into your Mac and circulated through the side vents.

Overtime, dirt and dust begin to accumulate on critical motherboard components, the outer casing and the trackpad.

This can result in long-term buildup on the trackpad itself, resulting in numerous Mac trackpad issues.

For this reason, it is best to fully remove the trackpad to allow for greater access.

To remove the trackpad, first disconnect the connecting clip from the motherboard.

Disconnect the trackpad on Macbook Pro

Be EXTREMELY careful when you go to disconnect the ribbon back into the housing on the trackpad. These components are both very fragile and surprisingly easy to damage.

Then remove the silver connecting screws. You should now be able to safely lift and fully remove the trackpad.

Clean The TrackPad And Surrounding Areas

To most effectively clean the trackpad and surrounding areas, thoroughly brush them with a clean paint brush or old toothbrush that is laying around the house.

Be sure to get inside each of the trackpad grooves as it is likely the dust will be fairly caked on.

Remove and clean the trackpad

After you are done brushing, it is also a good idea to hit each the trackpad and housing with some compressed air to finish the job.

For the more challenging spots and areas you can even use a Q-tip with a little bit of isopropyl alcohol.

Next, thoroughly clean the case and motherboard as well.

It is best NOT to use a brush or vacuum directly on the motherboard as they are not electrostatic safe.

When using compressed air on the internals, be careful not to allow to much moisture to build up on the motherboard.

If any moisture does develop, make sure it is fully dry before reconnecting the battery.

Pro TipWhile you have your Macbook open and disassembled, it is also a good idea to ensure the RAM sticks are making a proper connection. By doing so you can prevent future RAM stick related errors.

Reassemble And Reboot MacBook Pro

That’s it! All that is left to do is perform all of the above steps in reverse order to put your Mac back together.

Again, be EXTREMELY careful when you go to insert the ribbon back into the housing on the trackpad.

Go ahead and resemble your laptop and start it back up.

Conclusion

Is your trackpad acting erratically on your Macbook Pro? As it turns out, this is a fairly common issue. Simply follow these troubleshooting steps to get it functioning properly again.

MacBook Pro Trackpad Erratic – 6 Troubleshooting Steps

  1. Disconnect all devices
  2. Disable and re-enable the trackpad
  3. Reinstall macOS
  4. Reset NVRAM and PRAM
  5. Reset System Management Controller (SMC)
  6. Remove and clean the trackpad

If you’ve completed each of these steps without any luck, check out the Apple MacBook Support page. You can also call the main Apple Customer Support line at 1-800-275-2273.

If all else fails, use your serial number to review your Apple warranty status.

Were you able to fix the issue? If so, let me know how in the comments section below!

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