Thursday, March 24, 2011

What has happened to Sig?

Growing up I've been a Sig Sauer fan.  One of my very first high capacity 9mm handguns back in the early 1990's was a P226.  I've always been something of a geek at heart, so back in the day I was such a fan of Sig firearms I used the handle "Sig" on my local dial-up BBS systems.

That was when Sig products were made in Germany and were known to be of the highest quality.

My Sig GSR 1911
Jump forward to the mid 2000's and things started to change, at least in my experience.  I bought a P220 from my local dealer in 2005 and the gun had functioning issues.  It failed to feed, failed to eject and exhibited pretty poor fit between the slide and frame.  I was shocked, but I also figured it might just be a fluke.  This particular pistol was made by Sig USA.

A few years later, I was excited to see Sig USA making a 1911.  I raced to my dealer with money in hand for my very own GSR 1911 (seen to the right).  This gun, much like the P220 I had several years earlier had all sorts of functional issues, including going full-auto.  I immediately returned the pistol to my dealer after talking to Sig customer service and being treated poorly.

My Sig 556R
Wow, what happened?  The company I once thought was the pinnacle of quality and customer service had failed me twice.  Bad luck perhaps?

Jump forward to 2011 and the new Sig 556R 7.62x39 rifle introduced at SHOT Show 2011.  Again, I couldn't wait to see this rifle.  It promised to be everything I wanted in a carbine.  Small, light, .30 caliber, uses AK mags which are cheap and plentiful, fires cheap Russian ammo, Sig quality... SIGN ME UP!

My dealer orders two rifles in.  I get the call to come pick up my rifle.  Once I get there, I pop the box open and see the 556R for the first time.  It looked pretty nice at a glance.  I picked it up and that's where things took a turn for the worse.  I first noticed a large amount of play between the upper and lower receiver.  I'm not talking about a little wiggle, I'm talking about being able to move the upper in circles while shouldering the rifle.  It felt broken.

Next I noticed the rifle had blemishes all over it.  The finish was missing in some areas and there were rough handling marks on it, like the rifle had been dropped several times at the factory.  I told my dealer I didn't want this rifle and asked to see the other one.  When he brought it out, it too had the same problems.  I was floored.

My dealer contacted his distributor and got an RMA to return the 556R's that were defective.  He said he would have two more in a few days.

I returned a few days later and inspected the two rifles.  Both had a better fit (one more so than the other) between the upper and lower receivers but one had those rough handling marks all over it again.  I counted 7 dings in the finish that were through the finish and into the metal.  So I took the rifle that had the fewest blemishes and headed to the range.

I won't try to explain what happened, I'll let the video speak for itself.

I was shocked at my findings.  I posted this video on the boards leaving out most of the clips showing the endless malfunctions I was having.  I didn't want to hammer on Sig too badly, I thought my initial video conveyed my thoughts without showing 15 minutes of failure after failure using current production Wolf ball ammo.

But several people on the gun boards questioned my comments about having multiple failures besides the soft primer strikes.  So I pulled together some of the left out footage and created another video showing the severity of the failures I was having with my Sig 556R.

Ultimately, the rifles quality and unreliability were so bad that I decided not to bother with trying to get it fixed by Sig and simply returned it to my dealer for an exchange.  Several reasons prompted this decision.
  • Sig's past treatment of me on the phone was so bad and left such a sour taste in my mouth that I didn't want to deal with them again.
  • The rifle exhibited serious lapses in quality, things like the stock was horribly cheap and didn't function properly, the red dot sight was cheap, and the lower alloy receiver wasn't compatible with steel magazines or military surplus polymer magazines that used steel reinforcements (see image below)
  • Sig is now telling people (customer service reps named Scott and Josh) that the Sig 556R is not designed to be used with steel cased ammo.
  • I discovered the rifle does not have a chrome lined bore and it's not nitrite treated.  Sig claims on their website the barrel is "military grade" yet it lacks these basic military features.

From Sigs' website
How can a rifle designed for "special forces" according to Sig not use steel cased ammo?  The vast majority of the ammo in use throughout the world in 7.62x39 is steel cased ammo.

Erosion caused by use of steel mags
That also brings me back to the magazine issue I mentioned above.  Every magazine I have in my collection with the exception of perhaps 5 are steel mags.  I prefer steel mags.  But the alloy lower receiver of the 556R does not have steel reinforcements where the magazine locks into the receiver and thus, with minimal use you begin to see severe erosion like you see in the image to the left.  It's also worth mention that many military surplus polymer magazines also use steel reinforcements for the locking lip and magazine lips.  It stands to reason these polymer surplus mags may cause excessive wear as well.

So in the end I'm left wondering, "what happened to Sig"?  I expect so much more from Sig that I find my recent dealings with them to be disheartening and troublesome.  I can only hope that Sig hears the frustrations and complaints of its former fans and loyalists and moves to quickly remedy the quality issues many of us see.

Update 3/30/11

A poster, Tim_McBride, on has been doing some testing of his own with his Sig 556R.  The results of his tests are quite interesting.
Steel Case Ammo report;
I fired 20rd of each of the following boxes of Ammo. I also fired a few mags of Yugo with no issues.
Brown Bear SP No Issues
Brown Bear HP No Issues
Brown Bear FMJ No Issues
Golden Bear FMJ 2 FTE(Fail To Eject)
Golden Bear HP 1 FTE
Seller & Belliot FMJ No Issues
Silver Bear FMJ No Issues
Silver Bear HP No Issues
Silver Bear SP 4 FTE
Tula 122 FMJ 2 FTI(Fail to Ignite) All rounds fired on second strike, all that failed first strike had very deep set primers
Tula 124 FMJ 3 FTI, All rounds fired on second strike, all that failed first strike had very deep set primers
Tula 124 SP No Issues (Lucky I guess)
UCW 122 FMJ No Issues
Wolf SP No Issues
Wolf FMJ (Black Box) 2 FTI All rounds fired on second strike, all that failed first strike had very deep set primers
Wolf FMJ (Camo Box) 3 FTI All rounds fired on second strike, all that failed first strike had very deep set primers
Golden Tiger 2 FTI (I saved one, the other fired on second strike  
It would seem that the light primer strikes and failures to extract/feed aren't unique to my rifle.  Of the various ammo he tested, roughly half of the types tested failed to either ignite or feed.  I've never seen such failure rates before using 7.62x39 in any rifle chambered for it I've owned.

It's also worth mentioning that since posting my videos and blog entry I've had several owners contact me saying they've experienced the same issues with their new Sig 556R rifles.

The problems with the Sig 556R are wide spread and apparently fairly common.  Hopefully Sig listens to these reports and corrects the issues the rifle has with popular brands of 7.62x39 ammo for future owners.