Fix a Mac Showing the Wrong Time & Date

May 7, 2016 - 11 Comments

Fix a Mac showing the wrong time

Rarely, Mac users may notice their clock is displaying the wrong system time. This typically occurs after a Mac has been shut down for an extended amount of time and hasn’t connected to the internet in a while, but it can also happen with traveling across date lines, between regions with daylight savings time observations, and in other situations as well.

While having the clock off may not sound like a big deal, it can lead to all sorts of frustrating issues, from some apps not working, to an inability to install OS X due to verification errors, to “connection not private” errors in web browsers, to a variety of other nuisances.

Fortunately, fixing the Mac clock if it’s showing an incorrect time is quite simple, as we’ll demonstrate in this walkthrough.

How to Fix an Incorrect Time Displaying in Mac OS X

Be sure the Mac is connected to a wi-fi network or ethernet network, this is necessary to access the internet time servers and maintain a consistently accurate date and time on the Mac clock.

  1. Go to the  Apple menu and choose ‘System Preferences’
  2. Select the “Date & Time” control panel
  3. Choose the “Date & Time” tab and check the box for “Set date and time automatically:” – optionally, choose a different time server to use, but the Apple time server time.apple.com is highly accurate and this is really not necessary unless the detected region is wrong
  4. Set date and time automatically to fix wrong clock display on Mac

  5. Now choose the “Time Zone” tab and check the box next to “Set time zone automatically using current location” – this will use location services to determine where the Mac is located so that the date and time are consistently updated automatically, even if the computer moves across time zones
  6. Set time zone to fix wrong time and date in Mac OS X

  7. Double-check the time is correctly showing in the upper-right corner menu bar clock and in the “Clock” preference panel, and exit out of System Preferences when finished

That is by far the simplest approach to guaranteeing the Mac consistently shows the proper time in the clock and uses the proper date and time with applications. This is the recommended approach, particularly for Mac users who travel or who leave their computers off for an extended period of time, as the latest region and time is pulled automatically from Apple servers to set the proper clock and date information.

Option 2: Manually Setting the Mac Clock, Date, Time, Time Zone

For users who do not want to enable location services, in situations where the Mac is not accessing the internet, or for whatever reason just don’t want to use the recommended automatic time detection settings (maybe you’re building a time machine? How exciting), you can also manually set the clock and date and time yourself in Mac OS X. This is done through the same preference panel:
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  • From the  Apple menu, choose ‘System Preferences’
  • Select the “Date & Time” control panel
  • Choose the “Date & Time” tab and uncheck the box for automatically setting the time, then use the little dials and knobs on the visual clock and calendar to set the proper time and date yourself
  • Set the clock manually to fix wrong time in Mac OS X

  • Next, go to the “Time Zone” tab and uncheck the ‘set time zone automatically’ setting, then clicking on the world map where your location is that you want to set the time zone to
  • Insure the date and time are correct, and exit out of the settings
  • There’s nothing inherently wrong with setting the date and time yourself on a Mac, but if you change locations, if the computer has been off for an extended period, or maybe the Mac was sent into orbit for a while or out elsewhere into space and experienced the effects of special relativity, you may see the clocks are off as a result. Thus, it’s best to use the automatic settings in Mac OS X to determine location and set the time appropriately via Apple’s time servers.

    Why is the Mac showing the wrong time? Why is the clock off?

    The most common reasons for Macs to display the wrong time are:

    • The Mac has been turned off for an extended period of time
    • The Mac is older and the onboard battery has died, thereby necessitating manual clock setting or proper time serving from the internet
    • The clock or time zone in Mac OS X was inadvertently changed
    • The Mac changed time zones (say, a MacBook traveling overseas) and the computer did not update the date and time for the new location
    • Location services are disabled on the Mac, as is automatic time server setting
    • The Mac functioned as a satellite, traveled into orbit, hung around on ISS for a while, or spent time in deep space and has now experienced special relativity and or time dilation – this is perhaps less likely unless you’re an astronaut or a rocket scientist, but hey it’s possible!

    If your Mac went into outer space, the clock may display incorrectly as a result

    Of course there are other possible situations where a clock can go awry as well, but these are the most common reasons you’ll see the clock off on a Mac. If you encountered these issues after coming back from an extended break or after traveling across the date line or into a new time zone, you may also discover your iOS devices are off as well, but fortunately fixing an iPhone or iPad showing the wrong time is easy too.

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    Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

    11 Comments

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    1. Wannabe Space Man says:

      Well my date and time are fine, but I sure would like to send my Mac into outer space for it to experience relativity. Maybe I can go with it? Anyone have the number for Elon Musk?

    2. TimeFreek says:

      Apple’s time servers are supposed to be accurate. So are eBay’s. So are AT&T Mobile’s. So is the Naval Observatory. Yet in my house, they disagree, often more than a minute.
      ???

      • Sebby says:

        FWIW, they are Stratum-1 servers, which means that they take data from something like GPS (a bit of Googling says it’s GPS, in fact). Curiously, though, they aren’t in the public NTP server lists or pool, so either they aren’t welcome there or nobody knows about them except Apple customers. :)

        As an aside, you don’t need location services to keep accurate time; simply set the time zone correctly but continue to use a time server for date and time. This is unlike on iOS where automatic timekeeping means automatic timezone management. :(

    3. Sheri Ross says:

      I have a different date/time problem. Occasionally I will glance at the calendar icon in the dock and will see that the date shown on the icon is from several days ago. The only way to get it to update is to restart the iMac. Anyone know why this happens and if there’s a way to fix it?

    4. Eric says:

      This is a somewhat specific clock problem, but the system time can also become corrupted if the cable (or connector) from your keyboard to the motherboard has become damaged or loose. When this happens, it seems to cause an error (possibly with the onboard battery) whenever the system sleeps. The issue is usually corrected with a full restart, or by the methods mentioned in the article. It’s unfortunate that Apple has not included a built-in hook to re-calibrate the clock on wake, though I can think of a number of reasons why they might choose not to do that (such as having to first re-establish a network connection).

    5. Mohan Desai says:

      Useful information, sometimes auto date and time do not work so I prefer to fix it by setting it manually.

    6. Bill says:

      This didn’t work. My MacBook is 4 min off. Weird. My ipad, iphone, watch, and son’s ipad all agree on a time that is 4 min different from my MacBook. What’s the problem? And yes it is set to “set time and date automatically.”

      • Tony says:

        Bill my MacPro is also about 4 min off even with the time server. As you said, and yes “set time and date automatically” is set. I turned it on turned it off then back again, tried all three time servers still 4 min. off. Rebooted, etc, no joy, 4 min off.

    7. cmt says:

      very helpful, thank you!

    8. Laura Davis says:

      Can someone please help me? I can’t seem to change the date on my MacBook Air. I just reset the entire computer because it glitched and now the date is set for 6 feb 2560BE and I can’t change the year for some reason. I have tried to manually change it and it won’t let it just keeps going back. can someone please give me some answers.

    9. Suzanne Edwards says:

      Followed instructions and the time is now 8 minutes ahead (4 minutes before following instructions!!) – it is a desktop iMac that is less than 12 months old, it never moves across date lines. The iMac is never off for longer than 12 hours in the week and in preferences “set time and date automatically” is selected. It recognises my location but doesn’t seem to know the time. All other apple devices are accurate.
      It is very annoying, but on the plus side, I am never late for meetings!
      Any suggestions beyond manually setting the clock?
      Thanks

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