First Air Conditioner Guy Says Replace It For $5,000, Second Air Conditioner Guy Fixes It For $250

Reader F.’s air conditioner was broken, so he called the company that installed it when the house was built. They came out, charged him $100, and told him that he could repair the unit for $3,000 or replace it for $5,000. It’s a good thing he got a second opinion, because the second repair guy fixed the problem for $250.

F. says:

I called the company that installed it 9 years ago, Westminster Mechanical, because it was making a loud noise and the fan was no longer working. They came out yesterday and in minutes declared that all the components need to be replaced. They estimated around $3000 [for the repair] or a new system for around $5000.

So, I called a neighbor in the business and she sent someone out. In about an hour he found a blockage and once again I have air. Do these companies install in new houses so they can slap a sticker with their number on it and years later when you call say it needs to be replaced? Instead it cost me $250, oh plus the $100 I wasted to have the original company tell me to replace it.

It’s nearly impossible to say whether or not the first company was trying to mislead you, so we’ll concentrate on what you did right. It’s certainly not uncommon for companies to try to get unsuspecting homeowners to try to replace an air conditioner or a furnace when, in fact, it just needs a small repair. So, how do you figure out when your repair guy is telling the truth?

First, before you call someone to come in and look at your AC or furnace, do a little research with the BBB and ask your friends to recommend someone that you can trust. Second, if you’re told that you may have to replace your equipment or make an expensive repair, thank the representative for his time and start collecting 2 more estimates. If your unit really does have to be replaced, some contractors will waive the fee and offer a free estimate for the new equipment.

If, like F., there was nothing seriously wrong with your AC, an honest contractor will catch it.

We asked the BBB about F.’s case and were told that complaints about AC repair are relatively uncommon, but that they do happen.

“With something like this, it’s hard for the consumer to know if they’re being lied to or not. If an AC repairman were to say to me, “Your flux capacitor is shot,” who am I to argue? That’s why it’s important to research the company first,” said Alison Preszler, Media Relations Manager of the BBB.

Don’t Get Burned By Furnace Fraud [BBB]
(Photo: Bruce Turner )


Edit Your Comment

  1. Gann says:

    You joke, but my brother’s a/c died and he fixed it by replacing his capacitor.

  2. Rippleeffect says:

    @Gann: Flux capacitor?

  3. floraposte says:

    I had an electrical outlet fixed by reversing the polarity.

  4. “It’s nearly impossible to say whether or not the first company was trying to mislead you, so we’ll concentrate on what you did right.”

    This may be a regional thing, but where I am, HVAC companies DO NOT CHARGE for the diagnostic visit (unless it’s after-hours). The fact that they charged him $100 just to come and look at it raises a red flag for me. If an HVAC contractor here tried that (hells bells, if ANY contractor around here tried that), I would not have that contractor out. Even the window guys, who are based 90 minutes away, arranged to make my diagnostic visit on a day they were in town doing repairs ANYWAY so I didn’t pay the gas & travel fee. (Which I did pay when they came to do the actual repairs.)

    One of my best friends owns an HVAC company, and what that first contractor did is unconscionable. And, yes, my furnace has the sticker on it from my HVAC people, with a little 10-year service chart on the sticker that they diligently mark off every year so they can see when it was last serviced, by whom, and what was done. Even before I became friends with the owner, they were ALWAYS upfront about telling me what my options were, what they’d cost, benefits and drawbacks, and what they thought was the best one.

  5. Understandable that someone told you a totally different price, but as a past employee to an Air Conditioning company, you realize that if these guys don’t even attempt to make sales that they get fired.
    There really is no money in fixing the parts to a 9 year old AC unit.
    Plus all the new units that are made now are made at a much higher Seer rating, making them more cost effective in the long run. So spending $5000 on a new system might be a smart move depending on what brand system you have.
    And to be perfectly honest, this kind of stuff happens every day to people, so I don’t know why this whole situation is special. Hell this happens to me at supermarkets with the whole grocery shrink ray…

  6. Skipweasel says:

    First law of getting anything fixed – “Don’t take the word of someone in a position to sell you replacement”.
    Actually, the first law is “Fix it yourself, it’s easier than you think”, but it’ll do for now.

    In the UK most vehicles have to have annual safety inspetions, called MOT tests. Many garages happily find faults which they then fix for you. Near us there’s a specialist garage who /only/ does MOTs and doesn’t offer repairs so he has no interest in failing your car. He’s always busy despite charging the maximum permitted fee – something other garages generally discount.

  7. Snowblind says:


    Fixed mine for about $165, plus a new washable air filter. Needed a new circulation fan because the original was installed incorrectly.

    Except for the outside unit, AC’s are pretty simple to fix. I don’t mess with 220V if I can help it.

    If you do need a repairman to look at it, stick around and watch what he checks. Ask questions, politely. Yes, I had one refuse to answer, but it is my damn house, my damn rules. Rude repair men don’t get paid.

    Pay attention to what the repair man says, ask for a WRITTEN description of the problem/repair work recommended and to point to what is specifically broken.

    Then pay him gladly for his time, he earned it. Find out what the parts cost from a local supplier and either do it yourself if you are confident, or get the company back out for a repair.

    In the case of the fan it was a $750 flat fee estimate. Getting a parts estimate showed he more than doubled the markup and also put 3 hrs of labor. WAY more than even fumble fingers here took to do it, even taking the opportunity to clean cat hair off the coils.

  8. attackgypsy says:

    Capacitor is an electronic part on the control board.

    When I did HVAC, I saw this alot. People would tell us that “XYZ Air Conditioning” (Yes, the real name. Long since out of business) wanted to have the unit replace. We’d come out, do a service on it (Clean everything, check pressures, add freon, change filters, etc), and the unit would be fine for the rest of the season.

    Our policy was not to disparage the other company. We told them “We got it back up and running for this season, but we can’t guarantee it will be next season.” Sometimes, if the person was smiling and laughing we’d mention sacrificing a few chickens as a joke.

    The big moral of this is that just like a car, a little maintainance can keep an A/C unit going for decades.

  9. blue_duck says:

    @Rippleeffect: Ha!

  10. boomerang86 says:


    Probably a run capacitor on the condenser fan motor; we’ve replaced quite a few this summer already.

  11. Gann says:

    Nope, just a standard a/c capacitor. It turned out to be a cheap repair, but it had symptoms similar to this one, and an unscrupulous repairman might have been able to sell a naive consumer a new a/c.

  12. blue_duck says:

    Actually, I had a similar situation with my car’s a/c. I had a garage tell me that I needed a new one for about $500, but it only needed to be recharged with free-on.

  13. blue_duck says:

    A flux capacitor would probably run pretty pricey…

  14. snoop-blog says:

    Ac units are actually quite durable. I have a friend certified in heating/cooling, and says you can fix almost all units. But if you don’t know anything about them, you are at the mercy of a professional, who also may get commissions on selling new ac units. When is it the easiest to sell a new unit? When the old one doesn’t work properly.

  15. balthisar says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Around here, everyone charges. It’s completely normal. I take exception, though, when a contractor wants to charge me for doing an estimate for non-diagnostic work. It’s only ever happened once, and I chose not to have him come and do an estimate.

  16. Jevia says:

    I had to replace my furnace and ac recently (they were over 25 years old, so wasn’t surprised) when the motor finally gave out. I had one place out for an estimate real quick, but no other place I called (and I called about 10) either returned my call or couldn’t come out to give me an estimate for about two weeks. Since I had a 10 month old baby, I really didn’t want to be in the heat any longer than absolutely necessary. A friend who works in property management handling rentals vouched for the first (and only) estimate, so ended up going with it. Both together were less than the OP’s estimate for just the AC.
    I was just really surprised with how difficult it was to get other HVAC companies to come out for an estimate or even to return my telephone call.

  17. @balthisar: “Around here, everyone charges.”

    I shall then take comfort in living in a small midwestern city where I can immediately strike contractors from my list if they charge to take a look-see. :)

  18. AdvocatesDevil says:

    Heating, AC, plumbing, and electrical companies are full of weasels and thieves. It’s hard to find someone honest in those businesses, but once you do, don’t let them go. Thank you for posting the name of this dishonest company so locals can AVOID THEM. SECCO in the Harrisburg, PA area is the worst. They operate under a bunch of different names and if you call them about everything, they always come out and tell you you need thousands of dollars in work done. Always. Avoid at all costs!

  19. barty says:

    @Wasted_Paper_Cow: It depends on how long you’re planning on being in the house and what you have in place now.

    If you were in the position I was in 2-3 years back, dealing with a nearly 30 year old condensor/compressor unit, then replacing it makes sense. I kid you not when I say my electric bills during the summer went down by about 40% when I was running the A/C after replacing that relic of a unit. Since I had an inside line on a unit (my uncle works for a large commercial/multi-family HVAC company) I was able to make back what I paid for it in about a summer and a half.

    Even a 9 year old unit is going to be efficient enough that replacing it won’t make sense. It would probably take 10+ years to make up the difference between fixing what you’ve got now vs. replacing it with a more modern unit.

    Unless the compressor has outright seized, or some other major component in the condensing unit has failed or is leaking, repairing a unit made in the past 10 years or so probably makes better financial sense for most people.

  20. robotprom says:

    and the moral of this story is always get a second opinion, especially when the first one comes in at a lot of money.

  21. @Jevia: “I was just really surprised with how difficult it was to get other HVAC companies to come out for an estimate or even to return my telephone call.”

    One issue with HVAC is that it’s VERY seasonal work; during certain months, it can be EXTREMELY difficult to get scheduled, especially because “emergencies” are prioritized. (If you have routine servicing done, you should ask your HVAC guy, “What’s the best month to schedule this for, when you aren’t so busy?”)

    I’m surprised you didn’t get prioritized, with a baby, but perhaps they only prioritize old folks for A/C where you are.

    I actually have a service contract with my HVAC company. For $85/year they come out and do a yearly service on both my units, and certain repairs and servicings are free if they break during the year (I only pay for parts, and since I know the owner, I know their markup, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable). I get a reduced hourly rate on after-hours service, and I get bumped to the top of the queue when I have an emergency.

    I had initially wondered if this was worth it — until my furnace broke at 5:45 p.m. when it was below freezing and I got it fixed by 7 p.m. and paid hardly anything for it. Reading these comments, $85 seems like a real freakin’ bargain!

  22. trekkieb47 says:

    Haha I knew this sounded familiar, Frank from Comcastcares on twitter, twittered about this on 7/30.

    “comcastcares: Rule of the day. Get a second opinion. AC is now working and instead of costing $5k for new unit it cost $250. The house is not 90 inside 08:25 PM July 30, 2008 from web”

  23. trekkieb47 says:

    Also from 7/29:

    “comcastcares: UGH Spent $100 to have HVAC guy say need to get a new system. 9 years old AC system. No air for now. Reliving my childhood without the pool 02:42 PM July 29, 2008 from web”

  24. tptcat says:

    Nice pic. That’s Ranch 616 here in Austin on the corner of 7th and Nueces. I would highly recommend it – especially for lunch. (I’m not affiliated with them in any way).

  25. Eryk says:

    Second opinions are a must.

    I recently bought my first home, and immediately started to have problems with the water heater. Had someone come out to take a look, they were ready to charge me 300 bucks to fix the problem.

    Had my fiance’s brother come out later that day to take a look (union pipefitter), and it was one part that was not functioning properly. Home Depot had it for 10 bucks. Took us 15 minutes to install.

    Haven’t had a problem since.

    What I find funny, is if the first guy hadn’t been that greedy, I would have been more than willing to pay 150 bucks to get it fixed. The fact that he was ready to charge me what it costs to buy a whole new water heater immediately had me believing that he was FOS.

  26. Anyone remember when Dateline and their companions would set up stings for repairmen? They would set up the washing machine with a fork stuck in a sensor. They would staff the house with a set of old actors, and hidden cam record the repairmen. At times, it made me more sick than a episode of “To Catch A Predator”. They did this with AC units as well, and my favorite was when they did mechanics. They caught them dumping shavings into transmissions after flagging the motor homes down on the highway to their stations. We need more of these programs. Honesty through surveillance.

  27. Nytmare says:

    @AdvocatesDevil: Hey, you and me both. SECCO sent an “expert” bumbler and charged $40 to give me their estimate of several thousand dollars, so I called an independent plumber who replaced my water heater for $700.

    If you don’t like the first estimate, definitely feel free to get another one!

  28. snoop-blog says:

    @Git Em SteveDave is a poor substitute for LindsayJoy: Word! Lets start our own business that does nothing but this. The Consumerist could have it’s own tv channel.

  29. kc2idf says:

    F should demand a refund from Westminster Mechanical, on the grounds that the product they sold him (an estimate) was defective.

  30. mpotter says:

    My advice is to make sure you hire an AC repair guy who is certified to work on your system. I had a repair guy come to my house to fix my broken AC and he said all I needed was a new capacitor. He then used a universal capacitor in my system. It worked fine for a day and then blew again this time with smoke coming out of the condensor. He came back and said he could get me a new condensor in a month! I called another company (who was Carrier certified) and they said it probably was just the capacitor but the universal one that the first repair guy put in blew the actual condensor. So at the end of the day what should have been a quick fix turned into a new condensor!

  31. msbask says:

    I moved into an apartment and within 6 weeks the (gas) clothes dryer stopped getting hot. Landlord called a handyman and then Sears, who both said the heater element thing-a-ma-jib was broken and would cost around $250 to repair.

    Landlord figured it wasn’t worth it to repair a 7-year old dryer, so she just bought me a new one, which set her back $400.

    New dryer got installed and didn’t heat up either. My brother come over and took a look and it turns out that birds had built a nest in the vent to the outside, totally blocking the air flow. Once the vent was cleared, the dryer worked perfectly.

    What a waste of $400 and to this day, I don’t trust the word of any repair company. Since that time, I have fixed the dishwasher and washing machine myself (you can learn just about ANYTHING on the internet).

  32. savvy999 says:

    Does anyone know… I see automobile A/C recharge kits out there… ([]) assuming it was R12/R134 compatible would the same setup work to give my ancient home A/C unit a boost? I’ve cleaned coils, etc, done just about everything else that a minimally-handy homeowner could do.

    Is this feasible? Everything I’m googling about it claims that working with refrigerant on your central air unit is some kind of radioactive voodoo, best left to “the professionals”. I know where the port is, I have a gauge, what else do I need?

  33. GearheadGeek says:

    @savvy999: residential AC systems use different refrigerant. R22 is the most common, but at least one manufacturer is using something different already (marketed as “Puron” I believe) and all are going to have to switch over to a new refrigerant in the next couple of years.

  34. ZafirDento says:

    This post reminds me of an A/C repair/Installation company that I worked for
    when I was in high school in NYC. Based on the neighborhood, we would
    charge different rates..

    For instance, we charged a customer living in a Posh Park Avenue apartment
    $500 for a simple cleaning (normally a $50 service tops!)… To top it off
    they tipped us 15%.

    Later that same day we charged a customer $200 to install a new A/C unit in
    a 7 story walkup. A steal considering that I had to carry the new unit up 6
    flights of stairs and remove the old one. The price also covered the cost
    of the new unit. (Customer did not even offer me a drink).

    To top things, over the years the owner of the business changed the business
    name multiple times… Phone numbers and address stayed the same, so I’ll
    let you draw the conclusions to why this was done. Owner was also buddies
    with a few other A/C repair/installation companies and they would often bid
    on the same jobs.

    This particular business is still operating (And quite successfully). I
    can’t stress how important it is to get multiple quotes and to also do your
    homework. This is a perfect example of how a google search can often save
    you hundrends of $$.

  35. @snoop-blog: The Consumerist Bad Repairman-cast.

  36. GearheadGeek says:

    I also do the annual-contract service plan now. 2 houses ago, I had a new central HVAC system installed in the process of renovating the place and wasn’t worried about it… 1 house ago was a new McHouse in the McBurbs and I only lived there for 5 years, so I didn’t worry about it. My current house had a mostly-working AC system when I bought it, it’s not the highest efficiency system but it wasn’t bad for 2000 when it was installed. I lucked into a good HVAC company when it got cold and the furnace refused to light (I was the first to use the furnace… previous owner apparently never had a gas line run to the attic where the furnace lives, so he continued to use the floor furnace that was installed when the house was built in 1952.) When I had the gas line run for the tankless water heater, I had them run a line for the furnace as well. Since that happened in July, I didn’t test the furnace right then.

    I checked Angie’s List (new city for us, so few personal contacts for referrals) and the guy who came out was both skilled and honest, figured out that a safety switch wasn’t being activated because a tab on the front cover was a little bent, inspected everything else and charged me their base charge of $60, didn’t give me any hard sell but did tell me about the maintenance plan.

    When I decided to call them back to tune up the AC when the weather warmed up, he pointed out that the maintenance plan costs less than spring+fall check-ups (included in the plan) and gives a discount on parts and scheduling preference on work. Not a bad deal, so far a trustworthy company and it’s a tolerable 79 degrees in my house instead of the 100+ outside.

  37. Nighthawke says:

    @savvy999: Then you’ll have an expensive replacement on your hands. R134A and R22 are two completely different refrigerants. 134A is more of a mixture of gases, while R22 is a single gas. You put 134a into a system running R22 you’ll cause alot of trouble.

    Some of the “drop in” mixtures use 134a in their composition, but they are metered in a precise manner.

    Also, these Blends as they are called, containing systems develop a leak, odds are that the smallest molecule will leak out, developing an imbalance in the system. Simply topping off the system will not resolve the issue and the odds are that if the user adds even more gas to the system will lead to high head pressures and problems stemming from it.
    Dealing with 134a leaks requires that the gases be recovered using an approved recovery system by a certified AC tech.

  38. quail says:

    Reminds me of my horror story. When selling our old house the buyer had a HVAC inspector come out. Later that day our real estate agent tells us that we have a $900 problem to fix before we can sell the house. I call the HVAC company that I trusted and their guy comes out to find that the buyer’s inspector had broken an inlet valve to the compressor and it wasn’t at all related to what the other guy had said. About $150.00 later it was fixed and everyone was happy again. (Except for the buyer’s HVAC inspector who was sent the bill.)

  39. rellog says:

    OP should contact the BBB and file a complaint. If the HVAC company was with Angie’s List, he should complain their too. Finally, notify the AG.

    At the very least5, this company is incompetent. At worst, they are crooks. Either way, they have no business being in business.

  40. chandler in lasvegas says:

    This is the best excuse to network with your neighbors. Find out who takes care of THEIR units. My current AC guy was once laid off by a major company. He did freelance. Over five years he has replaces every fan in my combined unit and has told me that the only thing to go will be the compressor. Each and every repair has cost less than $150 and he takes me to the wholesale supply and lets me pay for the part directly. He has gone back to work for a company but still keeps his personal clients as his buffer. I know that when I have to replace my unit it will actually need replacing and that the replacement will be a quality machine. It’s all about the people, people!

  41. dopplerd says:

    As someone who used to work in HVAC those numbers seem crazy. If this is a normal (~2,500 sq ft) residential building the cost for a complete AC replacement would at very most be $2000. Most likely much less as all of the wiring and possibly the coil could be reused.

  42. Squeezer99 says:

    do you know your state laws? I live in mississippi and all houses built have a 10 year warranty from the home builder by law. should have just contacted the home builder if your state has a similar law and let the builder repair it at no cost to you

  43. The_IT_Crone says:

    Wow that’s almost exactly what happened to us. We called the number of the manufacturer, and their “repair person” told us we needed to replace the entire ~10 year old furnace ($3k for cheapie, $5k for “energy efficient”). We called our energy company and they sent a repair guy out. He looked at the furnace, dug around in his truck, came back and replaced the fan.

    That was under $500. Win.

  44. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Here’s an excellent message board for HVAC questions:


    Many professionals hang out in the forums are are really cool about helping consumers troubleshoot their systems and just generally answering questions.

  45. savvy999 says:

    @Nighthawke: thanks for the input.

  46. scoosdad says:

    @trekkieb47: I wonder if “F” had to accept a four hour window for the service call then sit around all day waiting for them to show up. /ducking

    Seriously, thanks for what you do Frank, you helped me out once.

  47. bohemian says:

    If someone gives you an outrageous estimate or says you have to fully replace something get a second opinion.
    Learn to fix and diagnose basic stuff on appliances yourself. The internet is chuck full of how to’s and parts suppliers.

    We had a transmission shop try about the same ploy. The regular mechanic told us we needed a sensor on the transmission replaced and referred us to the transmission shop he refers to to have it done. We take it there, I tell them to call me with an estimate before starting any work. I finally call them the next day and ask. I get told we need an entirely new transmission. I call the regular mechanic back and ask him WTF? He makes a few calls and suddenly the transmission shop can fix our vehicle for $200. Yes, that transmission shop has been blacklisted at my house.

  48. goodkitty says:

    I’ve seen this happen so many times. In my experience, what happens is that you get new construction where the various scumball companies of the area will lowball the builder, and of course the builder accepts to either save money (if the builder is the owner) or pocket a little extra cash.

    Then, to make up the difference, the scumball lowballer company will of course nickel and dime you to death, knowing that you’re stupid enough to have fallen for the scam. When a little company like ‘Acme Air Conditioning’ does it we call it a scam. When a big company does this, we call it Comcast or Verizon.

    It also makes a difference in where you live, apparently. Calling contractors out for the same job in a more affluent area (again, in my experience) means getting a larger bill or a more likely “you need to replace the whole thing” estimate than it does in more sketchy neighborhoods. You really just can’t trust anyone.

  49. JiminyChristmas says:

    This is yet another example among many that a lot of “professionals” are anything but. Especially with general contractor kinds of tasks…it doesn’t take a genius to do these things. I would almost always rather spend the time and money on tools and do something myself rather than have some stranger mucking around on my house.

    When it comes to getting things repaired, be it HVAC, plumbing, or electrical it helps to seek out a company that really bases its business on repair and maintenance. A lot of companies will advertise repair services, yet the bulk of their revenue may come from new construction. In those cases, ‘repair’ is just an extension of their marketing efforts. If they’re busy they won’t return your calls. Likewise, if you get someone to show up and they see it’s a small job it will cost a few hundred bucks to get them to stick around and fix something because otherwise it’s not worth their time.

  50. dtrots says:

    I am a commercial HVAC contractor in Chicago. The residential market just amazes me how they take advantage of homeowners.

    1. Every condensing unit actually has 2 capacitors. A run capacitor for the fan motor and a start capacitor for the motor in the compressor. They are usually combined as one.

    2. If you are frequently replacing capacitors, these usually means one of the motors is not right and starting to fail.

    3. A universal capacitor is acceptable as long as it matches the UF’s or MFD’s and voltage of the old one.

    4. Capacitors store high voltage! Never touch the terminals.

    A few other notes,

    – All A/C units are closed systems. If they constantly need freon, there is a leak. The most common leak is on the caps where the service tech puts his gauges. They should have a gasket on the inside of them and if so should be hand tight.
    – Make sure the coil on the outside is clean. As long as the power is off you can wash it down with a garden hose.
    – The freon (which is a brand name for refrigerant, like Klennex for tissue) is called R22 for air conditioning. Has been for 60 years. Since this freon contains a clorine atom, it is deemed harmful to the ozone layer. On Jan 1, 2010 the government has mandated to all the manufacturer’s that they can no longer manufacture equipment that runs on R22. R22 will continued to be manufactured until 2020 but will be less and less each year. The replacement is 410a which Carrier is calling Puron.

    The new 410a equipment costs a little more than R22 but if you’re in the market for a new A/C unit, it would be wise to get a 410a unit. To set the record straight on the new equipment, 410a runs at a much higher pressure than R22. The evaporator coil on the inside much be replaced as well as the unit outside. This is not optional. Although it is recommended to even replace the copper pipes that connect the two, it is acceptable to flush them out and reuse them.

    Hope this helps some people out there.

  51. SacraBos says:

    @attackgypsy: Another thing that goes out frequently is a relay. Yes, it’s basically a simple switch. Repeated on-off cycles cause the contacts to burn/wear out. Sometimes ants even get in there and gum it up…

  52. JulesNoctambule says:

    Our air conditioner went out a few weeks ago during a triple-digit heat wave. Not only did the repair company not charge a fee just for showing up, but they even squeezed us in that same day because the heat index was going to be especially bad. The repairman set about diagnosing the issue, then walked my husband and me through what had caused the problem and how to assess it ourselves should it happen again. I was grateful at the time to have dealt with such a professional and this story only makes me more so.

  53. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    I replaced my 15yr old system with a Carrier two years ago and glad I did. It’s colder(sumemr), quieter and cheaper to operate. Sometimes those old systems cost you more in maintenance than the savings in annual bills. I’ve saved $50-$75/month in the summer and winter since.

  54. planetdaddy says:

    I work in the A/C Heating Business. I tell everyone to hire off referals from friends and neighbors. If you can put off system replacement till the offseason(winter) sometimes you can get a better deal.

  55. webdoyenne says:

    Man, this goes on all the time. Plumber wanted $400 to “rebuild” my toilet. I had next-door neighbor (contractor) look at it. He shaved down part of the flapper with a penknife…voila, leaking fixed.

    A/C repair tech charged the old man across the street $1,000 for changing a filter.

    They’re all vultures.

  56. FrankenPC says:

    Appliance repair “techs” are SO freakin bad in my area I’ve decided to repair all my own stuff.

    Come to find out, if you put in your exact model of appliance and problem into Google out comes the exact fix. And CHEAP! THEN, you Google an online parts store and buy what you need and fix the damn thing yourself.

    I’ve repaired 3 appliances including a 4 ton AC unit by myself. All you need is basic automotive repair and a tiny bit of electronics and you can kiss those shameful excuses for repairmen GOOD BYE!

  57. dcx516 says:

    this is to anyone who attempts to fix their A/C system: DON’T DO IT! Do you know how to fix an A/C? Do you know what is involved with it? Do you know about refrigerant systems and the pressures associated with different refrigerant blends? Don’t be stupid CALL A PROFESSIONAL!!!! Look at the BBB website to find a reputable contractor

  58. barty says:

    @dcx516: I agree with that to an extent. It is not beyond the capabilities of a more competent do-it-yourselfer to hook up a set of manifold gauges to check the pressure if you’re trying to to a preliminary diagnosis before calling out the experts. Nor is it difficult to do some simple troubleshooting of the electrical circuits if you’re familiar with a schematic and multi-tester. Obviously this isn’t something just anyone should undertake on their own, but it really depends on the skill and comfort level of the individual.

  59. This happened to me. I drive an old Lexus and I bought it in late August a few years ago. The following late-spring I realized that the a/c wasn’t working (it was blowing, but only hot air) so I took it to a local radiator place that specializes in foreign cars. The guy told me that there was a crack in something relating to the a/c or the radiator and the cheapest way to fix it would be to FIND a part out of a scrapped car (which he told me could take WEEKS to locate even though mine is a VERY common model & year – he even suggested that I try to find one myself & bring it to him) and that it would probably run me $900 in labor and “nuts & bolts” at the low end of the scale.

    After I caught my breath I asked him to charge the freon “just for the ride home” thinking that I would get a second opinion and the damn a/c has worked ever since. Only cost me about $90 and I haven’t so much as re-charged it again since that incident.

    Thank goodness I didn’t play the role of the naive female car owner & accept his first diagnosis.

  60. Ixnayer says:

    I am an HVAC mechanic and mainly due residential. To say that we are all sleazy or take advantage of customers is outright ignorant. You will always have certain companies and individuals try to take advantage of you, but that is just a small minority. I have never tried to rip a customer off. I am always truthful to them about their problem and I try to explain it in simple terms that they might understand.

    Being part of a private company means you need to constantly look for new customers and sales, but at the same time, keep your current customers happy. If you get a reputation for trying to rip people off, you can guarantee you will go out of business.

    Like others have said in this post, if you don’t know what you are doing, DO NOT mess with an A/C or heat pump system. You can kill yourself. Even if your system is off capacitors still carry a charge. Not to mention refrigerants such as R22 and R410a can cause severe chemical burns, exspecially if your hands are wet. Also you must be EPA 608 certified (aka CFC).

    As long as you change the filters and get preventive maintenance done every so often, your system can run 20-30 years. BTW filters are not used to filter the air you breathe, they are used to protect the coil from debris getting to it.

  61. mariospants says:

    We replaced our old furnace and old A/C unit because they were breaking down and – according to the energy company – inefficient. Now, one new Carrier furnace and Trane A/C system later, the bills are actually higher and the house is no longer as warm in winter and cool in summer as it was with the old equipment. WTF. You can’t trust ANYONE these days.

  62. FrankenPC says:


    Let me modify my previous post: Don’t mess with the gas portion of the A/C system. I totally agree. Unless you are willing to invest in the vacuum pump and gage gear, you might as well hire someone insured and bonded to check the coolant. BUT! Everyone reading this: DO NOT let HVAC repair people scare you away from doing your own repairs. It’s one of their insidious techniques to take your money. There are many systems inside a heater/AC system which malfunction that have nothing to do with the coolant. Sensors are the main components to go first!

    Now, on to HVAC repair persons integrity… UMmmm… In the bay area, 90% of HVAC “techs” are flat out thieves. I’m seriously considering quitting my programming job and becomming a HVAC “tech” so I can retire in 5 years.

    I don’t know where you live, but, if your GOOD at HVAC repair, then you NEED to move to the Bay Area so you can make a killing being an honest repairman.

  63. My air conditioning unit just stopped working the other day. The guy I’m dating wanted to look at it before I called a repair man. He went over to it, took it apart (somewhat), put it back together – without doing ANYTHING else – and all the sudden I had cold air.

    I have no idea.

    But then what he told me to do was get an annual maintenance plan with a local company. They’ll come out, inspect and clean the machine once a year. I guess I’ll do that.

  64. at the beginning of the summer, our lower AC unit died.
    we called a guy out, he told us that a wire burned out, he replaced it free of charge. he then went on a sales pitch, told us it’d be $13k to replace both units, gave us his card, and left.

    the units are 23 years old, and we’ve been putting in $600 of refrigerant every year (will be twice this year) – we know they need to be replaced. who do you think we’re going to call?

  65. nrwfos says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Definitely regional – they charge here in my area of VA and it’s $100 to come out.

    And I got charged big time once because of the capacitor being bad, too. Hate being unable to diagnose and fix things myself.