Don’t Confuse Warranty with Quality

Sternberg Lighting’s Paul Mitchell tackled the thorny issue of LED luminaire warranties in the September issue of LD+A. An excerpt follows.

There are so many positives today surrounding our industry and solid-state technology. Chip technology continues to improve, allowing LED fixtures to steadily approach the price levels of HID fixtures. Fixture manufacturers are improving their approach to heat sink and luminaire design, allowing luminaires to last longer and run more efficiently. Testing standards are improving, as seen with TM-21-11 augmenting the original LM-80-08 testing procedure.

Projected L70 ratings are also on the rise. Many fixture ratings now approach or even exceed 100,000 hours. That’s about 23 years if your lights run for 12 hours per night, seven days per week. This extension of defined useful life has some specifiers and end users asking why LED fixture manufacturers don’t increase their standard warranty terms accordingly, sometimes requesting warranty terms of 10-20 years.

While this might seem like a logical expectation, the lighting landscape already includes too many examples of companies who produced LED luminaires or retrofit kits with warranties whose terms exceeded the company’s own lifespan. They came and went in just a few years, leaving behind a trail of end users with unsatisfactory products, and no company left to back up the guarantee they were given. The term of a warranty does not equate to the quality of the fixture, and should not be considered a measuring stick. LED fixtures are essentially solid-state electronics, like a DVD player or a flash drive. We readily accept a one-year (or even a 90-day) warranty on many of these products because we don’t purchase them thinking that the warranty is an indication of how long they’re going to last, and rightly so.

As everyday consumers, when we buy electronics, we’re often prompted at the register to consider purchasing an extended warranty. Do you ever buy into that? If so, no matter how they sell you on it, you’re essentially betting against the product that you’re buying, wagering that it will fail to last or perform as you think it should. There’s a reason we’re asked to “supersize” the warranty. Retailers and manufacturers alike know the bell curve of failure for electronics, particularly solid-state devices. The odds that your device will fail are small, and chances are, you just padded their profit margin by buying a longer warranty that’s never going to be triggered.

By requiring a longer warranty with lighting fixtures, you’re often requiring the manufacturer to increase the sell price in order to protect itself in the event that a key component, or the entire fixture, might need to be replaced. This is partially because the component warranties that the fixture manufacturer gets from their vendors are considerably less than the warranty term you’re requesting. As a hypothetical, if the manufacturer gets a five-year warranty on the driver from their driver vendor, and you insist on a 10-year fixture warranty, they would be prudent to build in the cost of one replacement driver. This is not an indication that the fixture manufacturer believes that the original driver won’t last 10 years on its own, but why would they leave themselves exposed to that liability for an additional five years? For this reason, the term of a fixture warranty is often tied, at least in part, to the warranty terms manufacturers receive on their component parts, not on how long they believe their fixture will properly perform.

THE LONG VIEW
In the final analysis, what matters to the customer is that the product they purchase today will be supported if problems occur down the road, including the availability of replacement components. The best way to address that concern is to purchase a quality product, with a fair and reasonable warranty, manufactured by an established company. An important aspect is that the fixture is designed so that any component that does fail can easily be accessed and replaced. The fixture warranty is always going to be tied to the various component warranties of the fixture manufacturer. That includes their warranty on the diodes, the driver, the lens, gasket, connectors, etc. If you specify or purchase a quality product, then requiring an extended warranty is more than likely going to result in the end user paying additional dollars, for material that they’ll never need. The decision to adopt and utilize solid-state technology is all about long-term thinking. Long term, you are better off paying a little more for a quality product with reasonable warranty terms, than paying a little less for an inferior product with a longer warranty.