What's a Warranty Worth?


Recently I took several Hunter Douglas folding blinds to a local dealer for what I thought would be warranty repair. When my wife picked up the blinds she was presented with a bill for over $150 for three blinds, all of which had a "lifetime" warranty.

One of the reasons I had originally purchased Hunter Douglas blinds was because they were made in the US and had a lifetime warranty. But times change...

Three years ago I had some Hunter Douglas blinds with similar issues (broken or twisted cords inside the blind) repaired by Hunter Douglas at their factory for free. So what changed? Back then I was allowed to take the blinds directly to the factory in Denver, but recently I was required to tender them via a dealer. Am I going to call Hunter Douglas and complain vociferously? You Betcha! Will I ever buy another Hunter Douglas shade? That's highly doubtful.

So how does this apply to audio gear? When a manufacturer offers a warranty on a new product it tells the consumer that the maker expects the product to function for AT LEAST the warranty period. It also gives the consumer an idea of how reliable a manufacturer expects that piece of gear to be.

The more expensive a component is, the more complete and long-term you would expect the warranty to be. Conversely, inexpensive gear usually has a shorter warranty. Personal audio products sometimes have warranties as brief as 90 days. Usually refurbished products also have shorter warranty periods than brand new ones. It can be edifying to compare the new and refurb warranties - if they are identical it shows the manufacturer has complete faith in their refurb department.

Obviously an "ironclad" warranty from a firm that is no longer in business doesn't help the consumer much. Smaller companies (like many high-end audio firms) are less likely to be around in 10 years (let alone have parts for older products) than large conglomerates. But smaller companies are also more likely to bend their rules and go that extra mile to find an odd part and take care of an arcane issue than most big firms.

This still doesn't answer the primary question - what is a warranty worth? Independent warranty firms such as Square Trade, think they know what a warranty is worth, just go to their website and they'll make you an offer. And for pricy portable items, such as iPads and smart-phones, third-party warranties are a reasonable option for many consumers.

i've come to the conclusion that warranties are only as good as the company itself. Apple delivers excellent service while their products are under warranty. But once an Apple product is no longer covered by Apple Care, repairs become both expensive and inconvenient. The message from Apple is "we only care about new products."

Some larger audio firms have a similar attitude. If it breaks during the first couple of days after you get a new component, you're covered, sometimes even for an immediate replacement. Other firms require you to return the broken unit to their central facility THEN they decide whether to repair or replace. In a worst-case scenario a consumer could buy a new component, have it fail during the first 24 hours, and be compelled by the manufacturer to return it to the factory (instead of merely exchanging it for a new working unit) and then wait weeks for the repair to be completed before the unit is returned. That sucks.

So what's a consumer to do? Check a manufacturer's warranty policies before you buy a product. Also ask the retailer how they handle DOA or within 48 hours of delivery repairs.

And last of all, when a manufacturer offers a "lifetime" warranty find out whose lifetime they mean. In the case of Hunter Douglas that lifetime had the longevity of a firefly, which is a shame because it used to be worth something...



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