The Better Business Bureau offers tips on how to avoid air conditioner repair scams and still stay cool in the summer heat.
The New York area is experiencing scorching temperatures this summer and BBB is urging consumers to take a few simple steps to avoid being burned by air conditioning inspection and repair scams. While there are many reputable air conditioning service and installation companies from which to choose, there are always a few unscrupulous companies looking to do unnecessary repair work or equipment sales.
Advertisements for “free” air conditioner cleanings or tune-ups tend to pop up during this time of the year. BBB urges consumers to be cautious about these offers. A reputable company might send a technician to provide a free estimate as part of the sales process. However, a less scrupulous company might try to trick consumers by offering an allegedly “free” service with the overall intent of making a high pressure sales pitch.
“Scammers may push more costly repairs than are needed, overcharge you for parts, or use high-pressure tactics to sell you a new air conditioner instead of doing a repair,” said Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Metro New York BBB. “Consumers can protect themselves with information. Always do your research before spending money, including checking out the company’s BBB Business Review.
Consumers should consider the following steps to ensure they are getting the proper service for their air conditioner problems:
• Troubleshoot: Before calling for service, check a few basic things first. Is your thermostat operating properly? Has the electrical breaker powering the unit tripped? Does your system have a winter power shut off switch that needs to be flipped? Are the air in-take screens or filters on your outside unit dirty or blocked and need to be cleaned? Sometimes there are minor, inexpensive things you can do yourself to alleviate a problem and avoid paying for a service call or repair.
That being said, air conditioners are complex machines. Do not take them apart or try to repair them on your own or you may end up doing more damage which could result in a more expensive repair. Leave the servicing of your air conditioner to a trusted, licensed professional.
• Warranty Issues: Is your air conditioner still under manufacturers’ warranty? Sometimes using unauthorized service companies or replacement parts can void your warranty. Be sure to check your owners’ manual or warranty for any special conditions to avoid unnecessarily paying for any future repairs that might otherwise be paid for under the warranty.
• Written Estimates: Do not be satisfied with verbal promises. Make sure you get a written estimate that notes what is wrong with your air conditioner, what the entire cost to repair or replace the unit will be, and the printed and signed name of the repair person. If they are recommending purchasing a new system, also require that the estimate include its make, model, serial number, and system capacity.
• Obtain Multiple Quotes: When faced with a pricey repair or new air conditioner purchase, get at least three written quotes before you make a final decision. Quotes should include a full description of the services and materials to be used so you can adequately compare them; this includes the air conditioners size and units of energy (BTU) as well as the calculated cooling capacity of your home. Also compare all available warranties. Not all warranties are the same so they should be included in your evaluation process.
• Don’t Pay Cash: Always pay by credit card if you can and avoid paying cash. If paying by check, make it out to the name of the business rather than payable to the employee or another individual. Some unethical employees and subcontractors steal from consumers by convincing them to write checks directly to them rather than the company that was hired. Consumers are still likely to be held liable to pay the company they hired to do the work. Depending on contract terms, they might also potentially face a lien on their property. A cancelled check is a useful form of evidence to prove you actually paid your bill.
Additionally, check that the company is insured against claims covering worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability in case an accident occurs on your property. Call to verify the contractor’s insurance coverage after obtaining the name of the carrier and agency. Ask the provider to send you proof of coverage for your records.
• Annual Inspections: Paying for an annual inspection with a qualified repair shop to check the compressor, moving parts, coolant levels, filter, and furnace blower can identify and resolve problems before they become expensive. Having work done before the peak summer busy season can be less costly than when air conditioning service technicians are in high demand.