A big reason to buy Apple products is that they “just work.” Though, when they don’t, it’s a painful and frustrating time. While almost any part of a MacBook can fail, the trackpad is prone to errors. A broken trackpad makes it feel as though you can barely use your computer, and at times, you can’t. This tutorial offers a few fixes for a MacBook trackpad that is not working. Our first solution should be yours, too.
- 1. Clean Your Trackpad
- 2. Remove Any Connected Peripherals
- 3. Check for Software Updates
- 4. Reset the System Management Controller (SMC)
- 5. Reset the Parameter RAM (PRAM) or Non-Volatile RAM (NVRAM)
- 6. Delete the Trackpad Property List Files
- 7. Adjust Trackpad Tracking Speed
- 8. Customize Double-Click Speed on the Trackpad
- 9. Disable Force Click and Haptic Feedback
- 10. Run Apple Diagnostics
- Frequently Asked Questions
Reasons MacBook Trackpad Is Not Working
The most common reasons why you might be experiencing issues with your MacBook trackpad include the following:
- The surface of your trackpad might need cleaning.
- A software bug could be preventing your trackpad from working properly.
- Your trackpad may have lost contact and now requires a reset.
- Your Mac’s battery may need to be serviced or replaced.
1. Clean Your Trackpad
Before you spend time troubleshooting your trackpad, it is important to note that the possibility of software or hardware failure is highly unlikely. Most of the time a quick wipe of the trackpad with a gentle cloth will remedy any responsiveness issues that you may be experiencing.
- Prior to cleaning your trackpad, be sure to power off your Mac by navigating to the Apple menu in the Toolbar.
- Select “Shut Down … ” from the drop-down menu, then follow the onscreen prompt to turn off your Mac.
- Lightly moisten a soft lint-free cloth with fresh water, then use it to gently wipe your trackpad. Be sure not to get any moisture in any openings that you see, including along the edges of the trackpad.
Warning: do not use products containing hydrogen peroxide or bleach to clean your Mac. Be sure to avoid getting moisture in any openings, and do not submerge your Mac in any cleaning agents.
2. Remove Any Connected Peripherals
Consider this step an equivalent to the “turn it off and on” step. It shouldn’t cause an issue, although it is one of the easiest elements to rule out.
Of course, a wired mouse is easy to spot, though a Bluetooth or other wireless dongle could potentially cause trouble with your MacBook’s trackpad.
If an external mouse is connected, disconnect it, then reboot your computer and see if your problem persists. If so, take a look at the next few steps for a resolution.
3. Check for Software Updates
The next element to check is just as simple as removing a mouse from your system. Software updates could resolve any trackpad issue within seconds. To update software:
- Run your “System Preferences,” then open the “Software Update” panel.
- This should automatically check for any available updates. If any are found, click the “Update Now” button to initialize them. Along with your software, this can pull in firmware updates, which may fix your trackpad problem.
4. Reset the System Management Controller (SMC)
The SMC is responsible for many of the low-level functions on your MacBook and could be responsible for your trackpad issue, even without having a direct relation to it.
- Shut down your Mac from the Apple menu in the Toolbar.
- If your Mac has a removable battery, remove that as well as the power source.
- Press and hold the Power button for five seconds, then reinstall the battery and power up the Mac.
- For a Mac with a non-removable battery, hold down Ctrl + Option + Shift on the keyboard, then press and hold down the Power button for ten seconds.
- Release them and restar the MacBook, which should reset the SMC and get your trackpad working again.
- If your Mac has a T2 security chip, reset the SMC by pressing and holding Control + Shift + Option and the Power button for seven seconds, then reboot your Mac.
5. Reset the Parameter RAM (PRAM) or Non-Volatile RAM (NVRAM)
Depending on your model and age of MacBook, it will use either PRAM or NVRAM. They both hold dedicated configuration settings for your system. Either can be at fault for your trackpad issues, and resetting them follows the same approach.
- Shut down your Mac.
- Press and hold Option + Command + P + R for about 20 seconds. Most MacBooks will play the startup sound, indicating that you can release the keys.
- For newer MacBooks with the T2 security chip, release the keys after the Apple logo appears for the second time.
- This should reset the PRAM/NVRAM, so check whether your trackpad works, and move on if you don’t have success.
6. Delete the Trackpad Property List Files
You may find that a corrupted property list (plist) file could be at fault. Given that we’re looking at a MacBook trackpad issue, there are only two files to consider.
- To locate them, open the Finder, then the “Go -> Go to Folder” menu. The keyboard shortcut to get here from the Finder is Command + Shift + G.
- Type the “/Library/Preferences/” path, then click “Go” in the dialog box that pops up.
- Look for the “com.apple.AppleMultitouchTrackpad.plist” and “com.apple.preference.trackpad.plist” files in the Finder window that displays.
- If either is present, it can be deleted. Once you do so, restart your MacBook and check for any further trackpad issues. If they are still present, you need to carry out some further diagnosis.
7. Adjust Trackpad Tracking Speed
If your trackpad feels sluggish, it’s possible that it’s not a hardware issue. You can improve the responsiveness of your trackpad by tweaking input control settings in the System Preferences app.
- From the System Preferences app, select the “Trackpad” menu option.
- Click and drag the slider beneath the text that reads “Tracking Speed.” Based on whether you’d like your trackpad to respond faster or slower, move the slider to the right or left.
8. Customize Double-Click Speed on the Trackpad
If you are having trouble getting your trackpad to register a double-click action, allotting yourself more time between clicks via the pointer control accessibility settings can make your trackpad feel more responsive.
- Select “Accessibility” from the main menu in System Preferences.
- Select “Pointer Control” from the sidebar menu.
- Finally, use the slider to the right of the text that reads “Double-click speed” to enable more or less time between clicks while performing a double-click.
9. Disable Force Click and Haptic Feedback
Most modern Mac trackpads feature an input force sensor that reveals contextual feedback when a certain degree of pressure is applied to the trackpad. From time to time you may accidentally activate a handful of the features that are enabled by “Force click and haptic feedback,” including “Look Up,” “Quick Look,” and media playback controls. Customizing your Mac to ignore these input methods may prevent unwanted trackpad behavior.
- Select “Trackpad” from the main System Preferences menu.
- Uncheck the box labeled “Force Click and haptic feedback” on the next screen.
10. Run Apple Diagnostics
If you have tried all of the above methods and your trackpad is still behaving unexpectedly, it is recommended that you run the Apple Diagnostics tool. Perform the following workflow to run a series of checks to determine if your Mac has any hardware damage, including a faulty trackpad.
Macs With Apple Silicon
- Reboot your Mac and continue holding the Touch ID/Power button until you see the startup options window.
- Press Command + D on your keyboard.
Macs With Intel Chips
- Restart your Mac. When it boots up, immediately press and hold the D key until you see a progress bar or a “choose a language” prompt.
After you initiate and complete the Apple Diagnostics test, you will be able to view a results page detailing any hardware damage, including damage to your trackpad. If a reference code is provided, take note of it and share it with Apple Support to help them diagnose and remedy any hardware issue(s).
Tip: Some MacBook models, most notably those released in 2008 or earlier, may suffer from a rare battery swelling issue after passing 300 to 500 charge cycles. Swollen MacBook batteries can cause trackpad interference if not repaired. If you believe that a faulty battery could be the cause of your trackpad not working properly, consider it time to contact Apple Support.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I switch between the built-in trackpad and an external mouse on my MacBook?
Yes, you should be able to seamlessly switch between built-in and wireless peripherals, including standalone trackpads and mice. If you find that your built-in trackpad becomes unresponsive while other pointer control devices are connected, navigate to “System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Pointer Control,” then ensure that the box labeled “Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present” is unchecked.
It's not just my trackpad that feels slow. How can I troubleshoot a Mac if it feels unstable or unresponsive?
Sometimes your trackpad may fail to register your input because of a system freeze or when the app that you were using unexpectedly crashes. To remedy these issues, learn how to fix unresponsive apps and system freezes on Mac.
My trackpad works properly in most apps, but sometimes it fails to respond while using other apps. How can I fix this?
If you own a Mac powered by Apple Silicon, some of the apps that you have installed may be optimized for a multitouch-first interface, which may cause the trackpad to feel like it is behaving improperly. To make touch-first apps feel more native on your Mac, click on the name of the app in the Menu Bar, select Settings, then ensure that “Touch Alternatives” are switched to “On.” Read on to determine whether an app has been optimized for Apple Silicon.
Image credit: Christin Hume via Unsplash. All screenshots taken by Brahm Shank.
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