The Obsession with Firearms and Accessories Warranties

By Randy Wakeman

You can't escape it; there is a nuclear proliferation that is developing over "lifetime warranties" appertaining to firearms, scopes and about every accessory you can name. It clogs Internet chatter forums, and loads up Guns & Shooting Online e-mail like few other topics.

Everyone seems to want to develop their version of what a warranty is and isn't; a few people apparently think that a warranty should mean free new product forever? It does not work exactly that way with $50,000 automobiles, and it doesn't work that way with $800 firearms or $300 scopes.

Necessarily, the customer always pays for the warranty one way or another. Man-hours costs money, replacement product costs money, and that those funds necessarily can come only from product sales. Nothing is truly "free" meaning "at no cost," and those costs have to be funded by something.

This little missive is not meant to give legal advice; a qualified attorney can render that for you. That said, I know of no attorney that would waste his time arguing the merits of what a lifetime warranty might be on a $400 product.

For starters, we really have to read what written warranties actually cover. As a generality, all they are is a written promise against defects in workmanship or materials. No factory representative, much less a local dealer, can easily modify written warranties verbally, which is why the contracts are written in the first place. If you read most warranties, you may discover that what constitutes a "defect" is at the sole discretion of the manufacturer.

Taken literally, which is the way they should be taken, warranties mean very little. A promise from a manufacturer is only as good as the manufacturer itself. If something is "defective," the manufacturer gets to decide that. The timeliness of the repair or replacement is seldom addressed, meaning once again that the warranties are more marketing tools than matters of substance. A "lifetime warranty" might make you feel good, might help you buy a certain product, but it hardly makes a product better. The best "warranty" of all is the one that is never used.

Sturm, Ruger, & Company does not offer a written warranty. Yet, that has proved to be a meaningless situation since Ruger, like most reputable manufacturers, stands behind their product in excess of what any common written warranty would promise anyway.

I've had one warranty situation with Ruger in my lifetime, a new Mini-30 that just plain would not shoot. (This goes back quite a few years, certainly pre-Internet.) It wouldn't shoot for me, and it wouldn't shoot for Ruger, either. At the end of the day Ruger bought the gun back from me at my full retail purchase price, including tax, and paid me what it cost for me to ship it back to Ruger. All this was accomplished with no factory written warranty by Ruger. Ruger is a quality American Company, one of the very few publicly traded companies in firearms land.

To cite and rate all the shooting sports manufacturers would likely cause more ruckus than it is worth, but I will mention that Savage Arms now has one of the best customer service teams in the business and that Browning has also done very, very well for me if at a sometimes sluggish pace. Leupold is renown for their excellent customer service and their lifetime guarantee (not "warrantee"). Mark DeHaan of DeHaan shotguns deserves special mention for his outstanding approach to customer service, thus his citation here. Some other companies apparently just don't have "customer service."

The point of all this is to encourage folks to engage directly with the manufacturer when there are questions that they perceive to be warranty-related. That's where your product must go anyway to be inspected and assessed. Speculation by Internet or phone produces nothing; the factory needs to see the product just like in any other industry. Mercedes dealers rarely make house calls. We have some great companies in our industry, to be sure, and we have some that are not so great.

Manufacturers have to walk a tight rope between good customer service and encouraging dependency, the frivolous, and "neediness." Not an easy task today in light of the lawsuit over McDonald's coffee that if anything should be warranted to be hot, not cold.

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Copyright 2007, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.