Harbor Freight Santa Clara Screwed Me

I decided I wanted that $60 solar “briefcase” from Harbor Freight that was shown in the video in this article:


So I looked on line. Found it at the local Harbor Freight:

E. San Jose, CA
1775 Story Rd Ste 130

Store Info
In Stock

Make My Store

Santa Clara, CA
Store Info
In Stock

Make My Store

Santa Clara, CA #349
5241 Stevens Creek Blvd
Santa Clara, CA 95051

Store Hours:
M-F: 8:00am-8:00pm
Sat: 8:00am-8:00pm
Sun: 9:00am-6:00pm

So I dashed over. 2 were on the shelf. BOTH open packages with ragged tops / closures. I ought to have just stopped there and left. But wanted closure.

Took it to the front to check out. Decided just to make sure that the entire set of 4 cables was in the box. Nope. Only 3, and missing the one that goes into the “Go Power” device.

OK. So I say “Hey, it is missing the cable I need.”

What follows is a clerk from the next register over (bigger “pudgy guy”) saying “it only comes with two, see the picture.” But I know it comes with 4. Plus there are 4 on the back of the box picture, and THREE in the box. How can “comes with 2” mean 3? Then there’s the picture and listing on the wrapping IN the box saying and showing 4. OK…

We go around about a half dozen times: “Is 2. Is 4. Is 2 see picture!. Is 4 see other picture!”. Eventually I tire of this as it is in front of other clerks and customers.

I say “I’m going to trade this for the other one”.

Clueless Argumentative Clerk says “I don’t care what you want…” after which I quit listening… and said back “Yeah, I know you don’t care what the customer wants, but either I get all 4 adapters, or I don’t buy it”.

The other one on the shelf had all four adapters. So on to check out.

This was just the beginning…

I get home, and spouse asks where I went. I get the box for “Show and Tell”. Out comes the “Briefcase Solar Panel” in plastic wrapper and paper end mounts like it has never exited the box before.

I open it to show…. and the hinge is broken and the thing is two separate parts not connected by a hinge. It is flat out BROKEN.

OK, I hop in the car and head back.

Turns out they close at 8 now, not 9 like everywhere else and forever. I get there about 8:40. Three people inside. A tap on the door. “Pudgy Girl” at the back of the shop sees me, and runs to the back so as not to have to deal with anything. “Bigger Pudgy Guy” who I think was the jerk giving me grief earlier comes to the door. I explain “It is broken, I’d like to swap or return”. Now at this point he could just open the door, find the one on the shelf, if it is good, hand it too me, and be done. But Nooo….

~”We’re closed. Don’t even have any registers. They are all in the back… Come back tomorrow at 9 A.M. when we open.”

Not pleased, but I go to my car anyway. I’m getting ready to bail when I see the Night Auditor / Closing Manager come to the register and start to close it out. I know what this is because I’ve done it. So first off, “Pudgy Guy” was too clueless to just handle the problem via a swap, then he flat out LIED to the customer about registers already closed out and gone.

But it gets worse…

So I go up to the door and waggle a finger at “Pudgy Guy” and point at the guy closing the register and say “Not going to look good on the internet…” and go back to my car.

Now I’m not sure how much they can see out the door. It is well lit inside and getting dark outside. But about this time “Pudgy Girl” comes to the front. She talks to Pudgy Guy and with her mask off does the laugh bend over thing. I can read lips OK due to the deafness, and while I could not get all of it, I’m pretty sure Pudgy Guy was saying something like ~”That was the guy upset about {the product} earlier and I just blew him off”. She had a good laugh about it as did he.

So, to recap:

Harbor Freight #349 at 5241 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95051; tried to sell me a product missing parts, derided me in front of other customers and staff for saying it was missing parts, even when demonstrated that the other box had all 4 adapters, was dismissive, sold me a flat out physically broken unit, didn’t want to do a slightly after hours exchange when that was all it would take, and then decided to have a laugh about it.

Now I ask you: Does that sound like a well run store to you? Does that sound like somewhere that cares about The Customer?


I may be very biased. In our restaurant, we often closed at 9 PM, but when someone came to the door and said they had no dinner and just wanted whatever we could do; we opened the door, and made them what we could make. The Grill takes about 1/2 hour warm up, and the friers about the same, so deep fat fried and grilled were out. Plus things in the steam table. But we could usually figure out something to make. Grilled Cheese in a skillet or a cold sandwich. Something being better than nothing.

So my POV on Customer Service leans rather strongly toward “Do not piss off the customer”. Maybe that is old fashioned now.

So tomorrow, about 9 AM, I get to go back a 3rd time and ask for “The Manager”. Then, when some “20 Something” gets trotted out, ask if “They have Profit and Loss responsibility or are just a MINO (Minnow or Manager In Name Only)? Then explain that the Saturday Night Crew are clueless and a PITA to the customer, and this customer wants some degree of satisfaction (working product or money back) and that the story is “up” on the internet with the ending to be written by said Manager (or MINO)…

But at this point I can only state:

DO NOT under any circumstances buy ANY product from Harbor Freight in an opened box without taking EVERYTHING out, inspecting it, and assuring both completeness and that the product is intact. Clearly Harbor Freight does not care about selling you boxes with missing part or broken crap in them.

Tomorrow we find out if they have a tiny bit of clue about Customer Relations importance, or if they don’t mind at all having this crap be normal business operations.

Stay tuned, more to come…

UPDATE / Epilog:

The “Morning Crew” were more clueful than the night crew. A bit terse, not quite brusque. No fuss, just “stand in the line” and a point at the 6 foot markers in the aisle of tools.

I had paused in the entry about 6 feet from the clerk to ask “where to I take returns” and she was not interested in any more words than necessary…

OK, I stand “over there” about 30 seconds, she finishes that customer, I step up: “Return. It is broken”. I hand her the receipt, she does the register stuff, spits out a “receipt for return” and I sign it. Only quibble was that she required my phone number for a return. OK I guess, though I usually do not give it out. Then someone from the back was called with the “ok to hand out cash” register code. Then drawer open and… not enough cash.

So a few minutes were spent getting folks with money authority to scare up the bucks. I walked out of the store cash in hand.

Thanks to YMMV on the original story for catching that they lied on the box.

It is called a “13 watt” panel, but even if you take the peak volts at 24 (undoubtely open circuit) and the peak amps at 400 mA (clearly not open circuit), and doing a multiply…that is only 9.6 W so they still have to fudge it somewhere.

For that reason I went for “cash back” instead of replacement.

So all I’m out is the gas for 3 trips to the local Harbor Freight. I did get a nice chunk of camp rope for $5 out of it. So there’s that.

I’m still going to look for a modestly low cost 12 VDC with car adapter panel that I can use to trickle charge my car. Typically one will sit in the driveway getting sun for 1/2 a day right in the windshield, and not driven for a month or so. Sometimes the battery gets a bit low and I swap it into use and another one goes to the holding space. It would be nice to keep that battery topped up. But not necessary. I’ve been doing it via rotation for many years.

When car camping, I’ll just keep using my inverter and expect to recharge while driving. That, too, has worked for years. IF I ever end up in one spot for a week or two, I’ll just make sure to run the engine for 7 minutes every week ;-)

One other minor note:

I’ve been to a few other Harbor Freight stores and the staff were much more friendly and helpful. It looks like it is just this one in this area that is brusque and rude about customers. So not going back to this one.

I’ll drive the extra 5 or 10 miles to the one in South San Jose or further north (they must have one somewhere near Milpitas…) The Story Road one is an option, but that area is of less than savory reputation. “King & Story” was an intersection known for fights, violence, etc. some decades ago. I’ve not heard such in the last 2 decades, but that could just be me not following the news about local gangs. In any case, I only go there if there is no other option, otherwise I avoid the area.

With that, I’m going to put a dachshund on my lap, have a fresh cup of coffee, and crinkle some money in my pocket ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks, Energy. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Harbor Freight Santa Clara Screwed Me

  1. HiFast says:

    You can tell them that I was going to follow your lead and get one at that Santa Clara store, but after your experience will not do so. Thanks for the noggin’s up!
    HiFast (in Campbell, for a while)

  2. Dave H says:

    I make it a habit to never ever buy a re-pack. Not at HF, not at any of the box stores, not anywhere. been burned a few times.

  3. AC Osborn says:

    What is most condemning and happens quite a bit is that they put them back on the shelf in that condition.

  4. H.R. says:

    It’s your local Harbor Freight store’s management, and it sucks. I’m wondering if it is true for many, most, or all of their California stores.

    I now have a choice of two Harbor Freight stores and they are both managed very well. I have only had one defective-out-of-the-box product, which I promptly returned for a refund; no problems. (There are 4 stores in the greater metro area, but the other two might just as well be in another State. I have no idea how well-run those two are.)

    Also, they have a ‘Clearance’ shelf which has a few discontinued products and the rest is stuff that is missing some part or other. That’s where, for example, the socket sets with one or two sockets missing wind up and they are marked down appropriately. That’s where your ‘missing one cable’ would have wound up.

    When I go in, I have something specific I want, but I wander the aisles to see what’s new or on sale that I might want to add. Oh, and I check the clearance shelf. It never fails that one of the employees zipping around will ask me, “Can I help you find something?”

    There have been only a couple of times that they were out of stock on the shelf of the very thing I came in to buy. Both times, they went to the stock room to make sure they were completely out and not just out of stock on the shelf.
    If the actual ‘Manager’ is a jerk and setting the tone for the store, make noise to Corporate HQ. I believe Harbor Freight HQ is actually in your neck of the woods.

    Keep it in your hip pocket that you know there are well-run stores around the country and if
    your local shop is just a management problem at that store, you expect Corporate HQ to help take care of your problem and suggest they take care of their problem at that store.

  5. agesilaus says:

    I came to the conclusion years ago that any complex and/or electrical items were on my do not buy at HF list. That would certainly apply to Solar gear. For simple solid items, wrenches, hammer, hand tools and so on I will purchase there. Altho items like drill bits that require the right expensive alloy and heat treatment are probably junk when bought at HF.

    Some items like wheel chocks are quite good, but they are solid rubber-plastic. Socket sets are also usable.

    However my local HF will take items back and exchange them for the same item, a waste of time since the exchanged one will be junk too.

  6. Ossqss says:

    One note, if you do buy anything from HF, is see how much the no questions asked extended warranty is. I have a neighbor who built a shipping container house and used a 7″ grinder from there and went through 8 of them during the process of cutting out the interior walls of the containers. No questions asked, they just swapped them out under the warranty over several months.

    I know some may say “why not use alternate ways to cut steel”. It is because if you use a torch or anything similar, it leaves protruding debris and would need grinded to smooth it out for finishing. Grinder doesn’t. Saw blades only lasted a few feet.

  7. Nancy & John Hultquist says:


    RE: Eric Smidt

    HF used to come to town with a tractor-trailer and set up outside a vacant building and sell stuff. I have several 25 ft. measuring tapes. Haven’t seen them in years doing that, and haven’t visited the store that is 50 miles south.

  8. H.R. says:

    @agesilaus – Yeah, I’ve only bought a few electrical thingies from HF.

    I got a belt sander and a bench grinder. I had read online a lot of reviews of their powered equipment. In general, the stuff powered by a little round-and-round fractional HP motor is OK, and I’ve been very happy with them.

    I keep putting off buying one of their wood lathes, either the floor or bench model. Heard the same thing; the fractional HP motor on them is just fine

    I bought a Craftsman table saw and benchtop drill press many years ago when none of the Craftsman tools or equipment were made in China. Those have stood up very, very well.

    Everything else electric, I’ve not considered buying… ever.
    Did you ever get a hassle from the store on any returns? Maybe you managed to avoid that by skipping the electrical goodies and just don’t know.

  9. Taz says:

    Sorry Mr. Smith. This one I pin on you. Was your crap detector just not working that day?

    There were plenty of clues. You ignored all of them. Reality is just reality. It isn’t what you want. When you lose your grip on reality – the toll is what you experienced.

    You shouldn’t have gotten mad or even the slightest confrontational. You should have just walked out.

    I imagine in 20/20 hindsight…walking out would have been the only effort you would have expended on this.

    We leave good tips, but one of the prices of those tips is our tendency to walk out if there is even the slightest hint we’re about to experience food poisoning. It’s the manager’s job to insure that EVERY employee is on the same page regarding sanitation. Sadly, that’s often not the case. Certain we don’t catch all of them – but we try.

    An establishment SHOULD lose customers when they front bad employees. My guess is that you’ve become desensitized by California. Too much coddling of human vermin. You probably don’t even realize how accommodating you’ve become to freaks.

  10. E.M.Smith says:


    The “Crap Detector” was being a bit overridden by the desire to possess…

    Yes, I usually will not buy and “open box”. But I did check and found one of the cables was missing. The second box had the cable. The device proper was inside a white thin wrapper with the pressed paper end caps on it, so I assumed it was intact. My bad.

    The “back and forth” with the clueless guy was due to him asserting a lie. “Only two”. When clearly that was not the case. I generally like to improve the “clue” in the world, so was willing to attempt “education by example” by doing a show of 4 cables from the other box. Which did work; and he shut up.

    Unfortunately the product did not work.

    Now just which of this is to be “on me”? The clueless clerk? The broken device?

    I freely accept that I ought to have just left when the only 2 on the shelf were open boxes, and that I ought to have taken everything out of all wrapping prior to purchase if I did want to buy it, but I was trying to avoid making a bigger scene. So yeah, I’m guilty of trying to de-escalate.

    In any case, see the update to the article above. I’m home, money in hand from the return.

  11. jim2 says:

    I got a cheap chop saw and thermal thermometer from HF. Both were of low quality. Had to measure the chop saw angle with protractor or equivalent as the scale was off. Overall the saw was made of inferior materials. Kept it and used it for many years, then gave it away.

  12. Ossqss says:

    I have volunteered you for the Beta EM :-)

  13. jim2 says:

    Here’s a 30 watt for ~ 40 bucks:

  14. E.M.Smith says:


    Um, I’d rather not be in the target zone of multi-KW microwave radiation…

    In any real conflict, I’m pretty certain that a counter satellite “device” as possessed by us, the Russians, the Chinese, and likely many others; would rapidly render your deployed troops “powerless” and can be launched from anywhere in the world…

    I’m just not seeing this as “strategically sound”… Looks more like a way to suck down Government Money to fund a private development program for civilian use.

  15. jim2 says:

    Trying 30 w link again …

    amazon dot com / dp / B072B5J7CF

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ve decided 2 things after reading a bunch of product reviews (something I ought to have done first…).

    1) I want a 100W or larger panel.
    2) For smallest size and weight, I’m going to pay up for advanced cells.

    The “cheap” would be fun to play with for a little while, but as LOT of polycrystalline reviewers had issues with rapid degradation, I’m marking it avoid. Likely from poorly made cheap Chinese crap, but that’s what it is.

    Then a bunch more complained about the physically larger size compared to better cells.

    As I want small and light, more than I want cheap, I’m headed that way.

    The other point made was that in hot climates, the plastic frame device just got melty and sagged. So no plastic framing if putting it in the car window…

    Looking into the “Briefcase” one, it has a weather exposed switch for 12 V or 24 V that is prone to rusting and it lets water into the device if it rains. Very Not Good. Open circuit volts are 24 and 48 in the two configurations, so I think that explains how they got to 13 W. Take the open circuit max volts x full load max amps. I.E. a lie ’cause you can’t get those two things at the same time.

    So I’m instead going to look for “industrial quality” weather proof with honest power factor numbers. Which, IMHO, means no shopping at Harbor Freight.

    Though I do find this one interesting. Directly makes 5 VDC. I can see that as a dedicated appliance for running Raspberry Pi (and other SBCs) “on the road”…

    $51 for all my USB run gear? Skip the 12 VDC / 110 VAC / 5 VDC conversions?… Hmmm…. I already have 2 x USB battery packs for “emergency refill” duty.

    For keeping the car “topped up”, I think I’ll need an HONEST 2 A at 18 VDC, or minimum of 40 W real with losses. So double that and add 20% is my usual estimating rule of thumb, 80 +16 = 96 or just call it 100 W real.

    So I’m looking for a metal framed, single crystal or advanced stacked cell, physically small and weather proof, heat rated to at least 150 F, real 100 W panel. “Someday”. (For now, I’m just going to continue the once a month “rotation” as it works and is free.)

  17. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, another broken “feature” that wordpress has instituted. Activate links in comments. You must either wrap them in HTML (<a href=”foo.bar.com” target=”_blank”>https :// foo.bar.com</a>) or put in breaks in the text like I did between the https and the colon in that sample URL.

    PITA, really.

  18. philjourdan says:

    Have only done minimal business with the local Harbor Freight, only because they do not seem to advertise a lot around here. But I have had no problems here (except when they asked me to stop drooling on the pneumatic hammers).

    But I would have done just as you did and are doing. Hasta la vista to that store.

  19. Ed Forbes says:

    I shop at HF for lots of items.

    Their Hand tools and hardware are ok for light work. Their higher end chop saws, drill presses, bench grinders, corded hand tools, air compressors, paint sprayers, concrete mixers all work fine for home hobby and light professional use. Stay away from the low end of these items.

    I have had no joy from any battery powered hand tools other than Dewalt brand, which HF does not carry. As a general policy, I stay away from most of their light electronics. I buy and use their light corded chain saws, but I consider them “throw away “ single use products. If I get several uses out of them, I “win”.

    Expecting the crew to open up after hours is not realistic and unreasonable on your part. As to attitude of the crew, I think you just “lucked out “. I have shopped at quite a few HF stores all over California and have had zero issues with their staffs. I have also found their warranty return/replacement policy excellent.

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    It wasn’t the “fail to open” that is peeving. It was the LIE about why. Had he just said “We can’t open the doors once closed” I’d have had no issue. Saying “Registers are already in the back” then having the night auditor walk up, open one, and start closing it out, that lie was the problem. Then the “have a good laugh” at the customer was just “stupid icing” on their poor customer relations.

  21. Ed Forbes says:

    If you are wanting to go with portable or RV solar, something like this is probably where you will need to go. I will likely set up something like this for car camping in the Dodge Grand Caravan.

    I have found that going too cheep on the electronics almost never makes me happy in the long run.

    ECO-WORTHY Solar Panel Kit with Battery and Inverter for RV Home Boat Camper: 100 Watt 12 Volt Solar Panel + 20A Charge Controller + 20Ah Lithium Battery + 600W Solar Inverter +Solar Cables.
    About $400


    ECO-WORTHY 25W 12V Waterproof Solar Panel SAE Connector Charge Kit with 10Ah LiFePO4 Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery
    About $120

  22. philjourdan says:

    @EMS – I agree. Tell the truth, so not lie. I will forgive the truth, I will not forgive the lie,. That is why I have no President, just a resident. Sorry, I do not go with lies. I go with science!

    Funny how that has grown out of favor since AGW is not happening, and 81m Votes is being proven a fraud. And so are masks, and vaccines, and lockdowns, and putting WuFlu patients in nursing homes. Basically every democrat policy,
    But will it change? Hehehehe! Yea right! Want to buy a bridge?

  23. Jim Masterson says:


    How much for that bridge? I have a spare dollar or two.

  24. Pinroot says:

    I have a HF about three miles from here, which I drive by on the way home from work every day. I shop there occasionally. The main thing to be aware of is that most of their stuff is cheap Chinese stuff, so don’t expect a lot. Their hand tools seem to be pretty good, but I haven’t had much exposure to their power tools. Typically anything I buy there is done with the expectation that I will probably only get a few uses out of it. If I get more than that, I call it a win. My biggest complaint with their customer service would be that they always seem to have too few registers open, but I have that complaint with half the stores I shop in, so I guess I can live with that.

  25. Tech Editor says:

    Their Clamps aren’t bad, their aluminum floor jack is very nice and I have had a Buffing station for a few years, (Brass wheel on one side and cotton wheel on the other) and I get about 20 minutes before it gets quite hot. But 20 minutes of buffing is quite enough for one session. So, if you choose carefully, HF products will work.

  26. E.M.Smith says:


    It is definitely this particular Harbor Freight. I’ve shopped at another one in south San Jose before this one was built, and it has nice courteous people who are helpful. In fact, it may even be just a few of the staff at this one. One curly haired smaller guy was quite helpful and polite when I first walked in and asked “where is…” Dropped what he was doing and showed me to the section.

    I got the impression (and could be wrong, it is just an impression) that the Clueless Pushy One was elevated to shift lead and it was above his competency level and he was prone to “throwing his weight around”, both with other staff and with customers. I was checking out at one register with a fairly quiet and nice clerk and when I said “This box is short a cable”, Clueless Pushy came over from near another register and began INSISTING that it was ONLY TWO adapters. Inserting himself into the transaction, loudly, and quite wrong. That then set the tone for things to do down hill as he was 100% resistant to the notion that he was wrong. The other clerk just shut up, like an underling staying out of the line of fire from the stupervisor…

    So, OK, IF I need anything from Harbor Freight, I’ll drive further and go to the older one with nicer staff…

    Per their Power Tools:

    I generally assume I’ll get a few uses out of it, but not years. I’ve not been wrong yet. Had to take down some Timber Bamboo and a tree. Got a $40 “Sawzall” like saw. After about 20 total hours of use, a retention pin in the “foot” assembly is now worked out and is only still in the device due to the (starting to crack) rubber collar / grip. I push it back in place, sort of, and get another 10 minutes. Push and repeat.

    But all the cutting needed was done. I’ll try to repair it next time I need it… But really, who would put a friction fit pin in a heavily vibrating and teeter tottering foot assembly? IF I can ever get it properly lined up with the far side and re-inserted into that metal bit, I’ll stake it on both sides.

    So for jobs that will be “One off and likely not again for years if ever”, I’ll try their stuff. For any tool (like an electric drill) that I want to have work for years, I go for name brands.

    @Ed Forbes:

    Nice rig.

    I already have an inverter, though, and I’m planning on using the car battery (main purpose is to keep a car charged, camping is secondary. When camping I’m almost entirely fuels based. Only electric is a couple of flashlights and I don’t camp long enough to run them flat… So mostly I’m just looking for a 12 V charger setup.

    But “We’ll see”. I may decide that it is too much trouble to have the car in / near the sun and want something I can move around with the sun a bit more. Though at the present rate, I’ve not made it to an actual campgrounds in several years… I’m planning on going camping in real camp grounds a lot more, but, you know, mice, men, plans, a-gle…

  27. Charley Waite says:

    HF where I live in Miami always seem to have that Dollar Store vibe of recent immigrant customers and harried work staff. I generally stay out of it but Home Depot isn’t much better. The vagabond illegals looking for work in the parking lot tend to urinate in the bushes in broad daylight.
    Lowe’s has a more upscale vibe but at 2X the price of course.

  28. Ossqss says:

    On name brand tools, Ridgid just replaced 3 of my 18v drill batteries for the 3rd time in 10 years with a phone call at no charge under their lifetime warranty attached with proper registration. That brings their contribution under warranty to 15 batteries and 2 compete tool changouts over 15 years for $0. Note, typically the lifetime warranty is associated with buying tools in kits. Drill, battery and charger etc.. My favorite tool from them remains my 3 gallon 18v wetvac. I use the crap out of that thing, well and the light cannon flashlight…. but I degress

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