Air Conditioner Services: 7 Ways You’re Being Scammed
- Air conditioners are theoretically simple in their structure: hot air from your house passes through a refrigerant and then is pumped back into your house. A thermostat gives you control of the temperature. Not too complicated, right?
But when your AC isn’t working and you’re hot and frustrated and can’t sleep in your sweaty bed one more night and you need the help of a professional, you’re in the perfect position to be preyed upon by an HVAC scammer. You’re stuck in their web of refrigerants and coils and duct work.
But you don’t have to be. Here are 7 common scams to look out for:
The “I have a used one on my truck” Scam
If a technician offers this, answer with a resounding no. Full units are expensive, parts are not. If you want to a have a functional unit, ask for a new part. A used part was taken from someone else’s non-functional unit—it’s old, it’s worn and it shouldn’t be resold to another client (that’s just bad manners). You do not want that used part.
If your technician insists on using the old piece, insist right back that you want a new one. And to that end, if your technician does replace a part, ask to keep your old one. You’re paying it forward so someone else doesn’t get your worn, tired parts.
The Seasonal Maintenance Plan
This one sounds so logical. Every season, your heating and cooling needs change. So it would hold that every season, you’d need to check in on your HVAC system. But this is actually not the case. Yes, once a year it does make sense to have a trusted professional come over and check to make sure your unit is in good shape and your vents are clear and nothing has changed since the previous year BUT you just need this once a year, not four times a year. If a company wants to see you more than once, they’re just looking for opportunities to pressure you into some mysterious must-do repair.
This is a cousin to the “free tune up” scam, where an HVAC company comes over and misidentifies your needs or makes up a problem under the guise of getting your unit ready for summer.
The “Give it a few days” Excuse
This one is rich. If a technician says that you should feel the impact of their work in a few days, don’t believe them. Unless they’re defrosting a frozen unit, repairs to your system should be felt immediately. That means the unit turns on, the fan blows and the air is cool, just the way it should be, before the technician leaves your home. The “Give it a few days” Excuse is often paired with the “I don’t answer my phone anymore” Follow Up.
The “Oh, you reeeeeallyneed to replace this whole thing” Drama
If your technician packs on the drama with “this is bad” or “oh goodness, you reeeeeeally need to replace this”, ask questions. Sometimes repair works even better than replace, but replace brings in a higher rate for parts and labor. Press your technician to see if there is any way that a particular problem can be solved with a new part rather than a whole and total replacement of a whole unit or system. HVAC units are big investments and they’re designed to be repaired. If it’s an ancient unit, sure, you may need a replacement. But even that assessment should come with a drama-free delivery by your technician.
The Recharge Lie
If your HVAC technician tells you they need to recharge your AC unit, find a quick way to get them to stop work and leave—they’re trying to pull one over on you. Recharging the unit means that your unit is short on refrigerant. Refrigerant isn’t like gas in a car that gets consumed by use—if you’re low on refrigerant, your unit is leaking. Technicians use the Recharge lie to charge you for service and refrigerant with the hope that when your leak becomes more sever in the future, they’ll call you back for more repairs. At best, this lie shows laziness, at worst, a con. Don’t fall for it.
The Cash Up Front, Don’t Answer the Phone Job
Never, never, never pay cash up front for an HVAC job. And hang up on any HVAC company who tells you it’s their policy, or that they’ll give you a discount, or that cash up front is the way it’s done. It’s not. A reputable company will assess your problems, give you a written estimate that you agree to, fix issues with new part and thorough service, and then give you the final bill.
The Cash Up Front scammers are best friends with the Give It A Few Days scammers. Both seem to have misplaced your number when you expect them to show and they don’t.
This one seems so fundamental that it feels especially terrible if you fall for it. Since AC units are a mystery to most of us, a technician may come in claiming that they need to fix a particular part but in fact, they really just noticed your fan was on ON instead of AUTO or that your thermostat was set to HEAT and not COOL. Or that your unit isn’t working because a $14 filter that you can buy from Target needed to be replaced. Instead of pointing out the real problem, a crooked technician would seem to tinker with your unit for hours, charge you for part, then solve the real problem in a minute or two, you being none-the-wiser. When a repair person comes to work on your system, be really clear on their diagnosis. Know what they’re going to fix or replace. Ask for the part that they’re saying are damaged or worn out. It’s your right to know what you’re paying for and your education on one issue will only help when the next issue arises.