Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Lifetime Guarantee!

One nice thing about getting old, you clean up on those lifetime guarantees!

When I was a kid, they would advertise things with a "lifetime guarantee!" and people would be induced to buy things because of that.  For example, the muffler shop would offer a "lifetime guarantee!" on mufflers.  There was a catch though - actually, more than one.

Only the muffler was guaranteed, not the pipes connected to it, or the hangers and clamps.  So if the pipes rusted out and dragged the muffler on the ground, too bad.  Also, pipes tended (back then) to rust out before the mufflers.

Yes, back in the "good old days" of the muscle car era, exhaust systems were made largely of mild steel - which rusted almost immediately.  If you got three years out of an exhaust system, it was a miracle.  Few companies used aluminized mufflers or pipes, none used stainless.  With the advent of emissions controls in the late 1970's, the government mandated that the emissions equipment had to last 50,000 miles (and be warranted for that time), so suddenly, the automakers discovered aluminized steel, galvanized steel, and of course stainless. 

At first, they would only use these materials from the header to the catalytic converter - and then mild steel from there to the tailpipe.  Today, well, exhaust systems can last a decade or more, even in corrosive environments - which is why "aftermarket" exhaust systems are an utter waste of money.  The "Muffler Shop" of yore is either gone, or they morphed into tire/brake shops.  The old days, where you would go to a muffler shop and there would be hundreds of exhaust pipes hanging from the ceiling, like a forest of metal, are gone for good.

But I digress.

The big reason that few people collected on these "lifetime guarantees" was that statistically, people traded their cars in every three years or so, back in the 1960's.  That was the length of a car loan back then, and after three years and 36,000 miles, a car was starting to look ratty.  I recall reading an article back then that the muffler people did a survey on this and noted that most people sold or traded their car withing six months of installing a new muffler.  By then, itt was ready for new tires (bias ply, of course!) and a new battery (36 month!) and a new exhaust system.  People got tired of paying for repairs, so most people traded-in.  And as a result, they never were able to cash-in on these "lifetime guarantees" on mufflers, shocks, or whatever.

A few people did.  I recall talking to one fellow who claimed his Dad got three "free" mufflers out of Sears, because he kept his old Chevy for ten years.  Ten years!  The car must have had close to 100,000 miles on it!  Can you imagine that?  No one keeps a car that long - or did, back then.  But even Dad didn't get away with much - odds are, they charged him for the clamps and pipes (which they would claim needed replacement) and hey, while you're in here, how about an oil change and a tuneup?  And have you replaced the transmission fluid lately?  Rotated the tires?

You see, the "lifetime guarantee" is also a marketing gambit to get repeat business and also lock a customer in to one provider.  Sort of like a loyalty program, I guess.

So, why didn't the muffler company make a stainless-steel or aluminized muffler and make it last forever?  They'd never have to pay out on the guarantee!  Well, as you might imagine, a guy with a three-year-old car (halfway worn out, in 1965!) didn't want to spend much on a muffler. And a guarantee was as good as a product that would last forever.  So, you could have made a super-duper muffler that would last a lifetime, but it would cost so much no one would buy it. Printing out a "Lifetime guarantee" brochure cost only pennies, however.  And of the thousands of mufflers you sold, only a handful were ever replaced under the guarantee, as most people sold their cars within months of replacing the muffler.

Anyway, that was back in the day.  A few places still have "lifetime guarantees" but over the years, these have been watered down a bit, and some of them are pretty flimsy.  Here are some of my experiences with "Lifetime guarantees" that I have had in the past.

Bilstein - Shock Absorbers.  I have put Bilstein shocks on a number of vehicles - even a motorhome. They are a good product, and back in the day when the only other choice were skinny little shock absorbers from the dealer or the local parts store, they were the cat's ass. And they were guaranteed for life.

I only had to replace one pair, on my 1995 F150.  The rear end was getting a little bouncy after 100,000 miles with those shocks, so I called their 1-800 number.  They had, in the past, mailed out new shocks, no questions asked, to people claiming their shocks were busted.  It was more of a hassle for them to get the old shocks back and examine them than it was worth.  But, as you might imagine, folks started abusing this system.  They would claim their shocks were bad and get a free set, which they would then sell on eBay or Craigslist, or just use on another car.  Or maybe they never bought Bilsteins in the first place!

So when I called, they explained I would have to mail in my old shocks, to have them examined.  And since I could not drive around with no shock absorbers, I bought a new pair from them in the interim.  I mailed back the old pair - at my expense as I recall - and a month later, I did get a credit on my credit card.  So they still stood behind their product, they just stopped being chumps about it.

And many other companies have had the same experience.  Many require original sales receipts, which most people don't keep for ten years, much less a lifetime.  It is one reason why I put all receipts for vehicle stuff in a binder for that vehicle.  It helps me keep track of what work was done on it (handy for resale as well) and came in handy with lifetime guarantees as well.

Tilley - HatsTilley makes hats, including their original "Endurable" Cotton Duck T3 hat.  We bought two of their hats at Oshkosh back in the 1990's, so we've had them for like 30 years.  Mark's started to get shabby - sweat stained and the grommets corroded.  The hat started to disintegrate, probably as a result of being bleached too often.  I mailed in the hat and they sent us a new one - that was about five years ago.

This year, my hat finally reached the point of no return.  Today, you have to submit your claim online, and perhaps submit photos of the damage to the hat and also photos to confirm you destroyed the old hat (lest someone else use it to claim a free hat!).  And they are clear that only the "Guaranteed for Life!" hats are guaranteed for life.  This leaves me with the impression that not all their hats are guaranteed for life anymore, if in fact any of them are.

When we bought these hats, I think that was their only product, or at least, one of a few hats that they made.  Today, they sell whole lines of hats in all sorts of colors (other than "natural") as well as clothing.  As you might expect, the company was sold - then re-sold - and now the hats are made in China.

So maybe the lifetime guarantee is off the table.  But during their heyday, they honored it.  I filled out the online form for my hat, and we'll see where that goes.  I'll update the posting if they send me a new hat or not.

Yakima - Bicycle Racks.  There used to be two high-end fussy bike-rack companies - Yakima and Thule.  Yakima had round bars, Thule had square ones.  Like Apple versus Android, you picked a universe and lived in it.  Over the years, we bought and sold many Yakima items as we bought and sold bicycles, canoes, and kayaks, and fitted the racks to various vehicles, from cars to trucks to campers to trailers.  We bought a Yakima "Rocket Box" to haul things in as well.  And over the years, we've bought a few Thule items, as well as from up-and-coming producer Rhino Racks (from down under!) and some generic wanna-be things from Walmart.

The Yakima and Thule stuff isn't cheap, but it fits perfectly and interacts with factory rack mounts.  Many people balk at the cost of these racks and then buy some cheap rack at Walmart which attaches to their trunklid and scratches the paint and dumps their bicycle on the road at the first pothole (we've seen it, in our travels - bicycles mangled as they are run over by big trucks).

So yea, Yakima and Thule stuff is expensive, but you'll have it forever, you can always sell it on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace or whatever, and it is flexible and adaptable to different vehicles and different items to carry.  And Yakima racks are guaranteed for life.  To the original purchaser only!  Save those receipts!

Well, sort of.  We have two "old school" Yakima bike racks that we bought back in 1999 when we bought the two TREK bicycles.  You have to remove the front wheel (which locks onto another rack) and the front fork locks into a "head" while the rear wheel rides in a channel and straps in place.   They worked well, provided you don't mind removing the front wheel all the time.

We had another kind, which let you keep the wheel on, but clamped to the frame.  It worked OK, too, but scratched the paint on the frame.  Plus it rode very high.  I sold those to a neighbor when I no longer needed them.

Well, so far, so good.  I had some experience with their "lifetime" warranty as our kayak saddles had rubber inserts that, after a decade, started to rot away.  I called their 1-800 number and the "dude" who answered the phone cheerfully sent me a new set.   Far-out!

A few years later, the plastic latch on the bicycle rack "head" cracked and I called again.  Once again, they sent out a new part (the head) for free.  What a company!  Stands behind their products!

Well, two years later, the latch on the other head cracked (plastic, again) and I called Yakima.  They told me they no longer made that product and thus could not send me a replacement head.  They helpfully offered to sell me a new rack, however.

So,"lifetime" means lifetime of the product, not my lifetime.   And you can understand why they might want to take that stance.  Since the products last a long time, they change hands frequently and someone can buy the product, broken, for cheap, and then claim it broke under their stewardship, and get a new one - for a fraction of the cost!  Sweet deal - but one that could bankrupt a company, over time.  Lifetime guarantees are easy to make when you have been in business only a few years.  Over time, they add up to a staggering liability.

L.L.Bean, the overpriced Maine woods outfitter, ran into this same problem.  Their boots and jackets and whatnot were "guaranteed for life" and what's more, their return policy was generous.  You could return a product for any reason and get store credit.  So wily shoppers went to garage sales and whatnot and snapped up anything with an L.L.Bean label on it, and then took it to the store for a "return" and credit, and pretty soon, you have enough store credit to buy a canoe - for a fraction of the cost!

So, as you might imagine, L.L.Bean started reining-in their policy.  Want to return it?  Sure, let me see your sales receipt!  Returns are only authorized for original purchasers.  And I am sure that, over time, they will tighten this policy even further.  For example, they now allow returns for any reason only for one year.  After that, well, it better be defective, not just worn out.  And to prove you are within one year, well, you need that receipt.

That is another reason why few people collect on Lifetime Guarantees - laziness or forgetfulness.  You have an old hat and it gets grungy - you throw it out without thinking about it.  You forgot about the lifetime guarantee, or it seems like too much hassle to pack up the hat and ship it to Canada (as I did with Mr. See's hat).  So you go out and buy a new hat.  Statistically, few people collect on these deals, mostly because they don't bother to ask.

One reason why stores request a driver's license when you return something is so they can track who is returning.  Amazon does this as well and "bans" users who buy things and then return them.  People were actually buying wedding dresses, getting married, and then returning them when done.  Saves the bride a couple of grand, but costs Amazon (or the seller) the same amount - no one will pay top dollar for a used wedding dress.

So when Walmart asks me for a driver's license, it is to track how many times I return things.  If I become a serial returner, well, they will suspect something is up and ban me as well.

I recounted before how I was at a Lowe's once, and this crackhead lady wanted to return a $200 faucet (why are faucets so freaking expensive, anyway?  Subject for a new posting, as I will need new faucets shortly).   They were just starting to put RFID chips in the high-value products and the guy at the return desk told the lady she couldn't return the item because their inventory control system showed the item as being on the shelf.  RFID chips can not only detect when an item is carried out without paying, but attach individual serial numbers to products, so as to identify stolen goods.

The guy was flat-out calling the lady a thief, without saying so.  She tried to argue, but finally realized what he was saying.  And when the clerk made noises about the police, she left the store.

Stolen goods are another source of "returns" as well, which is, unfortunately, another reason why these "lifetime guarantees" are fading from the scene.

So, "Lifetime Guarantees" may become a thing of the past - or are becoming a thing of the past, as, over time, every company that offers them, accumulates more and more liability for every product they sell.  Eventually, it could bankrupt the company.  So save those receipts - companies are being more strict with these guarantees - if they offer them at all.

UPDATE:  Tilley claims that unless the words "Lifetime Guarantee" appear on the label, it isn't covered.  Here is the label - they claim I can get it replaced even if it just wears out - and I should leave it in my will!  In other words, a perpetual guarantee - even to my descendants!  We'll see if they honor this or not...

The hat label - is this a "Lifetime Guarantee or not?"

Quite frankly, I understand the business case here.  I bought these hats 30 years ago from a predecessor company.  They already replaced one.  Why replace the other?  It is a total loss for them.  And do "Lifetime Guarantees" really sell goods anymore?  Which would you rather have, a $25 hat with no guarantee, or a $100 hat with a guarantee?  Odds are, four $25 hats will last you a lifetime.  And you don't have to hassle with guarantees, filling out forms, or saving receipts!

UPDATE:  They agreed to replace the hat (Currently selling for $99) but there is a $20 "processing fee" to cover shipping and handling, plus $1.20 in tax (?).  Considering these are now made in China, well, they are at worst, breaking even, I think!  Still, $99 hat for $20 - or am I being a chump, here?  It will be interesting to see if the new hat has the "Lifetime Guarantee" or not.....

UPDATE:  The new hat arrived today, five days after I submitted the claim.  It is nice and the "olive" color shows stains less.  The new hat does not have "Lifetime Guarantee" or any such language in the label.  There was cardboard tag attached saying it has a lifetime guarantee, and it suggested I register the hat with them within 60 days of purchase.  But when I went to their site to register it, the page only shows claims - no registration.  Oh, well, the last hat lasted nearly 30 years.  I doubt I will need a new one by age 92....