Home Depot sells 'new' chain saw that's been through the mill

Consumer Reports News: April 25, 2013 01:38 PM

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Consumer Reports recently went to a Paramus, New Jersey, Home Depot to buy a chain saw for an upcoming test, using secret shoppers just as we do with everything from cars and refrigerators to detergent and toilet paper to avoid skewing our results. But when our incognito shopper opened the box of the $159 Homelite UT10589A chain saw, he found a worn, loose blade covered with sawdust and accompanied by leaking bottles of oil.

Apparently the sold-as-new saw had been used, returned, and repackaged for sale, a practice that's legal in the Garden State as long as buyers are told the item was returned. We found out our "new" Homelite chain saw had seen some sawing only when we opened the box. But our troubles didn't end there: When our shopper tried to return it, the store told him he couldn't return products that were used—even though our Homelite chain saw was, indeed, used when he bought it.

The problem with used "new" Homelite chain saws at Home Depot is not limited to New Jersey. A Consumer Reports staffer found seven Homelite chain saws that were missing their cardboard packaging sleeves at a Home Depot near our Yonkers, New York, headquarters. Three of them showed obvious signs of use and when asked about one, the salesperson confirmed that it had been. According to the New York Attorney General's office, stores in New York aren't required to tell buyers that products have been returned.

We think New York should revisit its no-disclosure policy on returned products, especially used chain saws and other power equipment that could be a safety risk if they've been misused or improperly maintained. According to Home Depot, it has a clear policy that any gas-powered equipment that's been returned be sent to a repair center for refurbishing and then marked and sold for less as a reconditioned model. (The company is following up with the stores we cited.) Lowe's, for its part, says that outdoor power equipment returned within the 30-day period following purchase must be in like-new condition.

Our chain-saw buying advice: Check for less-than-pristine packaging, a clue that the chain saw inside may be less-than-new. We also suggest checking the saw itself for sawdust, dirt or oil stains, wear on the bar where it contacts the chain, and other signs of use. And even if a retailer is selling a saw as used, with a come-hither price, think twice—you could be buying someone else's problem. And that reduced price may also mean reduced or voided warranty coverage.

Chain saw tests are underway at Consumer Reports with results due in a few months. In the meantime, there are 10 models in our current Ratings including three top picks: the gas-powered Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230, and two electric models, the Husqvarna 316, $220, and the Poulan Pro 400E, $110, which we named a CR Best Buy.

Ed Perratore

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