Feature December 1, 2013 by
Jim Anderton, Technical Editor
Beware cheap equipment
It took a while for me to get it when I was a teenager. Like everyone else, I wanted Snap-on, Proto, S-K or Mac, but couldn’t afford the good stuff. So I bought cheap offshore junk. Then I had to buy it again when it stripped, cracked and...
It took a while for me to get it when I was a teenager. Like everyone else, I wanted Snap-on, Proto, S-K or Mac, but couldn’t afford the good stuff. So I bought cheap offshore junk. Then I had to buy it again when it stripped, cracked and sheared due to poor quality metal and lousy heat treating.
Sears Craftsman was a good intermediate step, quality wise. But as I could afford better tools, I soon needed to buy far fewer of them and 35 years on I still use my original good tools, making them a great long run value. “Buy quality and you only have to buy it once” isn’t a new concept, but there’s a parallel in shop equipment that exists too these days, and it has me wondering about cost vs. value in the modern sense of the word.
I came across a two-post lift recently that was selling new at $1,895, a ludicrously low sum for such a large and critical piece of shop equipment. I won’t tell you the source, because they sell good stuff too and because when asked why they carry the lowball lift, they responded that it was for hobby use and they needed to be competitive with the many purveyors of offshore equipment. For the hot-rodder holding up a T-bucket at home, I’m sure it was fine. But the dealer acknowledged that shops are buying the cheap lifts too.
Naturally, I wanted to look closely at the construction of a lift that sells for the price of a cheap tire balancer, and at distance, it looks the same as any other lift. Up close, however, the roll formed mild steel uprights and flimsy stays were a warning sign, as was the extensive use of plastics and chains that looked like they belonged on a bicycle. None of these issues were critical taken individually, but taken together I had to wonder about the durability of the unit. While the lift was rated as a 5,000 pound unit, I would likely stay well below this figure, at least if I was working under it. From an electrical safety perspective, however, I couldn’t see a CSA approval sticker anywhere, which is always ominous. Instead, there was an Underwriter’s Laboratory sticker, but not the “C” UL label typical for Canadian certification.
Is it properly certified? Maybe. The key point is that as a professional user, it’s the shop owner who’s responsible for making sure that equipment he or she buys is approved. The stakes are high. If a worker is injured, or a fire breaks out, it’s a given that investigators will point to uncertified electrical equipment. And insurance investigators would be sure to make it an issue when it comes to a claim. “I didn’t know” isn’t an excuse and don’t expect the equipment dealer to help in that situation either. At under two grand, the pricing seems almost too good to be true and in my experience it usually is. And if it’s possible to sell a large, heavy piece of equipment like a lift at that price, I have to wonder about dumping. There’s a lot of steel in a lift, and many small parts plus a power unit; it’s difficult to see how that price is realistic, even with cheap labour, given the huge shipping costs involved.
With hand tools, I eventually realized that I couldn’t afford to constantly replace cheap junk. When I bit the bullet and invested in the good stuff, it paid dividends for years … I have to think the same principle applies to lifts.