Warranties Are Everyone's Problem
Warranty! The word shouted from the other end of the telephone can cause some people to wake up screaming in the night.
It seems that warranty problems grow
exponentially once one comes in they seem to multiply just in time to
ruin a good month's sales results.
Who's Fault Is It?
it's yours if it's your customer complaining, or it's theirs if it's
their customer complaining. Seriously, though, the industry statistics
indicate that in the production engine remanufacturer customer base 46%
of problems are caused by the installer; 68% of the machine shop
problems are customer related.
Why The Difference?
It is very
likely that the more complex engines and heads are being built by the
specialty machine shop rather than by the PER. If so, its stands to
reason that more of the problems will be installer related when more
complex engines are being repaired. It is also true that the problems
that occur with these engines will be more expensive to diagnose and
more expensive to repair.
The assumption that the installer is
always at fault can get you into trouble, as can the assumption that the
failed components are always the problem. An example I like to give is
the new tires that were installed two years ago and have now worn at the
edges after only 15,000 miles. The fact that no air was put in them
during the time frame is never mentioned. The tires must be faulty
because they are worn out.
This kind of attitude is not uncommon
when related to warranties. We recently had an instance where a customer
had a problem with a Waukesha natural gas engine where the exhaust
valve faces wore out after only 1,000 hours of use. All six valves had
the same problem, so he assumed that there must be a material defect.
all of them were bad. He sent them to an independent lab for analysis.
The irony of this situation is that he then had to call our company to
find out what specs the valves were made to in the first place; the lab
he used had no experience with valve materials and their heat treated
After three weeks and $500 the customer is no better
off because no material defect was found; he is sending them to us to
find out what kind of engine operational defect could cause these types
of problems. Of course after this time frame the engine has been rebuilt
and put back into service. The other parts that may have indicated the
cause of the problem have been disposed of.
Equally ironic is
that if he had sent them to us (or most any reputable supplier) and
asked for a material analysis it would have been done at no charge.
Incidentally, the most common cause of natural gas cylinder head
problems are incompatible or wrong materials installed, or too rich a
fuel mixture .
So how do you effectively handle warranty type customer complaints?
Here are some "Do's and Don'ts" of this black art:
make sure that you have someone in-house qualified to answer the phone
and ask the right questions. The customer has a problem and it will
escalate if he feels he is talking to someone who's job it is to
stonewall him. This "warranty administrator" should be capable of asking
most of the questions related to that particular installation, and also
have information at his fingertips to confirm that the customer
actually bought that engine from you.
Do check that the
conditions for warranty coverage were adhered to. If your warranty
states that the radiator must be rodded and cleaned, ask for the
paperwork verifying that this was done. If it is a diesel and you sold
it without the pump and injectors, ask for the receipt from the fuel
Do check the warranty history of that customer. This may affect the way you handle that claim internally.
promise to pay on his say so. If you do you will be paying because he
will tell the owner of the vehicle what you said and expect you to stand
by it. Even a comment like "it appears we may have a problem with that
engine" can be misinterpreted at the installer level.
Do what you
say you are going to do. If you are going to help him out to whatever
extent, do send him a fax or note outlining what you have both agreed to
and what you haven't. That way there is no misunderstanding a month
later when his portion of the warranty is due. If you find out that the
problem is in-house related, admit it and negotiate in good faith.
Do keep a log of problems by engine. An escalating number of problems can indicate potential problems in machining or assembly.
the problem is on your dock and ready to be disassembled and/or
examined. In our case, we sell cylinder head parts and rarely see block
components returned with any warranty claim. In the two recent instances
that we did get pistons returned, they ended up being the evidence
needed to identify the problems. In both cases the parts were returned
because of valve fracture at the underhead radius.
were diesels, one a Cummins L10 and the other a 504BDT Case tractor. The
pistons had deep impact valve reliefs pounded into the piston crown
right below the fractured valves. It was obvious that the seats had been
replaced in the head and the valve protrusion was incorrect. In both
cases the seats had been installed but not machined at all. In both
cases the seats were not returned with the other parts and had to be
Who Wants To Know?
The next question is
to ask yourself whether you or your customer really want to know what
went wrong? This may sound strange, but it is a very important question
to ask yourself. In a lot of cases you may make the decision to pay the
customer because he is adamant it is your fault and you can't afford to
lose his business.
If this decision is made, then bite the bullet
and don't waste anyone's time. There are many times that this obviously
is the case because trying to get parts or information is met with
indifference or the "just pay me" option. If we assume that the customer
really wants to know what caused the problem then there are some very
definite things to do to help the process along.
clean the parts. The way a part looks when covered with combustion
residue can often offer important clues as to what happened. Most
suppliers view with suspicion the squeaky clean broken valve coming back
Don't throw all the parts in a big box and send
them back. The parts that ran together offer vital clues as to the
likely cause of a problem. Stripping the head and throwing everything
together removes vital evidence and makes it difficult to establish
operational patterns. Do look at the parts very carefully before you
Sending Them In
Don't just "send them in." You can
help everybody by following a few guidelines before the parts hit UPS.
Do check that the part numbers used were correct for that application.
Many products have remained the same dimensionally for many years, but
the materials have been upgraded to handle unleaded fuel, turbocharging,
emission controls, etc.
Do check the accuracy of your machine
work and surface finishes. As has been reported many times in this
magazine, certain gasket types require different finishes. Did you
inform your customer what gasket the head finish is designed to handle
when you sold the head? With head gasket sets for some multivalve V6
engines costing $300 to $400 or more, this may be the time to start
thinking about doing this.
Don't split the parts up in the hope
that somebody will at least pay you something. This is very common; the
valves go one place, the guides another and the seats to yet another.
Although all of the parts may be worn, by splitting up the parts you
have probably killed your chance of an accurate analysis. You will get
plenty of "may have," "could have" and "possibly" type answers because
not enough evidence is supplied to any one vendor to get a definitive
A customer called to say that one of our performance
valves had broken on Saturday night and he wanted to know what to do. I
asked him to send the valve's springs, keepers and retainers to me
overnight. I received only the two parts of the broken valve stem. When I
called, he said that the valve had broken at the groove and was
obviously faulty. It would serve no purpose to send the other parts.
told him the cause was keeper fretting, but could help no further
without the other parts. The following Monday he called again and his
language was much worse this time. He had been in the lead on the last
lap of the feature race when another valve let go at the groove. This
time he did send all the parts. By noon on Tuesday I was able to tell
him that the valve keepers did not go well with the trick retainers he
was using. By not sending in all of the parts requested, he lost another
engine and the race.
Do supply all of the information to the
vendor including the finishes, tolerances, runout specs, etc., with the
parts. This is especially important if you intend to fix the problem
while the parts are being looked at. A call back asking for
guide-to-seat runout will be most embarrassing when the head is back out
on the street already. If you are really confused, ask if you can send
the head. Most parts vendors will always be pleased to look at the whole
thing. Remember that your work will be analyzed, as well as the parts,
if you do this.
What Your Vendor Should Do
Your parts vendor
should be able to call you with a preliminary analysis within 48 hours
of receipt of the parts. He should be able to pinpoint certain
characteristics and/or ask for more information to help with the
analysis. He should be aware of the operational tolerances required for
each of the parts or know where to get them.
He should also be
able to offer material analysis reports, although be aware that these
often take 30 to 60 days depending on the work load in the laboratory.
He should provide a detailed report on how the parts operated in the
engine and what specific signs led to the final conclusion. He should
advise whether the parts met specifications or not, and whether this
will have affected the parts in operation.
Overheating of newly
rebuilt engines and heads is quite common today. The reason is that the
new low hood body styles have low radiator header tanks. Most of these
designs often do not allow the engine to self-bleed air locks in the
head or the heater core. Some installations require a plug to be removed
from the thermostat housing to get the air out of the system.
often an engine overheated in this way does not register hot on the
temperature gauge. There will be no water in the head to transfer the
heat to the gauge sender unit, and the gauge will stay cool. Your parts
supplier should be able to tell you whether this kind of problem with
this engine is common or rare.
Things go in cycles until
everybody learns about the problem. About four years ago the valve with
the highest return rate was the 6.9L/7.3L Navistar. The reason was that
many shops were only just starting to build this head and did not
realize that the exhaust seat was an odd angle. They just looked at it
and cut it 30 degrees. The valve is 37 degrees and will burn out when
run against a 30 degree seat due to insufficient heat transfer.
years ago it was the Geo Metro exhaust valve burning out. Not only were
the OEM rocker clearance specs listed wrong for the mechanical version,
but the hydraulic lifters in the later version were prone to varnish
up, holding the valve open after rebuild. Both of these situations
caused the burn out.
Editor's Note: This article by SBI's Alan
Carver was originally published in Engine Builder [Automotive Rebuilder]
in April 1997.