lifetime warranties are (often) scams
I've noticed that more and more companies are starting to offer lifetime warranties and touting it as some sort of amazing feature when in reality they are not nearly as great as companies make them out to be.
I recently had a zipper pull on my new North Face backpack break after hardly one month of use. This is what is written on the North Face website about their Limited Lifetime Warranty (emphasis mine).
If your product covered by this warranty fails due to a manufacturing defect we will repair it without charge, or replace it, at our discretion. Only original, unaltered and unmodified items and workmanship are covered. This warranty does not cover damage caused by accident, improper care, negligence, normal wear and tear, or the natural breakdown of colors and materials over extended time and use. Damage not covered under warranty may be repaired for a reasonable rate and a fee will be charged for return shipping.
How can you possible tell what constitutes as 'normal wear and tear'? It could be argued that my zipper pull breaking was a result of normal wear and tear. My point is, when left up to the discretion of the vendor, we the consumers will always be at their mercy when it comes to issues of warranty.
(Luckily for me, after some pestering via email and a lot of waiting, TNF agreed to send me some zipper pulls to replace my broken one. Whether they actually show up is another question. But this whole fiasco got me thinking just how little recourse I would have if they were to either completely ignore my request or decide that it isn't covered under warranty.)
Even if companies stick to their word and honor their warranty, there's still some things to think about when evaluating warranty policies. Vendors often take forever to process warranty claims, making the process difficult and longer than you might be willing to wait for a repair or replacement. And even if they do approve your claim, what about the cost of shipping? This is what the TNF website says about that:
All shipping to the Warranty Repair Department must be pre-paid and insured. The North Face will not be liable for in-bound packages that are lost. Our policy requires that products accepted for repair be clean. Charges will be assessed if cleaning is necessary or product may be returned to you if it cannot be adequately cleaned.
Even some of the best of warranties, like Osprey's All Mighty Guarantee or GORUCK's Scars Lifetime Guarantee, don't cover the cost of shipping your product back to them for repair (though they do cover the cost of shipping it back to you). This shipping cost may end up being a significant amount, especially if the product is large and/or the destination is far. Is it really worth $20 to ship your old $100 bag in for repairs? You decide.
After some time reading about people's experiences with lifetime warranties and dealing with them myself, I've learned to appraise them more pragmatically. Here are the things I would do now to properly judge whether one is worth weighing into my decision over whether to buy a product or not.
- Read the warranty carefully, every bit of it! Does the warranty cover your product? What kind of damage does it cover?
- Read other people's experience dealing with said warranty. What does the warranty process look like? Is it easy to get your warranty claim approved?
- How much does your product cost? Is it worth the cost of shipping it in for repairs?
If you still have a favorable view of the warranty after answering all these questions, then go for it! Let that be a factor when you decide to buy something. We should all support companies that stand behind their products. And if you come away discouraged (I usually am, companies that have bulletproof reputations are hard to come by), then take their warranty with a grain of salt, and don't let yourself be swayed by the marketing.