Palstar AT-AUTO Automatic Antenna Tuner
The Serious Problem Presented by Investment in a Problematic Product
My experience with the AT-AUTO is based on three different units. The first unit was purchased at the end of 2006 from AES. That unit failed twice and was replaced by Palstar with a second unit containing the latest "updates". That second unit failed and was replaced by Palstar with a newer model, again, featuring the latest updates to the AT-AUTO.
The problem with the AT-AUTO is that 1) its an expensive antenna tuner from a small company 2) once you've got an investment in such an expensive product, if you have problems with it, you really want to stay on good terms with the company you've got such a large investment in 3) Therefore if you have problems you probably will do your best to work with the company to get the problem solved and not make public complaints. I believe this is part of the reason why the AT-AUTO is rated so well on eHam. Part of the reason, in my case, is that Paul sent a new unit with a 3 year warranty under the expectation and request that the negative review posted in early 2007 would be removed from eHam (which I did). More about this later.
If the problems [with an expensive piece of equipment] continue, and you receive poor customer service in getting your problems solved, you are likely to get tired of the game.
Those customers who have no problems talk about what a wonderful unit the AT-AUTO is. Those customers with failures or who get replacement units want to stay quiet in the hopes that they don't lose their > $1K investment with even poorer service from Palstar.
Note: On listing my latest AT-AUTO unit for sale I received, the same day, an email from another ham who said, "I have my second auto tuner and both have [redacted to protect customer identity] did yours do that too?". Little did he know that I would have settled for his comparatively minor problem!
Summary of my problems with the AT-AUTO and Palstar:
- I've never had the good fortune of having the tuner work as advertised for more than a few weeks.
- The first time I received the AT-AUTO from AES it was not calibrated by Palstar before shipping and it had to be returned to Palstar for calibration. It reported a 1:1 SWR when in fact it had tuned the antenna so badly that atmospheric noise disappeared! It was obvious something was seriously wrong with a tuner that could report 1:1 once it had totally tuned out the atmospheric noise.
- The second problem I had was that the mechanical limiters on the inductor didn't prevent the stepper motors from jamming itself during an attempted tuneup. It had to be returned again for repair.
- After it came back from repair number two I checked it out and put it on a shelf. It sat unused for some period of months. When plugged back up the unit came up with the LCD display fully lit. It would not function beyond the light show. It had to be returned for repair.
- It came back from repair, was tested, checked out OK and put back on the shelf for a few months. I plugged it back up and the display was blank. Again it was returned for repair.
For each of these failures Paul at Palstar has had an explanation. There's an adjustment for A/D inputs; return and we'll get the bugs out; the blank screen problem has been addressed by a lot of changes so it needed to have hardware updates made.
The second group of problems I've had are with the customer service Palstar has provided.
- I've requested a refund three times. Instead I have labored through the latest "fixes" as Palstar fixes shoddy labor or design problems the unit started with.
- Palstar's response to my emails has been sporadic at best. Sometimes I get an answer, sometimes not. Sometimes he answers the phone. Sometimes not.
- As many problems as I've had it's hard for me to believe but Paul had the gumption to request that I pay $175 to repair and update the unit to the latest model after the 4th failure. I did not request the latest model, all I asked was for an in-warranty repair.
- Paul at Palstar gave me a three year warranty after the 3rd breakdown to get me to remove my negative review on eHam.net. But when he sent the latest unit he emailed me telling me my 3 year warranty was now only a 2 year warranty from the date of original purchase which conveniently, for Palstar, is at the end of this year. This was after they wasted another 2 months of the warranty clock while my unit sat at Palstar for repair #4 (which turned out to be a replacement). Two months to ship me a new unit!
Chronological Account of my AT-AUTO Experience:
- October 20 2006: Purchased from AES at the price of $1195.99
- October 28 2006: Palstar contacted as it is obvious that band noise is totally absent when the AT-AUTO tells me the antenna is tuned 1:1. Paul at Palstar requests the unit be returned to Palstar due to Palstar not calibrating the unit before it was shipped to AES.
- November 2006 unit returned from Palstar
- November 22 2006: I contacted Palstar after a tuneup attempt caused the AT-AUTO to make a loud thunking noise. The AT-AUTO has jammed its inductor beyond the mechanical limiter. Paul tells me to return the unit and they will get the bugs out quickly and return.
- November 24 2006: I contact AES about a refund but they leave it to Paul's discretion since it has already been to repair once. Paul says he will fix it and send it back.
- November 29 2006: AT-AUTO returned to Palstar
- December 2006: Unit returned from Palstar. Tested and works fine. As I do not need the unit right now I put the unit on the shelf in disgust.
- February 23 2007: Took AT-AUTO off shelf to use and when unit powers on every pixel in the display is lit. I send an email to Paul and then call him on the phone. He says the PIC must be bad and he'll send a new one.
- March 21 2007: No PIC has been received and I email Paul again.
- March 24 2007: Paul says he will send a new PIC on Monday the 26th.
- March 25 2007: I post a negative review of the AT-AUTO on eHam giving the AT-AUTO 0 of 5 points.
- March 26 2007: Paul now contacts me about the negative review on eHam and he refuses to send me a new PIC due to the review. I would have settled for the new PIC Paul had promised me some weeks back. Or better yet a refund. Paul requests I return the AT-AUTO. Here is more than a month of the warranty clock wasted by Palstar by not sending a PIC as Paul said he would.
- Roughly April 2nd 2007: Paul sends a new AT-AUTO with the latest updates under his assumption that I will remove my negative review from eHam. To sweeten the deal he also provides a three year warranty on the new unit.
- April 9th 2007: Paul emails me asking for the negative review to be taken down. I haven't tested the "fixed" unit yet.
- April 17th 2007: Paul contacts me again asking me to remove the negative review. AT-AUTO tested. Works fine. Put on shelf in disgust. Negative review removed from eHam.
- April 23rd 2007: Paul thanks me for removing review, and tells me he will send a refund if I am unhappy with the unit.
- December 18th 2007: I take the AT-AUTO off the shelf and power it up. The display is blank. This is the second time the unit has stopped working... when it wasn't in use... I report the problem to Paul at Palstar. Paul responds on the December 19th telling me there have been a lot of changes to address the blank screen problem. He requests I send the unit back to have it updated.
- March 26th 2008. Paul is contacted to find out the repair status as he's had the unit about a month. Paul wants $175 plus shipping. I request a refund. Paul responds by telling me about the great new features the update will provide. I request a refund - this is my 4th breakdown and my third request for a refund.
- April 2nd 2008: Paul responds that I am not in his computer and so I must get a refund from the party I purchased from. As Paul would know, AES denied my original refund request based on the fact that the first AT-AUTO had already been returned once to Palstar (due to their incompetence in calibrating it before they shipped it to AES). Paul says he will fix the tuner and ship it back.
- April 21st 2008: Paul is contacted to find out the status of the repair. He responds that it has been repaired and returned.
- April 22nd 2008: Third AT-AUTO arrives with Packing Slip and Invoice Date of "February 28". It looks like they had the unit just sitting there waiting for me to request they ship it out. This episode cost me two more months of the warranty clock wasted by Palstar. The invoice and packing slip both have a note which says "PURCHASED NOV. 2006. OUT OF WARRANTY!” So much for the three year warranty. I contact Paul to find out how the unit is out of warranty when he gave me a 3 year warranty. Paul tells me that the warranty period has been changed to 2 years. Just like that. Oddly, two years haven't passed but Palstar is anxious to declare my AT-AUTO "OUT OF WARRANTY!". That probably isn't a legal claim to make. Especially when paired with the handwritten note I received along with that unit. Nor is it good business. But it is consistent with the "service" I've received from Palstar.
Palstar merchandizes their products under the slogan "Built Like a Tank".
When I received my AT-AUTO from AES there was something ironic I missed even though it was emblazened on the outside of the tuner's packaging. The box has a large label that reads "Built Like a Tank".
Turn the box and it reads "Fragile, Handle With Care".
The Palstar AT-AUTO is indeed, as their ad says, "built like a tank". Open the case and it's a thing of beauty. To say the parts look 'hefty' is an understatement. The components look top notch as you'd expect.
But there is another, more important, side to the AT-AUTO. The AT-AUTO is driven by a microcontroller to perform every button press and operation. Yes, that too is "built like a tank". But it's more like a Soviet made tank, not an American model.
When I was in the Army stories were told about the rough ride of the Soviet tanks and the need for head protection. My ride with the Palstar and the AT-AUTO reminds me of those stories.
"Built Like a Tank".
But... what kind of tank?
My experiences with Palstar and the AT-AUTO are not unique. Do a search for Palstar on eHam.
Is the AT-AUTO A Continuous Carrier 1500 Watt Auto Tuner? Note the response from Palstar