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When Gear Breaks: Navigating the Warranty Process

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Here’s how to replace your broken gear for free (within reason).

We’ve all had it happen: You spend a lot of money on a piece of gear, and it fails unexpectedly.

For me, it was my $5,000 2015 Trek Top Fuel 9.8 SL that I’d bought just 3 years before. I was riding a trail I’ve tackled dozens of times in the past when a bolt holding my rear shock in place busted, causing it to impact the carbon frame.

It didn’t look serious, so after repairing the bolt, I continued riding the bike until a different issue popped up about a year later. I took it to my local shop, and we assessed the damage. Thus began the arduous warranty process.

“We’re looking at three things [when determining a warranty claim]: design, materials, and workmanship,” said Jason Schumacher, Trek customer service manager. “If one of those things failed on our part, it’s on us to replace the [frame or part]. We want to solve the problem rather than have the bike hang in the garage unridden.”

As I researched this article, I found Trek’s attitude was widely echoed throughout the outdoor industry. Here’s what I learned while navigating the process, including what you should do before any problems creep up at all.

Before It Breaks

Pick a product with a strong warranty. When choosing between two nearly identical products, pick the one with a better warranty and service reputation, even if it means spending a little more up front. A quick internet search should reveal the info you’re looking for.

Leatherman warranty

But don’t stop there — look for customer experiences with the warranty department. Beware of companies that promise a lifetime warranty, but try to sidestep that promise when a customer has an issue. Amazon reviews and old-school gear message boards are great for this.

Many outdoor companies use their strong warranties as a de facto part of their branding. Leatherman wants users “to ask around about our 25-year warranty program,” said Melinda Hilts, consumer experience manager for the brand. “We really stand behind our tools and strive to be the industry standard for warranty and repair.”

Likewise, Eagle Creek replaces 99.9 percent of its North American warranty claims, with (almost) no questions asked.

Register It

Take 5 minutes after buying that new knife or backpack to hop onto the company’s website and register it with the company. The alternative? Waiting until it breaks, then digging through piles of receipts, trying to find the right one.

Jot down the serial number and keep it in a master list saved to Dropbox or Google Drive.

Maintain It (And Keep Records)

A little preventative TLC should help keep your equipment in perfect working order. If it’s a bike or other big-ticket item that you outsource work on, try to go to the same shop. (This will come in handy later, trust me.)

After It Breaks

Ask yourself, “Is this really a warranty claim?”

Some companies offer lifetime guarantees on manufacturing defects, while others will repair or replace a product even if it’s been dropped in a Bush Hog. Yep, that actually happened, Hilts said.

“It was completely mangled, but of course we replaced it,” Hilts said. “It’s also not uncommon for a tool to come back covered in deer guts. We really see it all!

“We rarely reject a warranty claim. In fact, the most common reason for a claim being rejected is in fact because the tool isn’t broken. When this happens, a simple conversation with our customer service team will typically do the trick.”


Warranty Negotiation

Be sure to look up the company’s warranty policy online. But even if the case doesn’t fall exactly under the warranty guarantee, unless it’s an egregious error on your part, try anyway. Many companies will still try to help out in some way.

“We can’t give away product after every crash,” Schumacher said. “Trek wouldn’t be able to stay in business if we did that. But we do offer other programs (like crash-replacement discounts) to help you get back on a bike.”

When my Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo failed, the company determined that I’d tried to insert the USB plug upside-down one too many times. In my defense, the port was in an awkward place, and my eyesight isn’t as good as it once was.

Because my error caused the damage, Cycliq refused to replace it free of charge. But it did sell me a replacement at a significant discount. It wasn’t my preferred outcome, of course, but I was able to keep riding with a piece of indispensable gear, and the brand kept a customer.

“It is often difficult to verify the exact cause of a given warranty, so we strive to side with our customers,” said Jessica Green, service agent for Küat Racks. “If they feel it is a defect in any way, we are likely to stand behind them and replace the part. We want to create lifelong customers, so it’s not worth burning a relationship by rejecting a claim over a small part regardless of who was at fault.”

Take Lots of Photos

“When in doubt, take pictures of the bag,” said Cory Kazik, Eagle Creek eComm Supervisor. “Our warranty and customer service teams can figure out ways to help, even with just pictures.”

Many times, you don’t even need to return a product in order to get it replaced. Many manufacturers prefer for you to send photos, which saves time and hassle on both ends. Make sure the shots are well-lit and closely show the damage. Try to get as many angles as possible.

In the unlikely event that your item gets lost when you return it for repair — always splurge on package tracking — the photos may be your only proof of damage.

Get Your Shop Involved

Your gear shop can be your best advocate, particularly if they know you and how you treat your equipment. (That’s why it’s so important to have your repairs and maintenance done at the same place.)

The shop probably has more of a rapport with the company and has more pull than an individual user. If you’ve built a relationship with your shop and your claim is valid, most shop employees will move heaven and earth to help you.

Keep It Friendly

You’re angry and frustrated, but whatever you do, don’t take it out on the customer-service professional assigned to assist you. The person you’re exchanging emails with will likely determine if your item gets repaired, replaced, or sent back to you with a sorry note and a shrug emoji.

“Take a deep breath; we’re here to help,” Green said. “Don’t feel like you’ve got to prepare for battle when contacting us.”

Be Persistent

If at first you don’t succeed, nag until the brand changes its mind. Trek initially denied my warranty claim. But after contacting them again, it brought my frame up to Wisconsin for a closer inspection. That’s when it found slight material damage hidden elsewhere on the bike that they felt warranted a warranty claim.

When it came time to get a new frame, I chose to go with an aluminum model that was better suited to my riding and will hopefully keep me away from Trek’s warranty pros for a while.

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