August 25, 2008

Update: Ruger SR9 Recall

I’ve always been fond of Ruger products; heck, I even named my dog Ruger.

Ruger made a lot of headlines in 2007 with the introduction of its radical SR9 pistol. It was major departure for the company because it was a high capacity (17+1) striker-fired gun, with a shape reminiscent of a 1911-style sidearm. But perhaps the greatest change was the way in which was introduced. Two-thousand guns were on dealers’ shelves at the time the gun was announced: No six month time lag from time you saw it in a gun magazine, or read about it on a website before you could actually touch the darn thing. No ad campaign hyping a gun that existed only in a prototype room somewhere. Indeed, Ruger wanted to make a statement with the SR9.

Perhaps that’s what influenced me to buy the shiny little number I saw at my local Cabela’s. I’m normally not a First Production Run kind of guy, but hey, they only had one in stock, it had a low serial number, and I had some points on my Cabela’s Credit Card I was itching to use. Besides its striker fired, not some new-fangled technology; Ruger had plenty of competitors to copy, uh, I mean emulate, before they put this gun out to the public.

And although Gun Tests had given the gun a B- grade because of a smallish safety lever, and a trigger that was a tad rough, there seemed to be nothing serious enough to dissuade me from buying the gun at a good price.

Courtesy Ruger

Courtesy Ruger

Early Ruger SR9s are being recalled.

Besides I’ve always been fond of Ruger products; heck, I even named my dog Ruger. I happily returned home with my toy, happy as could be, and then, I heard about the Recall, and odyssey began.

Then, on April 15, 2008, I read about a recall on the SR9 on www.gunreports.com. I did not receive a letter, email, or any form of communication from Ruger about a problem with the gun, even though I had made sure to register it online. It seemed certain pistols had the nasty habit of going off if dropped while the safety wasn’t engaged.

I called the Ruger Recall Hotline that very day and registered my pistol for return. I was told on my call that Ruger would send me the appropriate packaging, and then arrange shipment of the pistol back to the factory for repair. I was also told that Ruger would send me an extra magazine for my trouble, and that I should get my gun back in mid to late May. That seemed fair enough to me, and I waited for my shipping box to arrive.

May 5: No shipping box arrived, so I called the Hotline again. The nice lady on the phone told me that I had not been “logged in” properly. She told me she had corrected the problem, but a May fix for my gun wasn’t going to be possible. Oh well, sometimes these things happen.

June 8: I realized that I still had not received anything from Ruger. I called the Hotline, only to be told that “there had been some problems” in getting the returns done, but I had an early registration date, and I should see something “soon.”

June 19: A view of the Ruger website showed a new update. “The redesign has been finalized and the first new parts are arriving.” It also indicated that the first wave of shipping boxes had been sent out, and that Ruger planned to be ramped up for retrofitting pistols at a rate of 1000/week by July 1.

July 1: I called the Hotline to find out why my shipping box had not arrived in the “first wave” of returns. The nice lady on the phone indicated there had been “some problems” and although I registered early, there were “thousands of guns” to be returned and she was unsure of any date of return at this time. It was at this time I mentioned that I would be doing an article on the recall problem. Perhaps 10 minutes passed before I received a call from a Vice President at Ruger.

Now that my cover was blown, I informed him that I was doing an article on the problems associated with their recall. He told me the first batch of repair parts they received were out of specification, causing an additional delay.

My response to him was that while that was certainly a legitimate problem, why hadn’t Ruger informed their paying customers? He told me they updated their website with new delivery information. Again, I asked why their company hadn’t sent out emails or letters to their registered owners. After all, they had guns on the shelf when they announced its arrival, didn’t they? It was probably strictly by chance, but I received an email that afternoon recounting the post I read on Ruger’s website on June 19.

July 19: Still no box. Once again, I called the Hotline. This time I was told it would be late August before my gun would be repaired. This time I asked for a supervisor and explained my situation. He promised me that I would get a return box sent to me by July 25.

August 1: Do I have to tell you I had no box? Again, another call to the “hotline” indicated that a box would be mailed out Parcel Post in the next few days, and should take several days to arrive.

August 11: I received the Return Box and called Ruger for shipping instructions. I was informed that a UPS Call Tag would be issued, and that I need only to pack up the gun, with UPS stopping by to pick up for Air Shipment.

August 12: I received ANOTHER Return Box today! As much as wished, I resisted sending the gun back in two boxes. I’ll hang on to this one to prove it really happened.

August 14: UPS picked up my shipment for return. We will now wait to see how long it takes to get it back from Ruger.

It appears that the Trigger Assembly has undergone some major changes, among them a two-blade trigger similar to that of a Glock.

I will be sending my SR9 Revision 2 out to Roger Eckstine, the Gun Tests contributing editor who did the original SR9 review just to see how it now performs.

Regardless of how the re-test turns out, I’m afraid that I remain skeptical of the “new” Ruger. My hope is that greater attention is paid to the quality of new product introductions, although I understand there were some early introduction problems with the company’s new compact pistol, the 380 LCP.

In the past Ruger typically built rock-solid firearms. Let’s hope the SR9 recall is only a temporary setback, but a four-month-plus delay has undoubtedly caused some damage to their good name. I am very sincere in this hope, because I’m going to have a hell of a time trying to rename my dog—“Smith” or “Kel-Tec” just don’t have the same ring.

8/22/08 update: New information was posted on the Ruger website dated 8/11/08. It states “We have been retrofitting SR9 pistols for over a month, and continue to send shipping boxes to customers on a weekly basis.” It also states “Most pistols are being shipped to customers within five business days after we receive them.” Again, no e-mail, or any other notification of the update.

There are a number of parts have been changed in the retrofit design, most notable a twin blade trigger design similar to that found on Glocks. Ruger then references a positive review written by Jeff Quinn on www.gunblast.com. In his article, Mr. Quinn states that along with the twin blade trigger, changes were made to the Magazine Latch to allow both early and later iterations of the SR9 gun magazine to fit any SR9.

Ruger also states in its website that it will also replace the Magazine Disconnect, Magazine Disconnect Spring, along with Striker Block and Striker Block Spring; a complete redesign of the assembly.

The Twin Blade Trigger assembly is meant to smooth the trigger action and act as an over travel stop. We hope this redesign improves a balky trigger performance found in our original test. The former design offered varying degrees of creep, which caused us to index our finger to ride high on the trigger to perform properly

We also hope the new Magazine Disconnect and Striker Block will not damage each other if dry-fired without the Magazine in place. This may seem to be a minor complaint, but actually is a significant issue if a gun is dry-fired multiple times by a previous owner, and sold to an unwitting buyer.

We now anxiously await the return of our gun to see if the changes live up to their current hype.

Mr. Quinn gushes over the Customer Service at Ruger, stating that their Factory is “still retrofitting the early Blackhawk, Bearcat, and Single-Six revolvers with new lock work, even though they were made decades ago.” A quick check of my Owner’s Manual shows no Warranty Card, but does feature a Disclaimer as to why no Warranty is offered due to the Magnuson-Moss Act (Public Law 93-637). Other manufacturers still offer Lifetime Warranties, so it remains to be seen if Ruger maintains it’s Repair Policy.

August 26: My Retrofit SR9 has arrived! To give Ruger credit, my gun would have been here a day earlier, but my UPS man and I missed each other by 15 minutes, and they don’t just leave these packages at your doorstep.

I anxiously opened my package, finding not only my gun, but a bunch of other goodies as well. The promised extra magazine was there, along with a bumper sticker, and an embroidered SR9 cap! I had paperwork neatly packed in my box as well. A new Instruction Manual Insert was there, detailing the new parts list and an exploded view drawing. There was also a nicely written thank-you note from Michael O. Fifer, president and CEO of Ruger Firearms.

Mr. Fifer thanks everyone for their patience in the recall process, and details the number of the changes made to improve the SR9. Interestingly enough, he directly mentions Mr. Quinn’s article again, and urges us “to read Jeff’s full review” at the website where he posts.

And lastly was enclosed a brochure for Ruger’s new .380 Auto LCP. I do give Ruger credit for never missing a marketing opportunity.

Now, the work and fun begins. Rather than giving only my opinion, we’ve arranged to have a group of our testers examine the gun, and put the redesigned SR9 through its paces. We’ll let you know if Ruger’s changes move it up from its original B- rating in an upcoming issue of Gun Tests Magazine.