How to Fix MacBook Pro USB-C Port Not Working

The USB-C ports on your MacBook Pro are used for almost everything, from charging to data transfer. And when they stop working, they can bottleneck your workflow. The most common reasons for the USB-C ports to stop working on a MacBook Pro are SMC reset being needed, a faulty USB device, or dust build-up. 

Hi, I’m Devansh. Being a long-time Mac user, I know how easy it is to become reliant on USB-C ports. Since most MacBook Pros have only USB-C ports or just a few of them, it opens them up to significant wear and tear with everyday use.

In this article, I’ll help you solve your USB-C port issue by guiding you through a list of four possible reasons. I’ll also give you details about Apple Support and some common questions.

If you’re frustrated because one or more of your USB-C ports is buggy and keeps getting unresponsive, keep reading!

First Things First

Before you read about the four reasons that follow, it would be great if you could go through this list of quick solutions first.

  • Make sure you’ve installed the latest version of macOS
  • Reboot your MacBook Pro
  • Run an Apple Diagnostics test

The first two steps are straightforward and could reactivate the USB-C ports. Running an Apple Diagnostics test will make it easier to identify if the error is software- or hardware-based, simplifying the troubleshooting process.

Possible Reason #1: SMC Needs to be Reset

If rebooting your MacBook Pro didn’t reactivate your USB-C ports, resetting SMC might do the trick. SMC (System Management Controller) is responsible for distributing power in your MacBook Pro.

If you own an Apple Silicon-based MacBook Pro, you just need to ensure your Mac is connected to your power adaptor and restart it.

For Intel-based MacBook Pros, you must simultaneously press and hold the Control, Option, and Shift buttons. After seven seconds have passed, press and hold the power button too.

Your MacBook Pro will turn off at this point, but you need to keep holding the keys for another seven seconds. After that, wait for around ten seconds and press the power button again to switch on your MacBook Pro.

Note that this applies to MacBooks, including the Apple T2 security chip, which was introduced in late 2017. If you have an older MacBook, you can read the instructions here.

I know that resetting the SMC is almost like a finger gymnastics exercise, but it is highly likely to reactivate your MacBook’s USB-C ports. So, it’s worth giving it a try.

Possible Reason #2: Dead External Drive

It’s possible that the drive you’re trying to connect to your Mac’s USB-C port is faulty. In that case, it isn’t an issue with your Mac’s USB-C port at all. 

The easiest way to check if you have a dead drive is to plug a different device into the USB-C port. If it connects fine, your issue is with the external hard drive and not your MacBook Pro’s USB-C port. 

Another option is trying the possibly faulty external drive on another computer. The drive is bad if it doesn’t work on another computer either. 

Alternatively, you can diagnose this by clicking on the Apple icon in the Menu bar, holding the Option key, and clicking on System Information. In the left sidebar under Hardware, open the USB section.

Can you find your drive in the USB Device Tree? For this example, I connected my iPhone. If you can see it here, but it doesn’t work, that means the drive itself is at fault rather than the port. Be sure to review the drive’s documentation for troubleshooting tips.

You can click on the device to see more info about it like data speed, manufacturer, and current required. It’s also possible that the Finder preferences have been set up to hide the device you’re trying to connect to. For more info on that, read this article.

Possible Reason #3: Faulty USB Device

It’s also possible that the USB device or peripheral you’ve connected to your USB-C port is at fault. It could be that it has a worn-out cable, is overheated, or drawing too much power. There are a few steps you can follow to troubleshoot this.

First, disconnect all non-essential USB devices except the one you’re testing. There must be a direct connection with the MacBook, excluding hubs or extension cables. If the device works fine now, there’s undoubtedly a problem with your other USB devices.

You can reintroduce them to your MacBook one by one. Besides this, you can check for a few other things too.

  • If the device’s cable is worn out, try a different one.
  • If you’re using a USB hub, the data speed of both the device and the hub need to be aligned, like a USB 3.0 Hi-Speed device connected to a USB 3.0 Hi-Speed hub.
  • Install the latest software available for the device directly from the developer.

If you want more advice like this, you can read this article by Apple.

Possible Reason #4: Dust Buildup

If you use your MacBook Pro in a dusty space, its USB-C ports may be clogged with dirt and debris, resulting in frequent connection drops. So, doing a quick cleanup can help reactivate them.

Before you clean the ports, shut down your MacBook Pro. For this process, you need a wooden toothpick or a disposable floss pick (avoid using a metal needle), a can of compressed air, and a soft dry brush or cloth. Now, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Place the thin nozzle of the compressed air can over one USB-C port and spray it a few times.
  • Step 2: Take your toothpick or floss pick, slide it down into the port, move it around the edge, and then bring it back up to flick any dirt or debris out. Be careful and gentle.
  • Step 3: Hold your MacBook Pro with the port facing the floor and blow compressed air in it again, then use a dry brush or cloth to clean around the edges.

Repeat this process for each USB-C port on your MacBook Pro. You can purchase some anti-dust plugs if you don’t want to worry about dust buildup again. This one from PortPlugs comes with ten USB-C plugs, five headphone jack plugs, and a cleaning brush.

What’s Next?

If you’ve tested all the above solutions, but none has reactivated your MacBook Pro’s USB-C ports, there’s likely a more severe issue. It could be water damage, corrosion, or a faulty board. It would be best to get in touch with an Apple repair technician.

For further support, click on the Apple icon in the Menu bar, open About This Mac, and go to the Support section. Based on the current coverage of your MacBook Pro, you’ll find all the available service options here.

FAQs

Now that you know how to reactivate USB-C ports, here are some common questions that might be running around your mind.

Could NVRAM Affect My Mac’s USB-C Ports?

Your MacBook Pro uses Non-Volatile Random Access Memory to store basic settings that it needs quick access to. This includes volume, time zone, and screen resolution. There’s a slim chance that resetting NVRAM will reactivate your USB-C ports. However, it’s worth trying out if you’ve exhausted all other options. You’ll find the instructions here.

What if Firmware is Deactivating My MacBook Pro’s USB-C Ports?

If you want to rule out any software-related causes for your USB-C ports being deactivated, you can use Configurator 2. It will update the firmware and also erase and install the latest version of macOS. Here are the instructions on how to use it for Intel and Apple Silicon.

Conclusion

The USB-C ports on your MacBook Pro suddenly becoming unresponsive can be annoying and lead to reduced productivity. The causes can be everything from faulty USB peripherals to outdated software.

Fortunately, there are many solutions you can try yourself to reactivate them, like resetting SMC, changing Finder preferences, doing a quick cleanup, and many more. Hopefully, trying out these solutions gets the ports up and running again.

Despite your best efforts, if the USB-C ports still aren’t reactivated, I recommend you contact Apple support and consider further options.

Did trying out these solutions reactivate your USB-C ports? Do you have any tips for other users facing the same issue to follow? Feel free to share in the comments!

About Devansh Kamdar
I'm an Apple fan who's been using an iMac and a MacBook Pro for work-related tasks since 2017. I also own an iPhone 13 and several other small Apple accessories. Although I'm preparing to build my own PC soon, I still spend most of the time on my Mac.

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