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Discussion Starter #1
Regarding locomotives specifically, it seems I've had more than my fair share of duds. About 40% to be exactish. Some are DOA, others have intermittent issues, some fail within a few hours of use, and some run so poorly they're of no use at all! I model N scale and I realize it's got to be difficult to make such tiny mechanisms work correctly and consistently, but this is ridiculous! It's gotten to the point where, when pricing a new engine, I automatically add return shipping to the total cost before making a purchase.:(

Is it the same in other scales?
 

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It hasn't been my experience in HO with Roco, A.C.M.E, or TRIX. I hope to have as much reliability with Bemo when it arrives.

I did shear a driveshaft pin after almost 18 months of heavy use on the A.C.M.E. Br.120 but I had it running again in a couple of days.
 

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I've found most HO manufacturers do a good job with there products. My experience with Bachmann, both steamers and diesels has maybe been around a 25% failure rate, and more steamers than diesels. Up until maybe 5 years ago, Bachmann had a great return policy. If it failed, return it and they would fix; or, replace no charge. Then they started charging for fix/replace. I have had a couple Bachmann locos that simply seemed to be beyond Repair/Replacement abilities and had to gave up on them. I now have one loco, a Bachmann Alco S-4 switcher that was returned due to bad power pick-up on the front truck and returned to me without being repaired!! This loco is back at Bachmann as we speak with an admonishment to fix this time and explained that I didn't feel I should have to pay again for the repair! With the Covid 19 situation, Bachmann has been closed down, so, now I am concerned whether I will get it back, let alone back and fixed and the repair paid for twice! Still, I will continue to buy from Bachmann as they produce products I need! Sort of a sad statement about the HOBBY, in my opinion!

Don't model in N Scale so have no experience.
 

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Yes, Seems with N, u might get a good one, or it might be making a return trip!
I agree that HO is much more reliable out-of-the-box.
 

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Don't know current N Scale locos, but I had no
problems of any kind with any of my 10 Bachmann DCC
HO locomotives. Some bought new, some were used.
All were diesels, however.

Don
 

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I've not had any problems with my 5 HO scale locomotives. I have 3 BLI diesels, 1 BLI steamer, and 1 Walthers diesel. All are DCC and sound equipped and were bought about 4 - 5 years ago.
 

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All my locomtives (35+ H.O. Scale) were good out of the box....Athearn, Proto 2000, Intermountain, Bowser, Rapido.......all diesels.....

My 3 steamers are Proto 2000......all were good as well......
 

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  1. I had zero failures when I modeled N except for 1 after hitting the concrete floor several times over many years. I ran mostly Bachmann. I also ran exclusively DC. I'm modeling HO now but have been collecting other people's discards. So far I had one steamer that did not run but after a very thorough cleaning it runs perfect. Plus a diesel that is very sluggish, it probably needs a thorough cleaning too. Also all of them are DC.
 

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I think it happens with new issues, new factories, new contracts...even. We can assume that there are multiple uses of the same tooling...right? Who would pony up $250K or whatever it is for a new set of tools and only run them once, say for 2000 locos. But, the motors might change, or maybe a supplier of gears goes belly up and a new supplier steps up...but not really. Or the offer of a supply of spiffy decoders undercuts the ones used on the last run of Loco X, but when they win the contract, they new guys don't really have the capacity to deliver unless they cut corners. And you can bet that if a corner can be cut in business, it gets cut.

Bachmann's HO Class J Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 was pretty much a disaster. I don't know if they re-issued it since, but the one I purchased in 2009 was terrible and I unloaded it on FeeBay. But their 2-8-0 was amazing, and people snapped them up as soon as the word got out that Bachmann had hit a home run. Bachmann's EM-1 2-8-8-4 was another, and so were their heavy Mountain class 4-8-2.
I don't know about N Scale, but it's a smaller market, margins are that much tighter, and those who figure out how to take some skin off will do that. When you think that a locomotive in either scale will run you, say, $260 with sound, steeply discounted, that makes you wonder what they sell 'em for from the factory. Maybe $110 a pop? With one of the contracted 2000 decoders installed?

Electric pro dog grooming clippers run maybe $150, in a kit with four or five different blade combs. Plastic, simple mechanism. Our trains have many more parts, particularly steamers, and have to be painted AND have decals added. Plus a speaker and decoder, and in BLI's case a switch under the cab to turn off the smoke generator. Wired to actually work as a switch.

My point? We gets in the hobby cheaply and we takes our chances. If we want fine, we have to pay. If we want reliable, we have to pay. If we want durable, we have to pay. If we want a more quiet mechanism, we have to pay. Even in the brass market of 1995, the engines needed a lot of work to run well. What the customer paid for was a first-time run, first-use tooling, a ton of gee whiz, and no paint.
 

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I have 17 HO locos -- Athearn, Atlas, Walthers /Life Like (all 3 trim lines), Bachmann, Intermountain, and IHC / Mehano. Not a dog in the lot.
 

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I've had experience with N from 1987 to 2003 and some recent, HO - only for most of 2019 (used as On30), and O-Gauge from 2003 - 2020. I had over 250 N gauge locos, have currently bought about 175 O gauge since 2003, and probably bought only about a dozen HO - so my experience there is mostly from observation of friend's layouts.
Before giving my experience some definitions:
  • Failure rate is the portion, percentage or probability (call it what you will) of locos that fail to function properly while in good condition: well cared for and not run so much they are worn out.
  • Infant mortality is the portion that don't run or run correctly right out of the box.
  • Durability is a loco's ability to stand the wear and tear of service and handling by its owner.
  • Worn-out is the condition of a loco when it does not function well or at all due to having been use
  • Repairability is the portion or percentage of failed or worn out locos that can be fixed so that they run well again.
So in my experience:
  • Infant mortality is highest in N, lowest in O, in between in HO. In all three scales, most of the infant mortality I saw was in the lower price levels of that scale - starter set quaility. But it's fairly low in all scales. Even in N the fact that maybe the loco would be bad out of the box did not deter me from buying it if I wanted it.
  • Failure rate was about the same in all three scales - quite low, among locos cared for properly and not years or decades out and run until they are worn out.
  • Durability is far better in O than the other two scales, and definitely not that great in N: I had locos that didn't run right after maybe only 500 or 1000 operating hours. I have only worn out one loco in O-Gauge, at well over 4500 hours operation. (It still works it just doesn't run smoothly). I have several with thousands of hours on them that run fine.
  • The lowest priced locos in all three scales are little more than junk: a set of problems waiting to happen, perhaps as soon as they are removed from their packaging.
  • Repairability of locos is proportional to size. Usually I could not fix a worn out or broken N gauge loco (within cost and effort limits I thought were reasonable), I can and have fixed every failed O-Gauge loco I wanted to. (Worn out O gauge locos are another matter - they can be fixed but the cost is usually lower to just buy a replacement)
 

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I've had a few "new/old stock" early Proto 2000 GP's that had the "cracked gear" problem out-of-the-box, and the gearcases will filled with hardened lubricant, but these are "known problems" with those locos and after a clean-up and gear replacement, they run great.

I have had a few engines that just "didn't run right" when new, still in my "needs to be fixed queue" -- an Athearn RTR SD-40 and a Proto 1000 Alco RSC (Milwaukee Road).

I picked up a used Atlas SD35 at a train show that exhibited lots of "hum" running from the factory-installed dcc decoder. I replaced it with a drop-in Digitrax decoder and now it's smooth and quiet.

All my other Atlas engines run fine.
Same for Walthers Proto.
Also, Bowser.
I have numerous (Lifelike) Proto 2000 engines that run great, but most needed board replacements along with some "cleanup" inside, but the efforts were worth it.

Of course, these are all HO and are probably much easier to work on than N scale.
Getting old here, not interested in a scale that I have to use a magnifying glass to see going by!
 

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As far as I know, there is no place that keeps track of failure rates for all the various manufacturers and scales......just because you have bad experiences, doesn't mean that the next model railroader has......it's mostly individual experience, as far as I can tell.....
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I get that-it could just be my particular kind of luck. Nonetheless 40% is high enough that I thought I couldn't be the only one; hence my curiosity about other scales. And I'm glad to see that most aren't having the same sort of experience, gives me hope that maybe eventually I'll get a good 'un.

If my truck was a horse it'd know it's own way to the post office by now.:rolleyes:

We gets in the hobby cheaply and we takes our chances. If we want fine, we have to pay. If we want reliable, we have to pay. If we want durable, we have to pay. If we want a more quiet mechanism, we have to pay.
Usually I'd agree with this, and at this point I'm willing to pay whatever it takes, but it's not turning out that way so far.
For example, I recently had to return a BLI heavy Mikado. These retail at around $250, which is in the upper range of what'd you'd pay for an N scale engine. They get great reviews and most people seem to really like them, so when MB Klein had one going for $169 I jumped on it.

I could have used it for shaking paint.

An $80 Kato PA-1 bought at the same time works perfectly.

Granted, Kato seems to be the exception to the rule, but they make all of ONE steam engine, (not counting the Japanese market locos) and it's far too big to run on my tight curves. My luck hasn't been any better with diesels. A NOS Athearn F45 (original msrp around the $200 mark) I thought I'd gotten a good deal on went back after traversing about 8 inches before letting out the magic smoke.

So I'm not so sure price is a reliable indication of quality.

I understand every manufacturer produces the occasional lemon. But why are they sending them all to me?

Lee this is a little disturbing...
Durability is far better in O than the other two scales, and definitely not that great in N: I had locos that didn't run right after maybe only 500 or 1000 operating hours.
Is 1000 hours the best you can expect from an N scale engine? I guess that explains why one might own multiple copies of the same loco, but it sure makes me loathe to spend any more than necessary on the things!
 

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Gimme, I have acquired over 14 years now, and at a rate of about 1.5 locomotives a year, a total of about 23 various locomotives and importers. I can't honestly say I have kept tabs, but I rotate them onto and off the rails frequently, and run each about 30-60 minutes a week...tops. I don't let 'em run while I'm planting trees, painting the backdrop, or fiddling with a sticky somethingerother. I only run mine while I can enjoy them and pay attention. Others run them while they listen to the radio, or lay some yard track, whatever. My point is that it is likely to take you at least 4 years to get 1000 hrs on the clock of any one locomotive, and this goes up exponentially if you ever add another gee-whiz steamer or diesel. And that's quite likely across hobbyists.

My oldest, first purchase was a BLI Toronto, Hamilton, & Buffalo 4-6-4 Hudson that the TH&B acquired used from the New York Central (which was a minor owner along with Canadian Pacific). I ran it fairly often for about a year until I began my acquisitive nature in the hobby. Then, the time was split over two steamers. Then three...you get the picture. That first steamer has, tops, about 30 hours of running on it. Over 14 years. Far more likely than the mechanism wearing out is the problem of sticky or hardened lubes inside the gear tower near the can motor. This happens over time to all lubes with volatiles in them.
 
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