I wrote My Handgun Is Fractured back in early March, but didn’t get the revolver to Smith and Wesson until April 12th. Five business days later I got a call from Smith and Wesson Customer Service. As I already knew, the frame was indeed cracked, which makes the gun unrepairable. Well, let me clarify that a bit. Back in 1993 Smith and Wesson reintroduced the “Centennial” J frame revolver as the model 442. Unlike the original Centennial, the 442 was made with an aluminum allow frame to save weight. All of the Centennials, which was the name used by S&W before they started to assign model numbers had no exposed hammer and were double action only. The “Airweight” versions such as the 442 were made to be light to carry in a holster or a pocket and intended for self defense use. They were, and are, a variation on the J frame Model 36 Chief’s Special. Nice guns, they sell well and are very popular. S&W makes a lot of variations of the gun, including some in .357 Magnum. Which brings me back to my gun.
My 442 was an early production gun. Made in late 1993 it was within the first several thousand produced. It was also rare in that it had a very nice satin nickle finish which made it less susceptible to corrosion. Being early production it was made on the standard J frame chassis. In 1996 bowing to popular demand for more powerful small revolvers, S&W started to produce what is called the “J Magnum Frame”. The frame and cylinder are just a bit bigger to handle the more powerful .357 Magnum round. This is when the standard J frame chassis was dropped from production and why my gun can’t be repaired.
Frame cracking on aluminum framed pistols is the most common failure in the “Airweight” J Frame guns and that includes both older revolvers and new ones (1996 and on) built in the J magnum frame. If you have one of the newer revolvers what S&W does is give you a new frame and barrel with the cylinder and internal parts from you old gun. They then stamp your existing serial number on the new frame, scrap the old one, and send your repaired revolver back to you. It’s a simple process and because you are getting a repaired revolver with the same serial number, they can send it right back to you directly.
If you are like me and have an older revolver, they can’t do that. They don’t have the old frames in stock, they don’t have the dies to make the old frames, and if they did have dies, they’d have to stop production of other guns to stamp one out on one of their forges. That’s just not going to happen. So, what do they do for customers like me with older revolvers that are still covered by their lifetime warranty, but for which they don’t have parts?
Simple. They send you a whole new gun. When the customer service representative called the other day he explained this (in a much abbreviated form) and he explained that in addition to the frame size no longer being available, the Satin Nickel finish was no longer available. Double boo. My choices were a 442 in a nice S&W Blue finish or a 642 in Matte Silver, which is as close as they come to Satin Nickel these days. Which is what I chose. But of course it’s not that simple. Since this is a brand new gun with a brand new serial number, it can’t be shipped directly to me. It has to be shipped to a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer who can then transfer it to me. Not a big deal, there is a dealer near me that I’ve done some business with. I’m sure they’ll be willing to do the necessary paperwork and I’ll get my revolver.
Then there is the lock versus no lock issue. A few years ago, for reasons that no doubt meant sense to S&W management and lawyers, they started to produce revolvers with an internal lock. The lock guns have a reputation for the lock engaging inadvertently, usually at the most inopportune time. Now, I think that’s probably an internet myth, but I just don’t like the aesthetics of the lock pistols. Still, most revolvers are made with the internal lock these days. Most people don’t seem to care and I don’t want to look like a Smith and Wesson snob, but I prefer to have a no lock gun. Which means I might have to wait weeks to over a month until S&W gets around to making a batch no lock 642 revolvers. No rush, since I have other alternatives for when I chose to carry a firearm.
All in all, I’m very happy with the response of Smith and Wesson to my problem. They looked at the revolver within four days, called me on the fifth, are going to replace my fractured frame revolver with a brand new one, gave me my choice of not only finish, but frame style. All of that on a revolver that is almost twenty years old.
I think that’s great customer service.
Pictures well follow when I receive the revolver, because I know you want to see it.