Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Does "Lifetime Warranty" Mean? Well, That Depends....

I wrote a while back about the frame failure of my cherished Litespeed Ghisallo. After a few twists and turns, I am now the owner of a new Litespeed T3, but the experience prompted me to take a look at "lifetime" frame warranties that are quite common in the bike business.
I'm looking forward to my first ride on the new T3. 

On the surface, the term "Lifetime Warranty" seems pretty transparent. It implies to me that the product cover by said warranty will last as long as I do. Lifetime warranties are offered by most top brands of bike frames and, for cyclists, it is a reassuring guarantee that an expensive frame is going to last.

In my case, I bought the Litespeed from Competitive Cyclist, who also offers a lifetime "No Questions Asked" guarantee of satisfaction on products that they sell. In my case, I was a bit disappointed by Litespeed's response to a frame failure, which was to offer me a new frame at a discounted price that I assume to be somewhere near dealer cost. On the other hand, Competitive Cyclist stepped in to take care of me beyond my expectations. It took a little time, but CC gave me more help than I would have asked for, so they deserve credit.

When I bought my bike from CC, they were still my local bike shop, but their sale to BackCountry only seems to have strengthened their commitment to customer satisfaction with the resources of a larger parent company. I think the opposite occurred with LiteSpeed's acquisition by American Bicycle Group.

Being an on-line retailer, Competitive Cyclist may have to provide extraordinary support in order to compete with the hands-on experience of dealing with a local shop. I always appreciated being able to roll in and talk to the guy that built up my bike when I had a problem. He knew me and he knew my bike. There is value in buying local.

On To The Fine Print...

Here are some examples of what you will find in terms of "lifetime warranties" from a few of the big boys in the bike business:

Trek excludes wear and tear along with damage caused by use on incompatible parts, etc., but their warranty is pretty straightforward:
  • Frames for the lifetime of the original owner (except forks, the Session, Scratch, Slash, and Ticket model frames, and the swing arms on all full suspension bicycles)
Cervelo's terms are very similar:

Starting January 1, 2004, each Cervélo SA (Cervélo) bicycle frame purchased after this date is warranted by Cervélo SA against defects in workmanship and materials for as long as the frame is owned by the original owner, excluding paint and decals. (Cervélo bicycle frames purchased before this date came with a four year warranty). This covers ALL bicycle frame models Cervélo offers. This warranty is expressly limited to either the repair or replacement of the defective frame – the decision to repair and replace to be at the sole discretion of Cervélo – and no other remedies are available under the warranty.

As are those from Specialized :
Specialized warrants to the original owner for the lifetime of the original owner of each new Specialized bicycle or frameset that the bicycle frame or frameset when new is free of defective materials and workmanship. The lifetime Limited Warranty is conditioned upon the bicycle being operated under normal conditions and use, and properly maintained.

It also excludes normal wear and tear.

My Bike

My recent experience was with Litespeed. Let me say that Litespeed builds a beautiful bike and that I was very attached to and proud of my Ghisallo. Several factors attracted me to the titanium Litespeed over carbon fiber, among them that fact that Litespeed ti bikes are built in Chattanooga, TN rather than at a nameless plant in Taiwan. Don't get me wrong, the composite quality of the carbon bikes available today is amazing, but I liked the idea of American craftsmanship, the quality of which was clear when I looked at the frames. The other factors that led me to select Litespeed was their reputation for ride quality on rough roads, something lacking in the aluminum CAAD7 Cannondale that I was riding, and, yes, the "lifetime" frame warranty. I was sold on the idea that titanium doesn't rust like steel, suffer notch failure as can happen with carbon, or readily give in to metal fatigue as  can brittle aluminum alloys. In short, I considered it to be the ideal frame material for my needs.

Litespeed's warranty statement is a little different in that they qualify the warranty with a statement about "useful product life":

Litespeed Bicycle's frames are warranted to be free from manufacturing defects in material and/or workmanship for the lifetime of the original owner. Litespeed branded forks, stems, bars, seat posts, paint and decals are warranted for 1 year against defects in material and workmanship. Alignment is warranted for 30 days from date of purchase. This warranty is redeemable only by the original owner when purchased and maintained through an authorized Litespeed dealer.

Useful Product Life Cycle

Every Litespeed frameset has a useful life cycle. This useful life cycle is not the same as the warranty period.
This warranty is not meant to suggest or imply that the frame cannot be broken or will last forever. Bicycles and/or frames will not last forever. The length of the useful life cycle will vary depending on the type of frame, riding conditions and care the bicycle receives.

Are You going to Use it?
I read that to mean the Litespeed has no intention of providing a lifetime warranty, but that they intend to provide an "indefinite warranty" of which they are the sole arbiter. In the case of my bike, they deemed the 8-year-old frame to be simply "worn out". How can a "lifetime warranty" not imply that a frame will last a lifetime? Hell, I was 51-years-old when I bought it, so their exposure was already birthday-limited.

The horizontal line extending from the water bottle bolt insert is a crack in the seat tube. Normal "wear and tear"? Not in the mind of this consumer.
Litespeed also took the position that any manufacturing or materials defect with my frame would have appeared long before now. That has some logic, but if the expectation is that a product or material has a limited expected useful life, why would the builder tout its durability with a lifetime warranty? If I rode 2000 miles per year, perhaps my Litespeed would have lasted 20-25 years, but I bought the bike to ride.

I suggest to American Bicycle Group, the current owners of Litespeed, that they make their warranty 5 years or 7 years or whatever the timeline is for their concept of "useful product life". I know from experience that it's less than 7 1/2 years. I can accept reasonable limitations, but please don't bullshit me at the point of sale.

Perhaps manufacturers should limit lifetime warranties to items like anvils and Craftsman tools, but my experience with lifetime warranties of smaller bike items and consumer products is that if the product fails, they give you a new one. I've also concluded that there are relatively few frame failures and, mostly through the anecdotal experiences of other riders, most bike builders step up and take care of their customer.

I am not demonizing the folks at Litespeed/ABG. They made me a deal on a new T3 frame and I just got my new bike. I've yet to even ride it, but it's a beauty. I still believe that they make a fine product. Their warranty comes with enough fine print and caveats of use that I cannot deny that they fulfilled their legal obligations, but I will suggest that their "lifetime warranty" is more marketing than substance.

Some suggestions on empowering yourself as a bike consumer:

-Most warranties require that you buy your bike from an authorized dealer of the brand. Additionally, your bike shop is your best ally in dealing with the manufacturer.
-Register your warranty and keep all receipts and documentation associated with the purchase.
-Don't accept warranty statements at face value. Read the warranty document and have realistic expectations.

I believe that most of the cycling products that we buy today are of remarkable quality; that being driven by intense competition and supported by highly refined manufacturing and design. This is especially true at the high end of the market. That said, things still break. My few experiences with product failures have, in every case I can recall, been addressed promptly and cheerfully by either the merchant or the manufacturer. In the end, I came out very well on my LiteSpeed experience, thanks in large part to Competitive Cyclist.


Steve S said...

I can vouch for Cervelo and Orbea honoring their lifetime warranties. While helping out at a local bike shop, I saw some well-used bikes come in with frame problems. In all cases the frames were replaced by the company. In at least two cases (one Cervelo and one Orbea) the model was no longer in production. Both owners received a current model as a replacement.

Anonymous said...

I must start a blog!

Roger S.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me where to find this bike rack in the USA? Thanks and great blog Jbar

Anonymous said...

Wow that's some BS Litespeed gave you! I'm glad you came out of it alright. I've also had amazing experiances with Competitve Cyclist. Great looking new ride!!!