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Craftsman’s famous lifetime warranty in question after $900 million sale

Sears will sell its Craftsman tools brand to Stanley Black & Decker. Source: Getty Images

Since the brand was introduced by Sears in 1927, Craftsman hand tools have a famous warranty, lifetime and unlimited. Legend held that scavengers used to scour for old beat-up and broken Craftsman wrenches in the trash, and would bring the damaged tools manufactured half a century or more earlier to a local Sears (SHLD) store.

When they walked out, in hand would be a shiny new wrench—or sometimes a rebuilt one with someone else’s initials still scratched in. No receipts or proof of purchase were necessary to get a replacement or a free repair. They’d then go flip that cold steel for cold cash. In a way, Craftsman tools, enabled by their generous guarantee, were cash.

We used to have people go looking for Craftsman tools at old garage sales,” one former employee posted on Reddit. “Or from little old ladies who still had some in storage and return them for brand new [tools], then turn around and sell them as new.”

But the long-popular choice for home tools may have its status as currency thrown up in the air. After 90 years, Sears announced Thursday that it would sell the Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker (SWK) for $900 million to raise cash it needs, as Sears weathers store closings and declining revenue. Sears will continue to sell Craftsman products – which include everything from wrenches to floor jacks – for 15 years without restriction. After that period, it will pay 3% royalties to Stanley Black & Decker, which sells its own line of tools as well as other brands.

The Craftsman warranty has suffered some loss to its reputation in the past decade, with some stores setting quotas, such as a three-piece limit on exchanges, as Consumerist reported in 2009. At the time, Sears VP David Figler wrote to confirm the warranty’s robustness, restating the version at the time: “If for any reason your Craftsman hand tool ever fails to provide complete satisfaction, return it to any Sears store or other Craftsman outlet in the United States for free repair or replacement.”

Today’s updated version of this warranty, which took effect in 2014, seems to have lost a little bit of its “unlimited” status, noting that the tool must be returned to the store “from which it was purchased.” The new policy also gives stores the option to decide how they want to accept the return, which may mean being “subject to a limitation on the number of items allowed per exchange.”

With the sale, the big question is whether Stanley Black & Decker will further the erosion of the warranty. According to Tim Perra, Stanley Black & Decker’s VP of communication, some Craftsman warranties resemble Stanley Black & Decker’s existing lifetime warranties for certain lines, so there’s reason to believe the warranty for Craftsman hand tools will live on.

However, the future of the warranty isn’t yet clear. “It is too early to speculate on the specifics,” Perra wrote in an email to Yahoo Finance. “But we would expect that to continue and we are always committed to doing the right thing to support the brand and our end-users.”

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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