Sean P. Murphy | The Fine Print

His chain saw warranty coverage wasn’t cutting it

Bill O’Coin showed off the box his chain saw came in at his home in Leicester.
Bill O’Coin showed off the box his chain saw came in at his home in Leicester. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Bill O’Coin was cutting a tree stump in his daughter’s backyard last summer when the gas powered chain saw he was using stalled and wouldn’t restart, no matter how hard or how many times he pulled the starter cord.

Eventually, to finish the job, O’Coin grabbed one of the three other chain saws he owns.

But it bothered him that the chain saw his children gave him as a Christmas gift 18 months earlier had conked out. He hadn’t used it much, maybe 20 times, so he figured it was defective and that the Swedish manufacturer, Husqvarna, would quickly fix or replace it because it was still under warranty.


But that’s not what happened.

O’Coin, 67, of Leicester, is a retired department store manager. His wife recently retired after 36 years of teaching second-graders in the next town over. They live on a big, wooded spread where O’Coin spends a lot of time outside, sweating over chores and projects.

If you count all the hours O’Coin has put into getting his chain saw fixed or replaced, you might think he’s gone overboard for a $345 piece of equipment. But he insisted he’s not going away.

“Sometimes it comes down to the principle of the thing,” he said when we met.

The Husqvarna warranty is pretty standard. For two years, it covers anything that breaks, unless the customer is deemed to be at fault for damaging the product.

When his chain saw died, O’Coin contacted Husqvarna, which directed him to City Power Equipment, a retailer and authorized Husqvarna dealer in Charlton. Store owner Mark Mitchell found a small crack in the crankcase of O’Coin’s chain saw and concluded it was damaged by O’Coin, based on O’Coin’s account of getting it “stuck” in a tree stump.

O’Coin told me that was a misinterpretation of what he had told Mitchell. The stump he was cutting was half rotted, and the blade easily slipped out after it stalled.


But Husqvarna sided with Mitchell. “After speaking with the dealer they informed me that this is not” covered under “warranty,” Husqvarna wrote in an e-mail to O’Coin. “City Power had diagnosed that the saw had gotten pinched, and was damaged while attempting to remove the saw.”

When I visited Mitchell at his shop one of the first things he said was that O’Coin hadn’t purchased the chain saw at his store — and that “I don’t love the Internet.”

I’m convinced that’s a big part of O’Coin’s problem. The saw was purchased online, rather than at a store. Stores may charge a little more, but many, especially smaller ones, have sales people willing to lavish attention on walk-in shoppers they hope to retain as repeat customers.

Some of that attention comes into play when a warranty is invoked, I learned last week in interviews with people in the industry. Customers claiming warranty protection typically get sent to a store designated by Husqvarna as an authorized dealer, where the store owner makes the all-important recommendation on coverage to the manufacturer.

If that authorized dealer is the place where you bought your saw (and maybe other stuff, too), then you’re likely to get the benefit of the doubt.

That’s important because it’s often difficult to determine, based on the evidence (or lack of it), whether a malfunctioning chain saw is the result of a manufacturing defect or damage caused by the consumer.


“The dealer is in the middle, between the consumer and the manufacturer,” one store owner said.

No such personal relationships exist on Amazon. While a manufacturer’s warranty is just as valid on a purchase made on Amazon as one made at a local hardware store, there’s no one at Amazon to put in a good word for you with the manufacturer.

(You can return defective or damaged items directly to Amazon for a refund or replacement, but only within 30 days after purchase, according to its policy posted online. After 30 days, Amazon recommends contacting the manufacturer directly.)

By the time I got involved, O’Coin and Mitchell were at an impasse. Denied warranty coverage, O’Coin said he wanted Mitchell to return his chain saw, which by then had been reduced to a box of parts by a technician looking for the problem. But Mitchell refused unless he got $100, which he said was fair compensation for his time and effort. O’Coin refused to pay it.

After I contacted Husqvarna, the company reversed its position and promised to replace O’Coin’s saw at no cost (and without further explanation to me). I think that was the right thing to do.

The right results

I am pleased to report favorable outcomes following two recent columns.

■  Last month, I wrote about Steve Kallaugher, the founder of a small charity that feeds and clothes orphans in Africa. Kallaugher came to me after $18,542 disappeared from a Bank of America checking account he maintains to operate the Young Heroes Foundation.


The money was withdrawn from his bank account without his authority via a payroll service run by a company that Kallaugher says he never had any contact with.

“I never signed up for it, I never paid fees for it, I never received any statements regarding it,” Kallaugher said.

Yet when Kallaugher contacted Bank of America about his loss, the bank, one of the largest and richest in the world, refused to refund the money, offering only a series of baffling reasons for its denial.

Many readers expressed outrage at Bank of America’s intransigence. One of the most “liked” comments posted to the online version of the column said, simply, “This is terrible! How can they get away with this?”

Well, I guess they can’t. Bank of America refunded the money, but offered no explanation for how the money was taken in the first place or why they had agreed to return it.

■  I also wrote last month about Cynthia Graber, whose $1,200 bike (a gift from her father) was stolen, despite being locked to a bike rack placed by the MBTA at Davis Square Station in Somerville. What Graber discovered, and what I passed along to the T, was that while her bike was securely locked to the rack, the rack was not anchored to the ground.

As a result, a thief apparently lifted one of the legs of the rack and simply slipped the lock — and bike — off of it.


The T responded by sending a crew to fix the racks at Davis. (A reader informed me after the column came out that the same unsecured rack problem exists at the Swampscott commuter rail station; I passed that along to the T too. Fixed yet, T?)

But the T has refused to cover the cost of a new bike for Graber, citing its blanket disavowal of responsibility for stolen items. Graber has filed a claim in small claims court.

I trust she’ll get her money after a hearing. After all, the T made the theft possible, if not inevitable, with its poorly installed bike rack.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.