Warranty Extensions and Service Agreements
In addition to escalating standard warranties, companies are more and more offering extended warranty terms and/or service programs, some of which are only available if you apply for an upgrade within an allotted deadline. Some of these service programs offer significant benefits with more liberal repair and replacement policies, even replacing common wear items.
Service agreements range from one year to lifetime; some take effect after the original warranty is expired and others start concurrently. Be sure to read the fine print to know exactly what is covered when and for how long. There are pretty surprising exceptions and limitations to some service programs, so check ahead of time to make sure the tool you're interested in is even included. Overall, these "wear and tear warranties," service programs that replace normal wear parts, represent the best added value to the customer, truly the best thing to come out of the warranty wars.
"Repair cost limitation" is another feature popping up in some warranties. These clauses can limit the amount you pay for repairs either during the warranty or after it has lapsed and are based on a set price per tool or a certain percentage of the price of a replacement tool. Cheaper repairs will still remain cheaper and in some cases, you can decide to forgo the repair and use the trade-in value of the tool toward a new one.
An honorable mention goes out to companies that warrant their repairs independently from the overall tool warranty, especially when it has lapsed. And at least one manufacturer even adds a six-month warranty to the entire tool after any out-of-warranty repair is made.
An extra special coverage, perhaps unique to one nailer brand, is a replacement policy for tools destroyed by natural disaster. The tools must have been registered and proof of purchase and disaster documentation are required, but for the poor guy who returns to a flooded-out shop filled with ruined tools, this replacement policy would be worth a little bit of paperwork.
Limitations & Conditions
With limited warranties, the manufacturer gets to call the shots for a lot of the little things. According to the FTC, you can be required to send in a warranty card or abide by a certain registration date to enact a limited warranty or an additional service agreement. Most manufacturers try to make it easy for their customers though and don't push these things, but some do; always read the fine print. If you have to send in a warranty card, only fill out the essential information required and request that your personal information not be sold or shared for third-party marketing purposes. Many mail-in card programs are run by an outside contractor that makes its living this way.
Manufacturers don't have to keep a supply of parts for an infinite time to honor lifetime warranties or service agreements. In fact, the fine print will usually specify that the lifetime is limited to as long as replacement parts are in stock. After this, the company can offer you a substitute tool, perhaps even a used model. These considerations can be checked out ahead of time if you are concerned; one power tool brand told me their policy is to keep more than seven years' worth of inventory for tools covered by their one-year service agreement and more than 15 years supply for tools with two-year service coverage.
Another limitation allowed manufacturers is to reduce coverage to certain user categories. For example, a major brand of stationary shop tools offers a five-year term but then limits it to one year if used for commercial, industrial, or educational purposes. Who decides what constitutes commercial use can be a thorny subject. In general, however, ambiguity of conditions or limitations is usually decided in favor of coverage if a legal dispute ensues.