The “Taillight Guarantee”

Category: Tips
17 January 2014,

We use a term in the industry called “the taillight guarantee.”

Any idea what it stands for?

(Hint: It’s not positive.)

The taillight guarantee means that your support ends when your refractory contractor’s truck pulls out of your lot at the end of the job.

Sometimes it elicits chuckles, but many times we have to use the term when we’re with an upset plant engineer who’s in a serious bind due to a safety issue or a plant shutdown resulting from his previous refractory contractor’s inability or unwillingness to support their work.

How to Avoid Getting the Taillight Guarantee

Taillight Guarantee

The only way to avoid the taillight guarantee is to do your homework before selecting your refractory contractor.

Yes, we know that it’s hard to find the time to research the bids. Also refractories are typically one of the last items for your plant’s equipment repair or maintenance project.

But if you don’t do your homework, and your work is not supported, you could run into trouble that’s not in your budget.  Repair costs could easily exceed the savings by going with the lowest bid. Or, even worse, trouble that causes serious downtime, injury or death.

Here’s a checklist to review before selecting your refractory contractor:

  • Do they have a valid contractor’s license in your state?  You’d be amazed how many contractors are operating without a license.
  • Do they have a quality track record? How is it quantified? Ask for names and contact information from their last 5 jobs, and also ask for job references completed 5 years ago. It’s not uncommon for a spotty contractor to have a recent job reference that’s decent. It’s the number of quality references over an extended period of time that paints the true picture.
  • Do they use their own installation personnel or do they staff their jobs predominately with “travelers?”
  • What type of service and support will they provide after the job is complete?
  • What is their safety record? What safety organizations are they members of? Do they have an ISN rating? Are they prequalified by PICS?
  • What are the specific guarantees they provide? Will they put them in writing? For example, do they stand behind both the products and their services? Some refractory contractors will purchase low-grade, inexpensive materials and use the cheapest (instead of the most effective) installation methods to keep their upfront cost low – and then only guarantee their work, not their material. When the $*#* hits the fan, they often point to the material supplier.
  • And finally, how long have they been in business? More importantly, how long have they been in the refractory contracting business? What is their financial strength? Are they bondable? These questions will help you to determine whether they will be in business when you need them in the future.


And remember that verbal reassurances aren’t worth much. Be sure to get the relevant details in writing – either by email or from the company’s website, etc. Save or take screenshots of everything so that if a dispute occurs in the future, you have proof of what was promised. And if you have trouble getting a company to answer these questions? Well, that’s a red flag right there.

There are a number of reputable refractory contractors in our market, but unfortunately, it’s also flooded with inexperienced newcomers and part-timers from other industries. These firms dive into our business without the proper experience, resources or financial backing, and are the ones who deliver the “taillight guarantee.”

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