After a horrible water spill while my unibody MBP was on, I unplugged the laptop almost immediately (after about a minute of disbelief).
I brought my machine to a certified apple technician. Their response was that all six of the moisture sensors had been tripped (duh) and that there was "extensive" corrosion on the logic board. To return the computer to "warranty status" the only option they could recommend was a $1200 flat-rate apple repair.
Curious, I removed the first screws on the bottom of the laptop and didn't see "extensive" damage or really much at all. I decided to order the triwing screwdriver and try a teardown/cleaning to bring the laptop to at least short term functionality rather than "warranty status."
While waiting for my special triwing screwdriver to arrive from ifixit, I practiced on an older MBP that hadn’t turned on for two years. The keyboard is mostly shot, and I reattached the pram battery connector to the logic board with electrical tape (my father and his soldering equipment are many hours away, and after consulting with several like-minded geeks, we decided that strong glues might erode the plastic of the logic board). However, after following many repair guides on the website, a thorough cleaning with 90% isopropyl, and several tries to get the logic board fully connected with all (or almost all) the screws in, the machine powered up the first try. I watched videos on it for a few days and it was running faster and cooler than it ever did before.
After its own teardown and cleaning, my unibody is working nearly perfectly -- like the other machine, its much quieter and cooler after clearing out dust and replacing the thermal paste. The battery seemed to receive the most damage during the spill (I could see corrosion on the connector), but its a relatively small piece to replace. Even though there doesn't seem to be a guide on ifixit, I winged a keyboard removal and cleaning (including all 70 insipid little screws) -- I managed to break my space bar, but those are also easily replaceable.The machine has been running for several days without any stalls or even minor indications of problems.
Before this week, the first and last time that I tried to take apart a computer was a decade ago when I was 16 years old. I got half way through my Dell before I needed another kind of screwdriver. Now, I plan on framing the apple techs’ rather pessimistic reports on both of my computers next to ifixit’s manifesto.
For a novice, tearing down a machine and putting it back together requires an enormous amount of patience and research, but I now feel a much greater connection with this piece of machinery that had already been an extension of my fingers. Macs have their drawbacks, but I was particularly impressed by the evolution between the machines; the unibody has its challenges in accessibility, but its internal organization is really quite elegant.
Besides the wonderful guides from ifixit, the most useful tip I found on the internet was to use ice cube trays to organize screws. When confronting the older MBP I wish I had known more about the Kapton tape -- it doesn't seem to hold its adhesion after its removed, but it also doesn't seem like its really essential to functionality. When removing/cleaning the plastic keyboard backing of the first machine (which also controls the backlight on both machines), I learned how delicate the connectors are. I'd also like to know a bit more about the durability of other plastic parts, especially in the unibody -- I erred on the side of caution when cleaning these.
The only drawback to this experience is that I have now been enlisted to perform the same operation on friends' and friends' parents' machines that have suffered similar liquid damage fates.