By Russ and Tiña De Maris
As RVers, we’re all in favor of saving money. And for RVers that handle whatever maintenance and repair work they can, here’s a possible source of big savings. It’s called Harbor Freight Tools.
We know, there’s apt to be a little backlash from some. We’ve heard the jeers: “Horrible Freight Tools.” “More Chinese Junk!” But after listening to the opinions and experiences of a fair number of RVers, and after some amount of shopping and use of Harbor Freight stuff, we’re here to outline “a humble opinion.”
The old expression, “You get what you pay for,” just doesn’t seem to fit. For years one of our dads was a big “Snap-On Tools” man – he made his living with those tools, and he swore by them. Another father, when he bought hand tools and a lot of power tools would invariably run on into Sears and pick up stuff from the Craftsman line. Said he could always count on them to replace things that broke.
But then again, that was a few years back. Today, plenty of people no longer “swear by” Craftsman, many “swear at” them. Why so? It’s the same sad story. Rather than holding to tools made in the U.S., much of the Craftsman stuff is said to come from – you know where — China. What about the “if it breaks, bring it back,” promise? That depends on which Sears you buy the tool from. The nearest Sears “retailer” from our home base is 25 miles away. They’re happy to sell you any Craftsman tool – but never bring it back. They flatly WILL NOT replace a broken Craftsman tool.
What about Harbor Freight? Countless RVers say that they’ve purchased tools and equipment from that discount retailer, and yes, sometimes those tools break. But when they’ve brought the bad boy back, they’ve never been given a run-around; rather, they’re given a replacement.
The consensus that we’ve seen works out like this: If you need a tool or a piece of equipment that you may only use once in a while, don’t hesitate. You’ll save big dollars, and be happy with the results. If you’re buying things that you may need regularly, it’s a matter of “know what you’re shopping for, and what Harbor Freight offers.” Here are some ‘cases in point.’
Hand tools get rave reviews, save for screwdrivers. Some grumble that the tolerances aren’t as “tight” as the big name retailers. Tools that you expect to “wear out” over time, like drill bits, come in for a mixed review. Drill bits, at least in the lower price range, get a thumbs down, but the higher-end bits are acceptable. Blades for saws? Circular and table saw blades seem to get a good review, but forget about reciprocating blades, like for saber saws or “Sawzall” type cutters. Here, many say they buy the tool itself, but trot around to a Big Box store like Home Depot and by the blades for the equipment there.
Universally agreed – shy away from sandpaper. It seems that while the Colonel got his recipe for “seven secret herbs and spices down” just fine, Harbor Freight hasn’t figured out how to make sand stay on sandpaper.
Over the years we’ve personally bought electrical testers, flashlights, and heavenly days, RV specific equipment with good results. Need to stabilizer jack for your travel trailer? Harbor Freight has ’em, and they work very well, and far less expensive that you can buy them from just about anyone else. And after a nasty experience with a very close “jackknife” situation, we wiped out a “brand name” sway controller. For less than a third (or maybe closer to a half) of the price for a “major label” controller, we picked up one at HF and it’s worked just as well.
An RV area we will advise caution on: Shy away from the solar panel kits, unless you really do want low-output. Shopping around in the solar panel market these days does put Harbor Freight to shame, and the efficiency of panels from other outfits is just so much greater.
And don’t forget the coupons! Some RV magazines, and of course, AARP magazine, carry monthly full-page Harbor Freight advertisements with loads of coupons. Sure enough, some of the stuff you may never buy, but invariably there’s a “20% off the item of your choice” stuck in there too.