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September 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 35, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Servicing Your Regulator

how to avoid those high costs

from the September, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Not long ago, one of our readers told me he had paid nearly $100 to have both stages of his regulator and his octopus serviced to keep up the warranty. Another subscriber, Jeff Reed (Naperville, IL) tells us he was shocked when the price for servicing two sets for the annual warranty checkup was $130. “The manufacturer covers the cost of the parts but if they didn’t, I would just buy inexpensive regulators more frequently and toss them.”

It seems that what Reed paid, $65 per regulator and octopus, is about average. Even if parts are covered by warranty, labor is most of the bill. Online retailer LeisurePro charges $49.95 for labor., based in Las Vegas, charges between $60 to $100, plus parts. (Customers who buy gear from its website get the first year’s service free, including labor.) Harbor Dive Shop in Sausalito, CA, charges $15 for inspections and minor adjustments, $35 to overhaul the first stage, $20 to overhaul the second stage, plus parts. Scuba Works in Jupiter, FL, charges $30 to inspect a first-stage, $25 for the second stage. AirTech in Raleigh, NC, services regulators for consumers mailing equipment directly (it guarantees a 14-day service turnaround). The charge is $30 per stage, and parts are retail price.

If you have a more sophisticated - - and expensive - - regulator, it requires more parts, adding to the cost. “Parts for the first and second stage of a Sherwood regulator are $12 total,” says Brett Holmes, a repair technician for LeisurePro. “Compare that to a ScubaPro or Apeks regulator, where you’re looking at $15 to $20 per stage. Toss in an octopus at $15 to $20, and it adds up.” So you could easily be looking at a $100-plus bill.

Some dive shops take it too far, which Bret Gilliam, former Uwatec CEO and frequent Undercurrent contributor, told us from recent experience. “I use an Atomic Aquatics titanium regulator that I return directly to Atomic for servicing every three to five years. When I took it to the local dealer and told them to do a regular service and replace the diaphragm cover, the bill was over $300. This regulator is $1,200 retail, so the service was 25 percent of the total price I paid. My jaw nearly dropped to the floor, but that didn’t prompt the staff to explain the cost. They did tell me they were giving me a discount because I was an industry pro, but God knows what they charge a regular diver. When I called Atomic, they said it was unconscionable, and the price should have been closer to $100.”

Watch out for the dive shop that gives you a bad time if you bought your regulator elsewhere. Jason Caldwell (Norfolk, VA) bought his Mares regulator online at Joe Diver America, after verifying it was an authorized dealer. At the one-year anniversary, his wife took it to his local dive shop, Divers Unlimited, for the checkup. “She was told the parts would be covered and I would just be charged for labor. When I went to pick up my equipment, I was charged $42 for parts. The reply was essentially: ‘You didn’t purchase it here, and online stores aren’t authorized dealers.’” The store owner agreed to check with Mares and would refund Caldwell’s money if he was told Joe Diver America was an authorized dealer. Two weeks later, Caldwell got a voice mail that Divers Unlimited wouldn’t give him a refund because he hadn’t bought from them. “This happened after I’ve done all my advanced training with them, and my wife is taking her openwater certification there.”

Follow That Warranty

OnlineScuba’s general manager Bill Gornet says many divers don’t follow their warranty’s annual-servicing policy, so they’re stunned when they have to pay for parts. “Sometimes they’re not doing proper maintenance so the mouthpieces have dry rot, hoses must be replaced. Then they’re looking at $60 in parts.”

“ScubaPro says if you miss one year of servicing, you won’t get free parts ever again,” adds Gornet. “Manufacturers let things slide in the past, so money was spilling out the back door. Now they’re following their guarantee rather than letting it slip by the wayside.”

To keep up with the warranty, most manufacturers don’t require an overhaul annually, just an inspection and replacement of worn parts. Harbor Dive manager Jack Kuhn asks customers up front whether they want an inspection, adjustment or overhaul. “My philosophy is don’t fix things that aren’t broken.” But read your warranty, then specify the type of service you want, otherwise a greedy shop might do a full overhaul.

If you’ve got a problem - - your regulator is free flowing, honking or acting just plain weird - - a technician will typically disassemble your regulator, clean it, replace the filter, O-rings and seats, then reassemble it. Rather than spending his time and your time and money diagnosing the problem, he simply fixes everything.

If your regulator isn’t misbehaving but you want to get it checked out before a dive trip, just ask for an inspection or a “bench check.” A trained technician can check the interstage pressure, cracking pressure (inhalation effort) and exhalation effort at the second stage, and flow rate through the regulator. If there is a problem, he can fix it; if not, you’ve saved money.

A good dive shop will also give you back the old parts he took out during servicing so that you can see the wear and tear on the parts – and confirm that the technician actually did something with your regulator. OnlineScuba returns parts in a plastic bag, plus a sheet stating what service they did and, after running the regulator through an air check, a graph showing how the regulator performed.

How Often Should You Service It?

If you’re out of warranty, perhaps not as often as you think. Of course, manufacturers will say you should do it annually, as that’s their policy (although AquaLung now recommends every two years). Kay Wilson of Indigo Divers in Grand Cayman says once-a-year divers should follow through on the annual more than a frequent diver. “Rubber will ‘dry out’ and the plastics used in its construction will degrade more quickly than for a regulator in regular use.”

Gilliam says “many regulators, particularly higher-end ones, don’t need regular servicing because they’re remarkably durable. What’s more of an indicator is how many dives you’ve done with it and how much use you’ve gotten out of it. The one I’ve used for the past 13 years and for 2,900-plus dives had never had a problem between. If it has performed well and you’ve done a thorough job cleaning after use, there’s no good reason why it shouldn’t work at least three years in between servicing.”

Fred Good, past owner of St. George’s Lodge in Belize, has a simple formula to calculate the cost-effectiveness of annual servicing: “Divide the cost of the regulator by the cost of its annual maintenance (don’t include the gauges, hose, etc. because these aren’t included in that cost). Don’t be surprised if this comes out to a number less than seven, and in some cases as low as five if you purchased a cheap regulator. If the result is five, that means in five years, you will have spent enough to purchase a second regulator if you had never serviced the first one at all. So it might be smarter to throw away your regulator and buy a new one every five years.”

To save money and trips to the dive shop, read the owners manual, says Al Pendergrass, senior technician at AirTech. “It lays out guidelines of your regulator’s warranty, maintenance and care. That eliminates 99 percent of the questions we have to answer for you.” (You should be able to find a copy on the manufacturer’s Web site.)

Keep a file with all your gear purchase and servicing receipts, and warranty statements with the serial number so you can prove you merit free parts — or if for some reason you are improperly charged or refused service and need to contact the manufacturer for resolution or restitution.

- - Ben Davison

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