Over the years we have encountered many very unhappy people who had purchased equipment through other retailers. These people thought they had purchased wisely but unfortunately did not have all of the information needed to make the best decision and fell victim to marketing hype. After throwing away hundreds or even thousands of dollars it is understandable that they were unimpressed. In our view there are a variety of factors to consider to avoid making a problematic purchasing decision. Your equipment dealer should be there to support your product for the life of the equipment. Before you buy, drop in and see us. We would be happy to assist you in making your decision.
The following sections review some of the main points you should consider when thinking of purchasing new equipment.
In Canada we like to pride ourselves on being at the forefront of health and safety. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Vibration levels in the cheaper hand held equipment sold in this country pose health risks. Other countries such as England have clamped down on this due to high levels of compensation claims. In Canada we still see products sold at the stores with no anti vibration protection. Combine that with a half crankshaft two stroke engine and you get vibration levels that are high enough to cause mufflers and carburetors to break right off equipment. If using a piece of equipment causes your fingers or arms to go numb you are causing nerve damage. Some of the worst offenders will cause your entire forearms to go numb right up to your elbows within minutes of using them. Other products that need particular attention are generators. We have seen many that have no CSA approval and have heard reports of people being offered a CSA sticker for an extra few dollars. A fire or electrocution is never worth a cheap price.
A person with extensive product knowledge can help you to determine the proper equipment to purchase to meet your needs. You wouldn't buy a pick up truck if you want to pull transport trailers and be a long haul trucker. The same is true in outdoor power equipment. We see this problem all too often. The equipment purchased is performing as it should, but it is the wrong equipment for the job. This results in either equipment constantly breaking or not even being able to complete the task. Unfortunately the consumer has wasted all of their money. We see this most often with people trying to install snow blowers on low quality mass merchant lawn tractors. The tractor is just not built heavy enough for this use and results in constant breakdowns and very poor performance. Sadly many people have $6000 to $7000 invested before they find this out.
Consolidation has meant that many once proud manufacturers of quality equipment have been bought up by other corporate giants. Many times it is only the name that survives. The new owner of the name will apply it to current units it produces. Simply applying the well known name and changing the colour of the equipment opens new markets to the manufacturer. The identical (other than colour and name) equipment can be sold in multiple retail chains with each retailer being able to claim to have an "exclusive" brand. Unsuspecting consumers pay more to buy the brand they knew as a quality product only to find out the hard way that it is nothing like the original. To add insult to injury if the consumer shops around they can find the identical product with a different colour and name selling for much less.
This is probably the biggest cause of problems. The old saying "You get what you pay for" is very true. Price should be looked at as Price / Value. Hand held equipment seems to be a particularly bad area for this. Take a chainsaw for example. The retailers will happily sell you one in a box for $200. The manufacturer has cut all the corners possible to keep that price down. Any 2 stroke product needs to be properly set up and engine rpm set to specification. Failure to do so will dramatically reduce product life. Given these factors the saw will provide poor performance for maybe 2 years before being sent off to the landfill.
In 10 years you have spent $1000 (or $100 per year) for poor, unreliable performance that also includes potential health risks (see Health / Safety section). A good mid range saw will cost in the area of $500 but properly set up and maintained will easily last 20 years (or $25 per year). Additionally you will get higher performance, reliability and comfort. Larger purchases are not immune to this fault either. We have seen new tractors purchased for $1800 that were not economically repairable after 2 years even though there was a 4 year warranty on the tractor (see Warranty section).
All manufacturers would have you believe their products are of the highest quality. Obviously this is not always the case. Items in the lower price range of a product are usually always produced with the retail price being the prime motivator. Retailers will tell the manufacturer that they require a product to be sold at a very low retail price. Manufacturers will often take existing models of a higher price and further reduce quality and features to be able to meet the lower retail price. As a consumer some signs will be evident. Look for lots of plastic and where steel is still used it will be very thin. In recent years we have been seeing one popular brand of tractors where the frame can be flexed by hand, a long life will not be a feature of this tractor.
In general terms most low price equipment has either no support network or very limited support. Parts and service are not required, as the goal of the manufacturer and retailer is to have the consumer throw it out and buy another one. Some low priced equipment is not necessarily inexpensive. Spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment that cannot be repaired since there are no parts or service available is a shock to many people.
Even some brands that have been well known for their past quality have weak support networks (see Name Game section). Some of these manufacturers have started to sell their products in the mass merchant channel which many times includes cheapening up the product to meet price points. Dealers not wanting to sell an inferior product have dropped the manufacturer causing wide areas where no parts or service is available. Some manufacturers make little or nothing selling through the mass merchants so have turned to charging very inflated parts prices for profitability.
Companies love to promote their strong warranty. Read the fine print. There are no manufacturers that cover all problems. Only manufacturers defects are covered under warranty. A good dealer will review proper operating procedures with a customer to teach the customer how to avoid many of the common non-warranty problems such as fuel handling.
Retailers love to sell this, consumers like the idea of the extra protection, but just try to collect it. These warranties go through 3rd parties who seem to have little or no support network. Sure you can call someone on an 800 phone line, but they cannot repair your problem. Customers have found that they cannot find anyone willing to actually perform the repairs. At that point, after many arguments and frustrating delays, they may finally get the cost of the extended warranty reimbursed but only after lengthy delays and the inconvenience of being without their equipment. After this whole process the customer is still left with a broken piece of equipment that they had assumed would be supported by the retailer.
If you are not purchasing equipment from a servicing dealer then make sure you find out who provides the support services for that product. If the retailer is even able to provide a name and a number then make sure to call the number before you buy. We see many cases of retailers just throwing a name out there and saying that company X will help you with all your needs. In reality company X either will not or will get around to your equipment when they have finished up all their other work. Customers are shocked to find out that sometimes to obtain warranty work they must load up their equipment and deliver it many miles away. Then they have to wait a few weeks and repeat the process to pick the equipment back up. Some retailers will have you bring your equipment for repair back to the store. The retailer will then have the equipment shipped by truck to a repair facility hundreds of miles away. The customers original complaint with the equipment will be translated many times during this process. When a technician eventually looks at the problem the chances of having an accurate description of the problem are slim and so are the odds of a successful repair. The product must now make its journey back to the customer. Some retailers would have you believe they can do all of this in a week but practical experience has proven otherwise. All charges not paid by the manufacturer will be billed to the customer.
Mass Merchants: The big box stores and other national chains flood the consumer with advertising information. Much of it is misleading or confusing. Misleading information can include marketing low quality items under names such as "Pro" or "Professional" (see Name Game section). They can also reassure you that you are making a good decision by offering longer warranties or even extended warranties. Buyer beware definitely applies (see Warranty section). A lack of after sale support is one of their biggest flaws (see Support section). You may find yourself on your own once you get past the cash register. Upon opening your purchase you may immediately find the dreaded "Do Not Return To Store" notice. After sale support commonly includes a blank stare from an untrained store associate followed by multiple attempts to find someone who knows something other than what they can read off the side of the box. If you are given any information in many cases it proves to be inaccurate. If you are fortunate you may get the 800 phone number to the correct manufacturer at which point your odyssey begins not ends.
National chains that once had a service network have been steadily cutting them back to improve their profitability. Many areas no longer have any service and the remaining areas are covered by the lowest cost provider. High levels of service performance are not to be expected.
Price is usually the main selling point. Not value, quality, performance or long life. After all, for the store to be profitable their business model involves the consumer repeatedly buying the same product and throwing it out shortly afterwards (see Price section).
Durability: Two stroke engines have a durability rating label on the side of the engine. High quality engines will have a 300 hour rating which indicates they will maintain their emission compliance for at least the 300 hour period. Price point equipment typically has a 25 hour rating. Another significant distinction in this equipment is whether the engine has a full crankshaft or only a half crankshaft. We can show you examples of both. A half crankshaft engine is just that. Only half of the crankshaft is used which means the connecting rod sits on a pin and is unsupported on one side. The main reason to produce engines like this is to lower manufacturing costs. Engine life will be very short and vibration levels are great (see health / safety section). A quality engine has a full crankshaft supported by ball bearings on each side to provide long life and operator comfort.
Another easily recognized feature to separate a quality product from one of poor design is the rewind. Is the rewind assembly visible and easy to get at or is it buried in the middle of the machine? Rewinds by their nature require service. If the entire machine must be disassembled for a simple rewind repair then usually the repair is not economically feasible and the machine is scrapped. Better designed products usually have a rewind that can be readily removed with a few screws for fast, easy service.
See the above notes under Health / Safety for information regarding vibration in hand held equipment.
Components: Over the last several years many of the well known manufacturers have rushed their products into the mass merchant chains. Customers recognize names of top quality manufacturers but fail to realize that in most cases these are either not the same models carried by dealers. If they are the same it is usually only the entry or price point models. Again, price is the primary factor in designing and building this equipment. All other factors take second place if even considered.
Major areas to watch for include items such as engine brand, transmission type in tractors, and quality of materials. To meet retail price points many of the manufacturers have started using Chinese brands of engines. If the name of the engine is anything other than the well known engine manufacturers then it is probably from an unknown Chinese manufacturer. Support for these engines ranges from almost none to limited. Even the best supported of these brands do not have individual parts available, they must be purchased as kits or complete assemblies. Easier to stock for the manufacturers, much more expensive for consumers. Need a $5 carburetor gasket? Sorry but that will now cost $100 + as you have to buy a complete carburetor. Shear a flywheel key on a mower? Under $5 for well known brands, some Chinese engines require the purchase of an entire short block (all major components of engine) just to get the key. Head gaskets are the same. A minor item for well know brands but the Chinese engines require the purchase of the entire head assembly for $$$$. Quality control varies greatly among the Chinese manufacturers. Most of the major engine manufacturers build in China or the far East now but they retain control over quality and parts supply.
Tractors have a very wide range of quality. The lower quality units feature lots of plastic and very thin steel where used. The steel used in decks is so thin now that if the deck (upper and lower) is not kept clean then the thin steel will rust through very rapidly. The same is true for mowers. Deck replacement is not an economical repair so the tractor is replaced. Transmission type can be confusing for consumers. A true hydrostatic drive built by a major manufacturer such as Hydro-gear will provide many years of trouble free use if operated properly. There are different levels of quality among hydrostatic transmissions. Some manufacturers have resorted to using systems of belts and pulleys to simulate a hydrostatic transmission and will be referred to as a type of automatic. These systems are far less robust than a hydrostatic and will require much higher maintenance. Performance is less than a hydrostatic transmission.
Snow blowers and tillers have all of the same issues with engines and even more with thin steel. By their nature these machines are contacting hard objects. If you can bend the tines of a tiller with your hands then just imagine how long they will stand up to clay soils, roots or rocks. Snow blowers have the same issue with augers and the housing. If they will bend easily then they are no match for hard packed snow or ice. On price point snow blowers the gearbox and auger system is generally so flimsy that when confronted with ice or hard packed snow the augers will deform or break (even before shear pins fail) and gearboxes will break apart. Repairing this amount of damage is often not economically feasible so the machine is replaced. In recent years the motor box (main frame) on the price point models has become so weak from thin steels that engine vibrations are causing major cracks. Drive belts are also failing rapidly because the frame flexes so much that the belt pulleys cannot be kept aligned.
The influx of low priced off shore generators has flooded the market in recent years. Consumers make the mistake of buying only on price. The low cost generators bought at a mass merchant are never set up before the consumer uses them. The consumer thinks they have saved on the price of the generator but doesn't realize the damage being done to any devices plugged into that generator. A few dollars saved on the generator is offset by the shortened life of freezers, fridges etc. The generator can be producing either a low voltage or a high voltage but rarely the proper voltage or cycles (Hz). Parts or repairs will be impossible or difficult to obtain. Many use the lowest cost components to achieve the low retail price. An example is aluminum windings in place of higher priced copper. Copper is used in better generators because of its durability.