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July 2006 Vol. 32, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Warranties on Scuba Gear

do they have real value?

from the July, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Last month we reported that scuba equipment manufacturers honor warranties only on gear purchased through authorized dealers. To compete, some unauthorized gray marketers like Leisure Pro offer their own warranties. But either way, warranties on life support equipment require annual servicing, so we wondered how important they were to recreational divers.

To find out, we queried more than 15,000 divers about their Internet and warranty experiences and received more than 500 responses. From this sizeable — but not scientific — sample, it seemed as if Internet buyers were about as satisfied — or sometimes dissatisfied — as store buyers.

Subscriber Jim Aichele (Rolling Hills, CA), who ordered a SeaQuest Libra BCD from Leisure Pro for his wife, received a model with one dump valve, not a newer model with an extra valve on the right shoulder. After diving in Indonesia, says Aichele, “we saw the need for the second dump valve and contacted Leisure Pro.” They were told to return the used Libra, and four weeks later received a newer model with the extra dump valve “at no added cost.”

But some divers such as Marcia Smullen (Big Sur, CA), complain that Leisure Pro should disclose more clearly the gray market warranty issue. She says, “It’s a little late to find out the factory warranty is invalid after you’ve purchased a product from Leisure Pro and used it.”

Of course, manufacturer warranties are available from the Web sellers that are authorized dealers. Some, like, sweeten the deal with its own guarantee, which back all products against defect for one year, even if the manufacturer’s warranty is shorter.

This is not to say that Leisure Pro or any other online seller offers better service than dive stores. The point is that the reputable companies offer service, and where dive stores once had the advantage over the Internet, that too is disappearing.

Are Warranties Worth It?

Many divers consider warranties essential when buying high-ticket items. As subscriber David Israel (Lee’s Summit, MO) puts it: “Two pieces of all but identical equipment, which would you choose, the one with a sixmonth warranty or a two-year warranty? It appears to me the manufacturer with the better warranty is telling us it builds a quality product that lasts and they will stand behind it.” Perhaps, but shorter warranties don’t cost a company as much as a longer warranty, so it’s a way to keep the price down.

I can’t justify $50-$100 per year to keep my
regulators inspected/repaired to maintain the
warranties. I just bite the bullet and pay for it
when something needs to be repaired/replaced.

Jesse Scott (Atlantic Beach, NC) summed up a frequently expressed attitude: “I consider warranties when deciding between brands . . . However, this is mainly for the major investment gear — BC, regulators, computers. For the rest of it, variations in warranties are not going to have a significant impact on the purchase decision.”

However, in one of our surveys of 7000 Undercurrent subscribers, more than half who responded found warranties of little or no importance, for a variety of reasons. Says Australian Web shopper Leslie Smith: “Warranties run out before any equipment I have has had trouble.” Chris Pacitto (Fort Myers, FL) agrees: “I have never had to have life-support equipment serviced under warranty ... I buy high-end equipment and keep it for less than five years.”

Pacitto and other divers are put off by the cost of maintaining a warranty (generally, annual shipping and labor). It seems strange to Pacitto “that I’d have to pay for shipping to get a pair of defective fins replaced under warranty. Next time I’ll buy a different brand.” Roger Barlow (Jacksonville, FL) finds, “I can’t justify $50-$100 per year to keep my regulators inspected/repaired to maintain the warranties. I just bite the bullet and pay for it when something needs to be repaired/replaced . . . what does a lifetime warranty do for you if it costs you enough to buy new in a few years just to maintain the warranty?”

In the March 2005 issue of Undercurrent, we examined the need for annual regulator servicing and concluded: “Could it be that this is more essential to a dive store’s bottom line than to diver safety? Equipment servicing helps keep that traffic and money coming in.”

Subscriber Bill Conklin (Newburgh, NY) notes, “The value in getting a stout warranty is dependent on the company remaining in business and parts being available. It’s unusual for a firm to maintain parts availability for more than five years. The financial penalty for the warranty value-add purchase makes it more attractive to go discount and just replace the item every few years.” That brings to mind Dacor. Several respondents complained that Mares – which bought Dacor in 1999 – doesn’t repair their old regulators. Sure, they can participate in a Mares upgrade program that allows owners to trade up to a choice of Dacor or Mares regulators at prices better than any online price – but that’s not what they expected or wanted.

To keep a warranty in effect at each anniversary of the purchase date, a diver must bring the product to an authorized dealer or send it to the manufacturer along with proof of purchase and product registration. Many readers complained that this was unnecessarily inconvenient. As Chris Cubbison (Cincinnati, OH) put it: “I can go for more than a year between dives and always find that I have missed my annual service date when I finally do assemble my gear for a dive.”

Of course, any warranty work is only as good as the tech rep who performs it. Mark Male told us he bought four regulators from Leisure Pro for his wife and kids, noting that the regulators “all had serious problems with free flowing in the first 20 dives.” He sent them back twice, but the free flowing continued. Says Male, “It took a month each time before I got them back; you burn a dive season very quickly that way.” When he got no satisfaction, says Male, “I was forced to move on and find a reputable place to buy my gear.”

But local shops are hardly error-free, either. Subscriber David Hahn (Austin, TX) reported: “I have had three local Scubapro dealers make mistakes on servicing my MK20/S600, MK10/D350, and Air 2. I have been motivated to find tools, parts, and information, and undertake this endeavor myself. I simply refuse to pay $30-$35 labor per stage, plus parts, for faulty service.”

Last year Fred Good, then proprietor of St. George’s Lodge in Belize, told Undercurrent: “The statement most often heard after regulators fail (free flow) is, ‘I just got this back from the shop!’”

When local shops prove less than cooperative about service issues, divers like John Zimmerlee (Marietta, GA) prefer the anonymity of sending their gear off for servicing. He reports, “I’ve been hassled when I return defective items to the brick-and-mortar store, but seldom when I return it to a web store.”

One advantage of a manufacturer’s warranty is product registration. As stated on, “If the equipment is not covered under a manufacturer’s warranty — not only would you have to pay to get your product fixed . . . you might never know there’s a problem! And at a depth of 100 feet with a faulty regulator or failed BCD, you will probably not say to yourself, Yeah . . . but I saved a few bucks when I bought it . . . If purchased from a reputable dealer with full warranty coverage, registered owners of these items were notified —- tracked by their warranty information on file with the original manufacturer — and problems corrected.”

Products purchased through Leisure Pro can’t be registered, so owners don’t receive alerts from the manufacturer. However, Leisure Pro’s website lists recall notices from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Leisure Pro e-mails them to its own customer database.

While many divers prefer to purchase gear with a solid warranty, many if not most divers don’t see warranties as the deciding reason to choose one brand over another. Subsequently, it doesn’t seem that there is a competitive edge for a manufacturer to refuse to honor warranties from unauthorized Web sellers or to argue that one should buy their gear in a dive store to maintain the warranty. It’s a dying sales model.

In our next issue, we’ll look ahead to see how some stores use the Internet to their advantage. And why some dive stores will survive and while others won’t.

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