By Bill Adams
After scrimping and saving for 20 years, a small volunteer fire company in northern Aroostook County, Maine, purchased a new rig from the low bidder—Flibynite Fire Truck Company—located outside of Bellingham, Washington.
Ten months after delivery, several welds cracked, and the paint started peeling off the apparatus body in sheets. Flibynite’s warranty department said, “No problem. Bring it back, and we’ll fix it at no charge.” The fine print in the new rig’s warranty stated it was Flibynite’s option to have the rig repaired locally or have it returned to its facility. Flibynite chose to have it returned. It was a 3,300-mile trip each way.
Although the preceding scenario is fictitious, it does reflect what could be a confusing, complicated, and possibly contentious world of fire apparatus warranties. Purchasers seldom question the particulars of a warranty until a problem occurs that is not being resolved amicably. Purchasers should realize the consequences of not specifying detailed warranty requirements in their specifications. Some apparatus purchasing specifications devote literally hundreds of words describing a light bar, yet warranty requirements receive no more attention than a sentence or two. Three examples of warranty verbiage from purchasers’ published specifications found online follow.
Specification 1: “Warranties to be provided for the completed apparatus—one (1) year parts and labor; ten (10) year structural on body; and ten (10) year paint, finish, and corrosion.”
Specification 2: “One year material and workmanship—Each new piece of apparatus shall be provided with a minimum one (1) year basic apparatus material and workmanship limited warranty. The warranty shall cover such portions of the apparatus built by the manufacturer as being free from defects in material and workmanship that would arise under normal use and service.”
Specification 3: “The apparatus shall be warranted to be free from mechanical defects in workmanship for a period of one (1) year. The apparatus shall be covered for parts and labor costs associated with repairs for a period of one (1) year. Seven (7) year warranty on paint. Ten (10) year body structural warranty.”
In the preceding scenarios, the warranty specifications are vague and ambiguous. There is no requirement for where warranty work shall or can be performed or who is responsible to transport the apparatus to facilitate repairs. They do not describe the particulars of the warranty—those seemingly miniscule details that the warrantors spell out in detail. In addressing paint only, does a “seven (7) year paint warranty” cover blistering, corrosion, or reaction between dissimilar metals as well as general paint fading? Is the paint warranty covered by the apparatus manufacturer or the paint manufacturer? Does it include just providing a bucket of paint at no cost or does it include, if need be, repainting what could be the entire apparatus? To be compliant in the public bidding arena, bidders only have to meet the conditions stipulated by the purchaser. What do your specs call for?
Unless a fire department has previously experienced unresolved warranty claims, I venture that most apparatus purchasing committees pay little attention to the type of warranty they are specifying let alone its fine print. Adjectives are defined as words that further describe, or enhance, or even lessen the meaning of another word. Adjectives describing warranties in apparatus purchasing specifications include comprehensive, prorated, limited, basic, standard, lifetime, component, and corrosion.
Purchasers may get confused when double adjectives are used to describe a warranty. Included are nonprorated, corrosion perforation, limited lifetime, and full lifetime. An example of an adjective lessening the meaning of a word: The paint starts falling off your fire truck four years after you buy it, and the manufacturer says, “Sorry, we can’t cover it—your paint warranty only covers corrosion perforation, and there’s no hole all the way through the metal.”
Because adjectives are subject to individual interpretation, no effort on my part will be expended in explaining them. Purchasers should have vendors explain in depth what their proposed warranties encompass. If purchasers expect or want specific warranty coverage for their apparatus, purchasing specifications should describe the coverage in detail. One manufacturer’s detailed paint and corrosion warranty encompasses more than 1,000 words. Remember: If a requirement is not in writing, it does not exist.
A caveat can be described as a warning, a requirement, or even a limitation. In the warranty world, caveats explain the specific terms and conditions of a warranty. They also explain the exceptions, exclusions, and disclaimers, which can be grounds for disallowing a warranty claim. It is the fine print that can cause grief and aggravation between buyer and seller. The scope of warranty coverage is contingent upon the stipulations or exclusions (exceptions) included in it. Excerpts taken from various apparatus manufacturers’ published warranties follow. Underlining is mine for emphasis. Purchasers should understand exactly what the underlined means.
1. “This warranty shall not apply to the following: Any component parts or trade accessories such as chassis, engines, tires, pumps, valves, signaling devices, batteries, electric lights, bulbs, alternators, and all other installed equipment and accessories, in as much as they are usually warranted separately by their respective manufacturers, or are subject to normal wear and tear.”
2. “All materials and workmanship herein specified, including all equipment furnished, shall be guaranteed for a period of 10 years after the acceptance date of the apparatus, unless otherwise noted, with the exception of any normal maintenance services or adjustments which shall be required.”
3. “Failures resulting from the apparatus being operated in a manner or for a purpose not recommended by the apparatus manufacturer.”
4. “Any apparatus which has been repaired or altered outside of the apparatus manufacturer’s factory in any way that affects its stability, or which has been subject to misuse, negligence, or accident.”
5. “Loss of time or use of the apparatus, inconvenience, or other incidental expenses.”
6. “…is covered providing the vehicle is used in a normal and reasonable manner.”
Vendors representing apparatus manufacturers that build their own cabs and chassis promote being “sole source providers” for warranty and service requirements. That has merit and is an excellent sales tool. However, it should be pointed out there are literally dozens of individual warranties provided by an apparatus manufacturer’s component part suppliers including motor, transmission, pump, primer, governor, booster tank, foam system, discharge valves, warning lights, sirens, alternators, paint, tires, axles, alternators, wheels, compartment lights, generators, scene lighting, auxiliary steps, grab handles, light towers, telescoping light poles, batteries, light bulbs, etc. Using a commercially available cab and chassis could add an additional player in warranty coverage.
There is no intent to promote or denigrate sole source suppliers or their capabilities in providing warranty service. However, purchasers should realize component part suppliers have their own warranties and warranty terms. Be fair to the fire truck vendors. Their sales staffs are at the mercy of the apparatus manufacturer’s warranty claims department and possibly that of component part suppliers. An astute apparatus manufacturer; its dealer network; and service provider, if a separate entity, will “coordinate” all warranty claims. How well vendors and apparatus manufacturers handle warranty claims will influence their future sales opportunities. Regardless of who the “go-to contact” is, fire departments expect prompt, expeditious resolutions of warranty claims. They deserve it.
I venture that most disagreements over warranty obligations are the result of purchasers not being aware of what they specified vs. what the manufacturer proposed and what the signed sales contract stipulates. Remember, buying a fire truck is usually via a legal document. Again, if something isn’t in writing, it does not exist.
Apparatus Manufacturers and Dealers
A dozen apparatus manufacturers were asked to opine on the subject of warranties. Most declined to comment on the record, some citing time constraints. An equal number of apparatus dealers solicited were very vocal on the topic but likewise refused to reply in writing. Most salespeople will tell stories of how some fire department someplace had a warranty claim that some manufacturer (obviously not the one they represent) failed to make good on. Having those storytellers document who, where, when, and why will separate fact from fiction. Every apparatus manufacturer has experienced warranty claims. How come you never hear about the claims that were successfully resolved?
Grady North, product manager at E-ONE, part of the REV Group, agreed to be interviewed, commenting on questions all apparatus purchasers should pose to prospective bidders.
If you offer a choice of body materials, do you offer different length warranties for them?
“E-ONE offers an aluminum and stainless steel body that is designed and constructed to meet our customer’s unique requirements. We offer materials and construction features in our bodies to meet specific geographical environmental issues such as in areas with road chemicals or salt air. Also for temperature extremes such as unusually hot temperatures or extreme cold and winter conditions. We offer 10-year and 20-year/100,000-mile structural warranties and 10-year limited up to 12-year nonprorated paint warranties to meet these requirements.”
You offer both a formed and welded body and an extruded aluminum body. Do you offer different warranties for each?
“Our brake-formed stainless bodies utilize 12-gauge body material, and our extruded aluminum bodies utilize 3⁄16-inch body material. Both designs utilize an integral welded subframe forming a one-piece unibody construction. As such, and as long as we use the heavier gauge material, we do not believe that one type of construction has an advantage over another type of construction. Body warranties are tailored toward customer requirements related to corrosion resistance, structural integrity, etc.”
Do you offer extended “parts and labor” warranties?
“E-ONE’s extended warranties are based on the customer’s specific requirements and offered accordingly. The cost benefit will depend on each individual department and its local circumstances. Large fleets with extensive service departments may not see an advantage to extended warranties. A smaller volunteer department without access to fleet services might find extended warranties very cost-effective.”
Is there an industry “standard” for structural warranties?
“E-ONE’s standard structural warranties extend from a minimum of 10 years/100,000 miles up to lifetime for custom chassis frame components. We are not aware of an industry-standard time period.”
How would you define a lifetime warranty?
“There are possibly three components to consider to help define fire apparatus lifetime warranties:
1. Years in Service: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, Annex D, recommends that apparatus more than 15 years old be moved to reserve status. This does not mean that this is the expected life of the truck. E-ONE has body structural warranties up to 20 years, and we have units in the field that are more than 30 years old and are still in service.
2. Mileage (frequency of runs): Many of our body warranties have a limit of 100,000 miles. For a busy city department, this limit might be reached in fewer than 10 years. A rural department might not exceed 100,000 miles in 20 years or more.
3. Original Owner: The apparatus was designed to meet the requirements of the original owner. If sold or transferred to a different owner, it may or may not have been designed to meet the new owner’s operational and environmental circumstances. It is often a warranty requirement that the apparatus must remain with the original owner.”
How do you go about handling a warranty claim for a rig sold factory direct?
“Whether sold direct or through a dealer, E-ONE’s goal is to provide the quickest and most effective way to get the customer back on the road. This is particularly important in a ‘truck down’ situation. E-ONE has one of the most comprehensive full-service dealer networks capable of handling any warranty claims. Based on the type of failure, we may opt to send a field service technician, have our closest dealer perform the repair, or sublet to a qualified repair facility.”
Does the apparatus OEM or the paint manufacturer warranty the paint job?
“E-ONE warrants the paint job and facilitates the repair to accommodate the customer. Based on the failure, the paint manufacturer may be held liable to E-ONE for defects in material. E-ONE does not put the customer in the awkward position of trying to sort out who is responsible.”
If there is a reaction between dissimilar metals, who is responsible—the apparatus OEM or the paint manufacturer?
“Dissimilar metal contact creates a corrosion problem that can result in blistering of the paint. This is not necessarily a paint defect and would thus be a warranty issue for the apparatus OEM. This condition can be accelerated by contact with road chemicals or even caustic cleaners used on the truck. We provide customers with recommended practices to help mitigate this issue. E-ONE is focused on eliminating these issues through the design and manufacturing process.”
Poor metal preparation, improper paint application, and “bad paint” could be possible causes for a warranty claim. Do you want to elaborate on any of them?
“These are symptoms of poor design and manufacturing processes and possible lack of quality control. E-ONE strives through continuous improvement to eliminate this type of defect.”
How would you define or describe a “limited” warranty?
“As its name implies, a limited warranty is limited to just the specified parts, certain types of defects, or other conditions. It might be parts but not labor. Often maintenance items may be excluded such as tires, windshield wipers, etc.”
How would you define or describe a “prorated” warranty?
“A prorated warranty typically declines from 100 percent coverage to a lesser coverage over a period of time such as: zero to 36 months is 100 percent coverage, 37 to 84 months is 50 percent coverage, and 85 to 120 months is 25 percent coverage.”
How would you define or describe a “comprehensive” warranty?
“A comprehensive warranty would typically cover more items than a limited warranty. However, there are still exclusions such as damage caused by misuse or abuse. Tires are excluded as covered items on most warranties. Damage from theft or accidents is also excluded.”
Do you have any recommendations or “words of wisdom” for purchasers for when they write warranty requirements in their purchasing specifications?
“First, purchasers should understand the complexities of warranty coverage on a typical fire apparatus. OEMs will typically have separate warranties for the body, chassis, and aerial devices. Also included are supplier warranties such as for engines, transmissions, fire pumps, etc. These component warranties are often more comprehensive than the OEM’s standard warranties.
“The purchaser should request the desired warranties from each OEM for comparison. If the department has experienced problems in the past, it could ask for extended warranty coverage in particular areas such as frame rails or plumbing components. As we strive to provide exceptional customer service, we find it essential to have a clear picture of the customer’s expectations. Open communication is an essential part of this process to ensure customer satisfaction for the lifetime of the vehicle. Part of the conversation includes how we will tailor or customize the warranty to the customer’s unique requirements or needs.
“That said, a warranty is just a sheet of paper. What’s most important is the engineering and manufacturing that is done to make a product robust, rugged, and reliable for the fire service—that’s what we are really all about. Moreover, it’s what happens when there is a warranty need or need for warranty support. With E-ONE’s North America dealer network and its trained technicians and local service facilities, we stand with our customers and behind our product to make sure that when there is a need, we are there for them with service and parts support during the warranty period—and beyond.”
Mike Marquis, vice president, rescue sales at Rescue 1, a division of PL Custom Body, says he encourages prospective purchasers to include detailed warranty requirements in their purchasing specifications. He has allowed this reproduction of Rescue 1’s Lifetime Structural Warranty, which follows. There appears to be no doubt what the document covers compared to a one-liner stating, “The body shall have a lifetime structural warranty.”
“Rescue 1 Lifetime Structural Warranty: Subject to provisions, limitations and conditions set forth in the warranty, RESCUE 1 hereby warrants to each original purchaser only, that the new rescue vehicle body including body frame, subfloor, exterior skin, interior cabinets and exterior compartments (exclusive of paint finish) is structurally sound and free from all structural defects of both material and workmanship and further warrants that it will maintain such structural integrity for the life of the body, providing it remains in the possession of the original purchaser and is in operation of said purchaser.
“The above warranty is transferable upon changeover of body to new chassis, providing the work is performed by RESCUE 1. In the case of the sale of the vehicle, the warranty is also transferable to the new owner, providing that an inspection of vehicle is performed by RESCUE 1.
“Should repairs become necessary under the terms of this warranty, the extent of that repair shall be determined solely by RESCUE 1 and shall be performed solely at RESCUE 1 or a repair facility designated by RESCUE 1. The expense of any transportation to or from such repair facility shall be the responsibility of the purchaser and is not an item covered by this warranty.
“This warranty is conditioned upon normal use and reasonable maintenance of such equipment. RESCUE 1 also requires prompt written notice of all defects to RESCUE 1 or one of its then authorized dealers in the area. This warranty covers defects not resulting from misuse, negligence, accident, abnormal wear and tear, and alteration of the original parts or adjustments by customer or third party. If any such conditions are not met, this warranty shall become void and unenforceable.
“RESCUE 1 reserves the unrestricted right at any time, to make changes in the design of and/or improvements on its products without thereby imposing any obligations on itself to make corresponding changes or improvements in or on its products theretofore manufactured.
“EXCLUSIONS AND LIMITATIONS: This manufacturer’s warranty is provided in place of any and all other representations or express or implied warranties including, without limitation, any warranty of merchantability and/or fitness for use for a particular purpose. Buyer acknowledges that no other representations were made to him and relied upon him and that this warranty contains the exclusive remedies with respect to any failure of the products to conform to the warranties given above or as to any injury or damage arising from any nonconforming products. No person is authorized to make any representations of warranty on behalf of RESCUE 1 or any of its distributors other than set forth in this manufacturer’s warranty. Your right to service and replacement of parts on the terms expressly set forth herein are your exclusive remedies and neither the manufacturer nor any of its distributors shall be liable for damages, whether ordinary incidental or consequential.”
A warranty is a pledge, a signed agreement between buyer and seller providing recourse if there is a defect in a new rig that occurs within a specified time period. Should a purchaser be skeptical of prospective bidders fulfilling warranty obligations or if they’ve been “burned” in the past, a warranty bond could be a consideration. A warranty bond is a contract between a purchaser, the apparatus manufacturer, and a surety company guaranteeing that any work defects found in the original construction will be repaired during the warranty period. If the contractor can’t fix the defects, the surety company will have it done usually at a place and time of its choosing. It’s like an insurance policy. It can be priced as an option—just in case Flibynite shows up and is the low bidder.
In my opinion, a warranty is a safeguard for the buyer that is only as effective as the words describing it are explicit. Write your specifications carefully.
BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.