A Lifetime Warranty: The Truth...
The majority of manufacturers in the game room industry today offer some form of "lifetime warranty" on their product. This was not a common practice until the 1990's, when a few companies started to guarantee their product for longer periods to gain a competitive advantage. In the early 2000's, most companies stated a "lifetime warranty", even if they had no intention or means to honor one. Most of the fly-by-night manufacturer's are out of business at this point in 2012, along with some very high quality major brands as well. The customers who opted to purchase from those companies now have no warranty at all on their game room items.
1st Truth: A Lifetime Warranty is only as good as the chance a company will stay in business.
Manufacturer's with 30+ years in business, a strong dealer network all over the country, and cash in the bank are much more likely to be around in 10 years when you might need parts. If a manufacturer is only a few years old and distributes only through it's own web site, how can their "lifetime warranty" possibly be as good as a company with decades in business and a large dealer network supporting them in good times and bad. In addition, dealer networks demand companies honor their warranties and keep old parts around because those specialty retailers reputations depend on service after the sale. The best companies even pay their dealers to go back and fix warranty issues, making sure that the warranty is covered for service and parts!
2nd Truth: Most Lifetime Warranties only cover parts, not shipping or labor.
If you read most warranty statements they are very short and non-specific. This is to make sure that the manufacturer can get out of real trouble when something goes wrong. A great example is a shuffleboard play surface, lets say a 16' model. If you have a defective play surface the wholesale replacement cost to the manufacturer is north of $1,800, not something they want to "eat". The real story is the shipping to your home, figure $300 to $500 and unloading the truck. Then a dealer/contractor has to be paid to replace and re-install the play surface, another $200 to $400+ service charge. Then the old play surface has to be disposed of. Manufacturer's know that when you call to complain about a little wood splitting or cracks in the play surface, they can point out that the shipping and installation charges are not covered by warranty. It is a game of chicken, they know you are going to live with the warranty issue to avoid spending $1,000 plus to get it fixed!
3rd Truth: Most Lifetime Warranties only cover certain parts of your game table.
This is rampant even among major reputable manufacturer's. In the worst cases, pool tables will have a "lifetime warranty", but only on the slate play surface. Slate is never mined by the pool table manufacturer, they just buy it and include it with their pool tables. These manufacturer's are trying to avoid warranties on the Wood Components of their pool tables because that is where the splitting, separation, and finish problems will develop down the road. The best pool table manufacturer's will warranty not only the slate, but all wood components and even the cushion rubber! At the time I write this the only companies with a warranty that good are Legacy Billiards, Olhausen Billiards, and Brunswick Billiards. Even they, however, will not warranty leather pockets so take it easy when you play! Shuffleboard tables are once again where most companies will play games with what is covered by a "lifetime warranty" Everyone has a lifetime warranty on the "play surface", but in most cases that just means the Resin top coat not the wood! Look for one to three year warranties on the wood portion of the play surface and take that "lifetime warranty" with a grain of salt. Even worse are the cabinets, typically only having a one year warranty, on an item costing well over $5,000 in most cases. This is another example of most companies offering their "lifetime" warranty on only the parts that are least likely to develop problems. At the time of publication only Olhausen Games offers a lifetime warranty on all wood components.
4th Truth: The "Lifetime" in a "Lifetime Warranty" is open to interpretation.
What is the definition of "lifetime"? Is it your lifetime, the expected life time of the game room item, or is it the life time of the manufacturer's product cycle? Very few companies disclose this in their warranty statements. Sometimes the only way to find out is by having a problem years down the road. We recently had a bad leg on a table from the mid 90's in a customers home (splitting wood). When we contacted the manufacturer it was discovered that the table was out of production and parts could not be had. The only option was to send a leg that did not match, which actually honored the warranty on the table to the best of the manufacturer's ability. The customer had no recourse because the manufacturer's Lifetime Warranty was for the lifetime of the product cycle, 15 years. Some manufacturers have the ability to build new parts from scratch, but it often involves sending old pieces of the furniture back to the factory to get a wood stain match. This service is not covered by warranty and ends up costing the owner money.
In the end, the "lifetime warranty" has become a marketing tool used by almost every manufacturer. Very few companies go into the details mentioned in this article for good reason: Manufacturer want to avoid honoring warranty claims whenever possible. The much maligned specialty retailers and online owner reviews are the only thing keeping most manufacturer's honest. Without small businesses that stake their reputation on service after the sale you are forced to deal directly with the manufacturer when you need help. That is something to consider when making a $2,000 plus purchase, especially if you have no one to help you locally. Unlike auto dealerships, no local game room specialty retailer is obligated to help you with your warranty issues, so be nice if you buy somewhere else and need help! After all, your local specialty retailer depends on your referrals and repeat business. Manufacturer's who sell direct are insulated by web sites and distance. Rest assured you will never get a chance to voice your displeasure face to face when your 'lifetime warranty" turns to smoke.
- Patrick McGarity