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15 Things Harbor Freight Employees Won’t Tell You

While Harbor Freight may not be the best stop for every purchase, there are still plenty of reasons to keep it on your list of favorite stores. Don't believe us? Scroll through this list of insider secrets and see for yourself!

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Quality varies

This is the golden rule for shopping at Harbor Freight. There is an incredible range of quality found on the shelves of this popular retailer. As a result, some of the things you can get there are amazing deals while others are … well, not so much. And it’s not too shocking that store employees aren’t likely to volunteer which items on the shelves should be avoided. The best way to find out what are the best values is to check with other consumers via online or in person or to consult this list of 26 Harbor Freight gems that every DIYer needs.

Inscriptions on sale in percentages (50) printed on red paper.ilikeyellow/Shutterstock

There are sales, and there are SALES!

Harbor Freight is well known for its heavy discounts, and there’s no doubt that products are available at a great price. But sometimes they get a little aggressive in their marketing. If you’re not in a rush to buy a specific item, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it and wait to see what the real range in value is. Annual events such as tent sales tend to have especially discounted pricing, but an ad in the weekly flyer may or may not be a great deal. In fact, a recent class-action lawsuit (Beck v. Harbor Freight) resulted in refunds to thousands of Harbor Freight customers. And that’s the kind of thing that a store employee definitely won’t be mentioning! This kind of savvy shopping can help you save money on everything from garage staples to stocking your pantry.

Constructor's tools on construction site - renovation concept.Lighthunter/Shutterstock

Use it and abuse it

While it’s unlikely that an employee would lead with this as a sales pitch, Harbor Freight is a fantastic place to buy tools and equipment that you intend to use once and throw away. Given that some tool rental locations will gladly send barely-functioning equipment out the door, Harbor Freight’s selection of brand-new equipment at pricing that rivals rental costs, especially when on sale or combined with a coupon, is almost a no-brainer. And at those prices, you can afford to buy the equipment and be as rough on it as you need to be, knowing that you can simply dispose of it when you’re done. You can even skip the cleanup stage you normally encounter when returning a rental.

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Be skeptical of a paid membership

Harbor Freight has a number of optional memberships. It has a free-to-join preferred shopper club as well as options that carry annual dues. The paid membership does come with more coupons, but many of them are available to the general public, if less frequently. Bottom line: If you have the time to track the pricing, you can save yourself the cost of the premier membership. This is the kind of honest take that you generally won’t get from a store employee, whether that’s at Harbor Freight, Home Depot, or another big box retailer.

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There’s also a catalog and website

It’s no secret that Harbor Freight has loads of coupons that show up in weekly flyers, newspapers, or post office boxes. But those aren’t the only way to find deals! There’s also a website (harborfreight.com) and a catalog, both of which have far more specials, sales, and information than the weekly flyer. In addition, Harbor Freight locations will match the online pricing. The online price isn’t always better than the store’s, but when it does happen, it’s worth bringing it to the cashier’s attention so that you can get the best possible value. If you want help finding even more great online deals, check out this collection of tips on finding the very best tool deals online.

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Return online purchases in person

Speaking of the website, while online shopping is fantastic, it often comes with complications if you want to return something. Should your purchase not live up to expectations, it can seem like more trouble than it’s worth to go through packaging it up and sending it back to the retailer. One great service that Harbor Freight offers is a return policy that allows for in-store returns of online purchases.

In other words, if you buy a tool or item online only to find that it doesn’t work as promised, you don’t have to worry about shipping it back. Simply take it to your nearest Harbor Freight for a full refund or replacement. If you love time-saving tips like this, you’ll love these 12 tips for a faster home center trip.

Coupon voucher for exchange and save your money concept.ShutterOK/Shutterstock

Use coupon and deal aggregate sites

Other online resources include various coupon and deal aggregating sites. These sites gather coupons, special deals, and incentives in the hopes of drawing savvy shoppers. Harbor Freight is aggressive enough with its coupons that there are plenty of ways to find deals, but these sites are also great resources when coming up on special events like tent sales or Black Friday deals.

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Free with purchase means EVERY purchase

While we’re talking about coupons, one of the best deals Harbor Freight offers are the featured free items on their weekly flyers. These fall into two categories: free or free with purchase. Although this is fairly self-explanatory, it probably deserves a quick overview. “Free” means that you can simply walk in with the coupon and get that item. “Free with purchase” means that you need to buy something to get the item for free.

However, if you’re like many DIY enthusiasts, you may find yourself making multiple material runs over the course of the project. A stack of these coupons in your car will mean that you can stock up on the freebies over the course of your visits. This is especially great for free shop materials, such as paper towels or those plastic tarps that are so useful to help protect your home during remodeling.

overhead view of a chrome tape measure, lead pencil and a retractable knifeTobinCStudio/Shutterstock

Gateway purchase items mean great value

Of course, once you’re ready to use your free-with-purchase coupon, you’ll need something to buy! If you want to maximize your value, keep an eye out for the cheapest possible item. Although this varies from month to month, it’s often a single utility knife, frequently on sale for 50 cents or less. Combine that purchase with the free coupon, and you’ll walk out of the store with an amazing amount of value for your half dollar. But if you want to buy something a little more fun, you can do that as well! Check out this list of things you probably didn’t know you could buy at Harbor Freight for some creative suggestions.

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Use instant coupons again and again

If you ever get to Harbor Freight and realize you left your discount coupon at home, just grab your phone and text TOOLS to 222377, and you’ll get a coupon for 20 percent off sent to your phone immediately. Already used this tip in the past? Then text TEXTSTOP to that same number (222377) to unsubscribe, then text TOOLS to resubscribe, and get a brand new coupon. It’s no surprise that in the 21st century, a smart phone is one of the most useful things you can keep on your tool belt.

Bearded young man in a hardware store standing reading the information on a product hanging on the rack, side view close upUber Images/Shutterstock

Ask for a better price on clearance options

The next time you’re in Harbor Freight, you may notice a clearance section. As you might expect, these tend to be great deals, but an employee is unlikely to tell you that the store is also open to negotiation! After all, the store’s goal with clearance items is to get them out of the building as fast as possible, and if you’ll be buying several items, you have some leverage to get a better deal. You’ll have to ask to speak with a manager or supervisor, and it may take a little bit of time, but if you can get a sufficient discount, it will be well worth your while. Check out these money-saving secrets Home Depot employees want you to know.

Man with screwdriver. Focused on screw in front. Clouseup conceptSergey Mironov/Shutterstock

Always check for quality

Part of the reason Harbor Freight has such great deals is that it buys from manufacturers all over the world. This is also the reason why the quality can vary so much within its inventory. One manufacturer might produce a high-quality screwdriver, while another could have very low standards. In addition, many of the items are shipped across the globe in a storage container and have spent months on the ocean before they get to your local store. It’s important to inspect any potential purchase, examining the box for shipping damage and checking the tool itself as soon as possible to make sure that it isn’t damaged, rusted, or otherwise not up to snuff. If it’s not, turn right around and return it.

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Online user manuals are easy to find

If you ever have a question about a tool part or its use, keep in mind that Harbor Freight puts scans of user manuals on their website, right on the product page. This isn’t exactly a secret, but it’s amazing how many people (including employees) aren’t aware of this perk. It’s a great way to check for part diagrams or operating instructions. Online user manuals are also handy when repairing appliances.

Hand tool complete set the Wrench, screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, flat crowbar,brass hammer,pipe wrench,punch,Hex wrench on wood background.OSABEE/Shutterstock

Some identical items have different prices

This is a fascinating quirk of the Harbor Freight website. Because Harbor Freight buyers source from so many different suppliers, they sometimes stock identical equipment from multiple manufacturers. This means that a single item may have different item numbers—each item number representing a different manufacturer source. This can pay off for customers when one manufacturer’s price is lower than the other. In other words, when you’re shopping on the website, be sure to check all the instances of that item because you never know when one of them may be significantly lower in price! These similar tricks can help keep your costs down at other hardware stores, or even when grocery shopping.

Old tools hanging on wall in workshop , Tool shelf against a wallSongsak P/Shutterstock

There’s a lifetime warranty on hand tools

Craftsman isn’t the only brand to have a lifetime warranty! Many people don’t know this, but Harbor Freight has a very competitive lifetime warranty on hand tools. From the website: “Lifetime Warranty on Hand Tools! We guarantee our Hand Tools to be free from defects in material and workmanship for the life of the product. Limitations apply.

You will need to call Harbor Freight’s customer service number for an exchange, but it certainly better than nothing! And considering that the lifespan of some harbor freight tools is rather limited, this can be a pretty great resource. Next, learn these 50 insider secrets for saving money at all your favorite stores.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman

Dan Stout
With over a decade spent on residential and commercial construction job sites, Dan Stout has the hands-on experience to speak to builders, contractors, and homeowners with the voice of authority. Much of his work centers on demystifying the building industry by simplifying construction jargon for homeowners and laying out best business practices for contractors. Dan's non-fiction has appeared on numerous blogs and vendor websites, while his prize-winning fiction has been featured in publications such as Nature and The Saturday Evening Post. His debut novel Titanshade is scheduled for a 2019 release from DAW Books.