Outboard owners caught in bankruptcy's wake

Loss of Evinrude, Johnson outboard warranties pose problems for boaters and local businesses

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Promises of repairs and long life are in question after a company's demise left many Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors without usable warranties.

The Outboard Marine Corp., the former parent company of several outdoor products including Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, declared bankruptcy at the end of last year. In March of this year Bombardier Motor Corp. of Montreal purchased assets of the defunct company for $95 million. However, Bombardier bought none of the company's liabilities.

The upshot, said Brad Fluetsch, an Evinrude outboard motor owner, was a lot of people stuck with motors and no warranties.

"Everyone has these motors," Fluetsch said. "A big selling point for that motor for me was the two-year warranty plus the extended two years. Now it's nothing but a worthless promise."

Bill League, manager of Tanner's Service Center in Douglas, said the warranty problem has hurt his business and left him with a lot of stock not carrying a warranty. He said it's caused him to absorb much of the cost of repairs to keep customers happy - or to lower prices to sell what he has.

"My hands are tied. If there is a major problem with an engine and it's two or three years old, there's not a lot I can do for a customer," he said. "I'll be happy to do what I can. If it's a smaller problem we can probably handle it."

By "handling it," League said he doesn't charge a customer for labor in many cases. League said in one instance this cost him nearly $10,000.

He said at a recent boat show he tried to sell a boat with an Evinrude motor. He said before the warranty issue arose he could have sold the boat for about $25,000. But because the motor was a year too old to be guaranteed, he had to sell it for around $10,000. He said this was less than what it cost in parts and labor to put it together.

"At this point I'm just breaking even and paying off the bank barely and the sales tax to the city," he said. "I'm just trying to stay afloat."

In another instance he said a customer brought in a motor to be serviced but because the warranty was not filed before the cutoff date issued by Bombardier, it was not honored.

"So now it sits there on my shelf not paid for and the owner won't come and pick it up," he said. "So I just have to eat that cost too."

Jan Scheske, public relations manager for Bombardier Recreational Products, the division overseeing outboard motors, said Bombardier was under no obligation to cover any warranties when it purchased OMC's assets. She said the company sent letters advising outboard motor owners of the change in policy around May.

According to Bombardier's Web site the 2000 and 2001 Evinrudes will carry the original two-year warranty while the same-year Johnsons will carry a one-year limited warranty, both beginning from the date of purchase. In addition, over-the-counter parts and accessories have a one-year limited warranty from the date of retail purchase. In some cases, the site said, the warranty may begin on the dealer's invoice purchase date.

Scheske added Bombardier will not cover extended warranties or special-offer warranties.

She said Bombardier decided to cover the motors with the 2000 and 2001 manufacture years as a courtesy.

"We had to draw the line somewhere," she said. "As a gesture of goodwill we offered the warranty on the 2000s and 2001s. We felt it was very gracious."

Scheske said people who own motors not covered by this warranty may purchase a warranty from the company, with the price depending on the motor, she said.

Though Fluetsch bought his motor earlier this year, it was a 1999 and was not covered by Bombardier.

League said he will continue to sell and service Johnson and Evinrude motors. Despite warranty upsets they are still good motors and he can't really blame Bombardier, he said.

As for motors not covered by warranty, League said he is willing to service them. He also said he would try to work with customers on adjusting the pricing if they bought their motor from him.

"They are the ones I feel an obligation to, more so than those who went somewhere else for their motor," he said. "And as for the motors I sell that are not under warranty I always tell people what they are getting and what to expect if there's a major problem with them. I'm not going to lie to them. But there's only so much I can do. I wish I could do more. I wish I had the money to do more."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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