Category: The Junk

Motion-Activated, Solar-Powered, Quartz Security Light

08/12/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Lighting, Security, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com/HFRreviews.html

Solar-Powered Security Light
Item: Motion-Activated, Solar-Powered, Quartz Security Light
Item number: 93661
Retail price: $49.99
Frequent sale price: $34.99
Best price: $29.99
Target price: purchase not recommended
Item Link

This item takes us into new territory at Harbor Freight Reviews: we are advising against purchasing this product. Yes, in the past we have concluded that some other items were bad buys and we added them to our list of The Junk. But this item comes with a stronger "do not purchase" advisory. Other items on The Junk list are poorly constructed, but they may have limited usefulness for some people. This product sets precedence in that it fails in its only possible application and therefore merits a special "do not buy" rating.

We were initially very pleased with this item; well, very pleased after we suffered through the poor design that makes installation a real headache. The primary mounting bracket must be removed to install the light to the building or other support and the placement of the mounting bracket back onto the main lamp body is very difficult, requiring very agile (and small) fingers. They must have had munchkins assembling this light in the factory. Other online reviewers have pretty uniformly complained about this as well. Once mounted, the light is secure and easy enough to position for our application, although some people have complained about this as well.

The performance through the first half of our Buffalo Winter Test was excellent. The solar cell charged the battery pack adequately to give us 20 to 40 30-second bursts of light each time it detected motion. The quartz lamp provided amble illumination which was relatively bright by solar standards (we generally don't expect solar-powered lights to produce the illumination level of other lights; by their nature solar-powered lights are usually low power so that they can be adequately charged by correspondingly small solar panels). On a busy night preceded by an overcast day, the solar light would run out of power before the night was over. On less busy nights preceded by bright days, the solar light would perform well throughout the night and into the morning hours. (We thank Sasha with her frequent trips outside throughout the night for her assistance in conducting these tests.)

The light's electronic controls are well designed. Its has controls for motion sensitivity, light duration, and ambient-light levels determining whether the light will activate (no point in having it flash on during the daytime). The fatal flaws come in its housing design and its manufacture. The light appears to leak water into the battery housing and/or electronic control circuit and the unit fails within a year or two.

We have tested two of these lights purchased about 6 months apart. One outside light failed within the first year; it had severe corrosion at the jack which connects the solar panel to the main light body. The second light failed after remaining inside for about 1 1/2 years! We have not yet determined the cause of this failure, but the second light was not even subjected to outside moisture or temperature extremes.

Harbor Freight's track record with solar products is dismal in our evaluations. We have tested 7 of their solar products to date and have posted reviews for several of them. Out of the 7 products tested, 5 failed within two or three years' use and some failed within the first year. One out of the two products that has performed well so far (i.e., Harbor Freight's 45-watt solar panels) is still being evaluated and we are awaiting the outcome of our first Buffalo Winter Test. Too bad there are so many problems with these solar products because several of them appear solid in their design and features, and Harbor Freight's sale prices have been great.

We will disassemble and attempt to correct the problems with these lights. After we've determined the cause of the failures and have assessed whether simple user modifications can render them operational, we will revise this review. Meanwhile, we have a strong advisory against purchasing this item for any use, including interior use. Indeed, this advisory is stronger than what we have issued for ANY product to date inasmuch as this item suffers catastrophic failure that renders it useless for any application.

The items that make our list of The Junk often have limited usefulness but are still suitable for some applications. For example, their 36" pickup and reach tool does not stand up well to regular use meeting my handicapped wife's needs but remains useful for my occasional use picking-up litter in the yard. So although it made our list of The Junk, one of the three test items remains in service for very limited use (fortunately, we don't have much litter in our yard, and I'm very patient with the tool's unresponsive, sticky mechanism). In contrast, this solar-powered security light seems to self-destruct leaving it simply trash.

Bottom line: Expect to replace this unit after about a year of outside use and expect to have difficulty with its installation if you decide to purchase it. We recommend that you leave this product in the store despite its attractive appearance and low sale price.

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Two-Pack Solar Spotlight Set

08/08/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Outdoor Living, Lighting, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

Solar Spotlight
Item: Two-Pack Solar Spotlight Set
Item number: 95745
Retail price: $19.99
Regular sale price: $14.99
Best price: $9.99 (yes, for the pair)
Target price: $12.99
Item Link

They 'sound' good -- solar lights that not only provide spotlighting where needed without running wires but do so while saving-the-planet. But alas, "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is," and this is certainly the case with this solar spotlight set. They performed marginally the first few months and then gradually dimmed until finally failing completely.:( This earned them a position on our short list of "The Junk" sold by Harbor Freight™.

The solar spotlights never did work very well. At their best they provided only dim illumination through about half of the night. Well positioned, their initial light intensity was sufficient to provide some faint highlighting to the evening garden. "Spotlights?" Yes, technically -- they provided lighting to a 'spot' but never provided the type of accent lighting normally associated with the word "spotlight." This shouldn't be surprising; after all, they are LED lights, and LED yard lights generally provide much lower levels of illumination than do conventional garden lights.

They worked mid-way through the first Buffalo winter test. One of the pair even provided dim illumination through the spring. Inspection revealed that water entered the battery compartment causing corrosion which eventually led to total unit failure. It is unclear whether the water entered directly through the battery compartment's seal or entered through the lens. It seems most likely that the water accumulated in the lens area and drained down through the unit into the battery compartment. Because they are LED spotlights which emit only dim illumination, they have to be close to the object they are highlighting and this usually leads to angling the unit sharply up to provide the proper light pattern (Closer to a vertical object increases the angle of inclination.). The plastic shroud which projects outward from the lens therefore retains rainwater and other moisture possibly subjecting this area to internal leakage. This most likely is responsible for the water accumulated in the battery compartment.

Both lights are now queued up on our repair bench. If the damage is restricted to the battery compartment, then some cleaning along with a new set of batteries should get the units working again. We'll try to determine whether the water entered through the upper lens or more directly through the lower battery-compartment seal and then make the necessary modifications. The worse case scenario is that the LED circuitry is destroyed by corrosion and the units are therefore headed to our scrap pile (yes, we recycle the parts; click here if you would like to know more about our lifelong commitment to recycling). We'll update this post when we've had time to more thoroughly inspect the lights. Meanwhile, if you do purchase these solar spotlights you should probably apply some silicon or other sealant around the lens.

Bottom line: Great idea but bad implementation -- died after the first Buffalo winter test. Without some user re-engineering, this item is best left in the store.

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Circuit Breaker Detective

07/31/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Electrical

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

Circuit Breaker Detective
Item: Circuit Breaker Detective
Item number: 96934
Retail price:$29.99
Regular sale price: $19.99
Best price: $17.99 (with coupon)
Target price: junk-is-junk (but try it if you like, it may work for you)
Item Link

We wouldn't be presenting fair and honest reviews if we didn't also publish our evaluations of some of the turkeys that can be found at Harbor Freight™. Although the list is relatively short, there are a number of items that we consider bad buys. This shouldn't be surprising considering the large inventory of products Harbor Freight™ carries. Collectively, we refer to this list of bad buys as "The Junk" -- items that in our opinion are better left in the store; items that you might pass on so that you have even more money to spend on the good stuff (including our "Hot Buys") found at Harbor Freight™.

We tried this device on three different electrical circuits on three different occasions separated by several months. Each time it had several false positives and never found the correct circuit. In other words, it buzzed on several incorrect circuits and failed to locate the correct one. We consider this test a dismal failure and was very disappointed by this product. Indeed, we had looked forward to finally being able to locate electric circuits quickly and easily without resorting to the old-fashioned flip the circuit breaker and test the lights trick. But atlas, it simply didn't work.

Perhaps we're evaluating this product too hastily. It may work well on most everyone's electrical system except ours. After all, we've only tested it several different times on one home and the wiring in that home was probably updated last in the 1970s. I'm not sure exactly how this should adversely affect the operation of this device, but that qualifier for our review seems appropriate.

To conduct a thorough scientific review, which our review does not purport to be (rather our review is our "opinion" of this product), one would have to purchase several of these units at different Harbor Freight™ outlets over the course of several months. Then test each unit on half-a-dozen or so different homes, each time trying to trace 3 or 4 separate circuits. We didn't do this!

Some products are easy to evaluate as junk -- you can pretty much look at the item's quality and test it a few times for its function. This electronic device is different and therefore we write our review somewhat with trepidation. Nonetheless, we feel obliged to warn our readers of the potential problem with this device.

Perhaps the best advice is for YOU to try it in YOUR home and see if it works for you. Remember, Harbor Freight™ has a 30-day satisfaction guarantee whereby they'll allow you to return any item. Our mistake (which is too common for us and for many others) is that we didn't try it until we needed it several months after purchase. And then it failed miserably! This would have been the first item we've ever returned to Harbor Freight™ for a refund.

We would really like to hear from others who have tried this product. Perhaps it just doesn't work on the single home-wiring that we've tried it on. Perhaps it really is junk.

Bottom line: Try it if you like, but be ready to take it back for a refund within 30-days of purchase. We are so disappointed with our initial tests of this product that it makes our list of "The Junk" not worth taking home at any price.

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Solar Insect Killer with Light

07/21/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Outdoor Living, Lighting, Solar Power

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

Solar Insect Killer
Item: Solar Insect Killer with Light
Item number: 95500
Retail price: $16.99
Frequent sale price: $14.99
Target price: $12.99
Item Link

You've got to be kidding, right? -- they're not, we are (this item is a joke :))). One of the relatively few items sold by Harbor Freight™ that looks good but is really junk. (Most of the worse [i.e., absolute "junk"] items at Harbor Freight look cheap enough upon close inspection to forewarn the savvy shopper of their poor quality or inadequate design.) Buyer beware, this item will sucker you in unless you heed the warning written here or use a little common sense.

This item claims to attract insects to its metal grid and zap them like its bigger brothers that run on 120-volt AC power. A little common sense would suggest that it might be just a little difficult to generate sufficient power from a singe AA-cell battery to illuminate the LED brightly enough to attract insects AND a high enough voltage to fry them on the electric grid. Consider just the first point: when is the last time you saw a significant number of insects swarming around your solar-powered LED yard lights? Well, this unit has an ultraviolet LED and that should work, right? No again, it's simply not bright enough to attract more than the occasional stray insect.

The concept of a solar-powered insect killer is appealing, and being into saving-the-planet one-step-at-a-time, I have to admit I was really excited by the prospects of this product (e.g., bought three). Unfortunately, the manufacturer just hasn't succeeded in accomplishing even the first part of this task, and the few insects that do stumble upon the electrified grid seen to fly off unscathed.

We have tested three units and all have uniformly poor performance as insect killers. The attractive, well-constructed metal housing can fool one into thinking the electronics are similarly well designed, but this is not the case. Even the small switch used to select the white and ultraviolet lights deteriorates after only one or two Buffalo winters.

As an insect killer this product is a dismal failure. In fact, it only receives a target price (i.e., worthy of purchase at any price) because it's a cute little light if purchased cheaply enough. But because it's being seriously sold as an "insect killer," it makes our "Junk Buys" list. Harbor Freight should be embarrassed by this ridiculous product.

Bottom line: An interesting little light, but solar-powered insect killer it's not. Save your money for another Harbor Freight purchase unless you like the style or the soft glow of the ultraviolet light.

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High Speed Metal Saw #91753/113

02/23/09 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Air Tools, The Junk

Link: http://HarborFreightReviews.com

High-Speed Metal Saw
Item: High Speed Metal Saw
Item no. 91753/113
Retail price: $29.99
Frequent sale price: $17.99
Best price: $12.99 (with coupon)
Item Link

Another junk-is-junk item, probably my worse all-time purchase from my favorite retailer, Harbor Freight. The blade in this air saw travels more like a cork screw than a saw blade. It won't even cut through butter; it mangles the butter to death.

I originally purchased this "metal saw" with the idea of quickly cutting through a few pieces of electrical conduit. I even paid $3 more than the current sale price and thought I still got a bargain. I attached the metal cutting blade, fired up the compressor, and zing-zang-kaboom it wobbled and skated all over the piece of conduit. If I wanted to shred some paper, it might have been great. Cutting the conduit with this corkscrew-like-saw, however, was quickly abandoned in favor of a few quick strokes with a manual hacksaw. How do others cut through sheet metal and other material? I haven't the slightest idea. Mine wouldn't cut its way out of its own box. I'm hoping that someone can help me out and will be happy to revise my opinion if YOU can get it to work for ME.

This is number two of what I hope to be a short "junk list." Perhaps I received a defective item; it's more likely that I'm doing something wrong in attaching the blade; or perhaps it is just junk. If your experience is different with this item, please let me know by posting your comment here or through direct e-mail contact. I would like to have this work 'as advertised.' It sounded great--it just didn't work for me!

Bottom line: A do-not-buy piece of junk :( best left in the store. Other comments welcomed.

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This review and discussion forum was created for those of us who love Harbor Freight(tm). It's well known to those who frequent the store that the prices are always cycling up and down, and most of us usually accept it as a personal challenge to get the lowest price possible. It's also well appreciated that some products at Harbor Freight are good, even very good, but that many others are also substandard, yes, even junk. This review and discussion forum is dedicated to the savvy Harbor Freight shopper and is intended to provide some guidance to the best and the worse buys. Similar products from other retailers will also be reviewed from time-to-time. Please be advised that everyone's experience is unique, and what works well (or doesn't work at all) for the reviewers here may or may not suit your personal needs. With this caveat and with notification that Harbor Freight Reviews assumes no liability for the accuracy of information provided here for educational purposes, enjoy the forum and good 'sa(i)ling' at Harbor Freight!

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