Repair ripoffs: Part 2

Like most of us, Carolyn Hebert knows three things about her air conditioner: how to turn it up, how to turn it down, and how to call a repairman if there's a problem. "I don't know anything about air conditioners. So we asked licensed repairmen John Brooks to go over every inch of Carolyn's fourteen-year-old air conditioning unit. "What's your conclusion? That it's in good working order. Everything is good. It was a little low on Freon, but now it's good," said John Brooks with Landmark. So, we broke it. Inside the unit is a lot of wiring, all we did to "break" the unit is disconnect the main power line to the thermostat, then reattach it to the wire's insulation meaning no power could get to the unit. "Hi, I wanted to have someone come out and look at my air conditioner please." When Best Air Conditioning showed up, the technician told us we had a bad transformer and needed a two-hundred and sixty-five dollar new one! Remember, all we did was create a short in the line. We paid a visit to Best Air Conditioning. This is how the office manager greeted us. "Hi, April Marco, what can I help you with? Aaron Diamant, how are you? I don't want that camera on." Off camera, the owner defended his technician and told us he runs a legitimate business. However, Best never should have made the call to Carolyn's house in the first place, since County records show "Best Air Conditioning" didn't renew it's contractor's license for 2004 until after we told them it had lapsed. Two other companies, Conway Services and ARS Service Express properly diagnosed the wiring problem but then looked for other problems. Both told Carolyn based on their readings; her system was low on Freon. It is a one-hundred to three-hundred dollar problem, depending on the company. "I couldn't believe it." The technician told us based on the age of the unit; a dirty evaporator coil could be to blame for the low Freon readings. Neither company bothered to check it. Conway 's CEO told us he would have liked to see his technician take that extra step. "With any company that has employees from time to time people make mistakes. And if a mistake was made here then we certainly would own up to it," said John Conway with Conway Services. The GM at ARS wouldn't talk to us on camera but told us, "That's such a tough call, you're going off what the technician feels is providing a service to the customer." Industry experts say technicians are trained to look for other problems as part of a standard service call. "You don't want to have to come back out, you've paid me to come out once, you don't want to be inconvenienced again," said Kevin Rapp with A/C Contractors of America. He admits it's tough for a customer to tell what is standard operations and what is a scam. "I think you really need to do research, just like anything else, do research, get word of mouth from a friend or a neighbor." Carolyn now has her own system. "I'm just going to be very skeptical of anything they say that they try to sell me." This is a lesson learned on how to stay cool without shelling out too much cold cash.