9 Tips to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by an Air Conditioning Repair Company
It’s a terrible feeling when you feel like you might be getting scammed, but you’re not sure.
Similar to when you go to the auto mechanic and feel like you’re being upsold on services you don’t need, this happens with unscrupulous HVAC contractors.
The consumer is often in a position where they aren’t intimately familiar with the technology. They must take the experts word for it when they say they need replacement parts or special service.
This guide is to help you learn more about ways unethical air conditioning contractors may be taking advantage of you and fortify yourself against common scams.
Here’s the top nine tips we have for safeguarding against air conditioning repair ripoffs.
1. Make sure your air conditioning contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured.
There are many contractors that are operating without a license, without a bond, and without insurance. Any respectable HVAC contractor should have no problem showing you their license and insurance and bonding information.
If you’re in doubt, you can look up that information online. California’s online portal for looking up contractor information is at CSLB.ca.gov.
2. How many extra parts do they say you need?
Replacing parts unnecessarily can be a tactic to make you choose a replacement air conditioner vs repairing your AC unit. If the list of parts your HVAC technician is ordering seems to be a mile long, get a second opinion.
Educate yourself on what parts are being replaced, or what might be wrong with your central air conditioning before picking up the phone. Make sure you have done troubleshooting on common AC problems and it makes it more difficult for shady AC contractors to take advantage of you.
3. Refrigerant “recharging” – one of the most common scams
If your air conditioning repairman says you must “top off” your refrigerant, or “recharge” it, this is a red flag. Refrigerant runs in a closed loop between the outside condenser/compressor unit and the indoor evaporator unit.
The only reason you would need to add more refrigerant to your central AC is if there is a leak in the refrigerant line or the cooling system.
Your central AC doesn’t work like the AC in your car. You don’t “top it off” or “recharge” it. The AC technician is trying to get you to pay for an ongoing service that ignores the root problem. If your HVAC company recommends this service without fixing the leak, find a new HVAC contractor.
4. The price is too good to be true
Some HVAC companies will give you an extremely low price to get their foot in the door. Once they get in for initial service, they may upsell unneeded services to make up money on the back half of the transaction. We’ve heard stories of AC repairmen selling astronomically low maintenance packages but recommending complete AC system replacement when a simple repair would suffice. If the price sounds like a loss leader, be prepared for the hard sell.
5. Look at Local Reviews
One of the easiest ways to gauge whether a HVAC contractor is ethical or not is to look at their reviews on Google, Yelp, Home Advisor, Houzz, or the BBB. When air conditioning repair companies have a pattern of charging for services not needed, or delivering poor workmanship, people in your local community will let everyone know.
Heating and cooling companies that have a stellar track record will have almost all positive reviews from their customers.
6. Experience matters – Choose an established company
There’s a lot to be said for having many years of experience in any given trade. A seasoned heating and cooling company will have weathered many economic storms and stood the test of time. Compared to fly-by-night contractors in unmarked trucks, or HVAC contractors just starting their career, it’s a stark difference. If an air conditioning contractor has been around for years and years, that usually means they are doing things right.
7. When in doubt, get a second opinion
You don’t have to accept what a HVAC technician is telling you, if it feels “off”. Most HVAC companies will happy to give you a second opinion, and tell you what you need.
Air conditioning companies should be able to show you what they used to make their calculations, if they are recommending a replacement AC unit.
8. Do they look professional?
A HVAC company with their stuff together will have some basic things in place: a professional website, a company truck, uniforms or shirts with the company logo. If your HVAC technician shows up in a plain truck wearing street clothes, and doesn’t even have a website, be cautious. Professionals present themselves in a professional manner.
9. Avoid phone calls soliciting work
This isn’t as common as some of the other scams, but some HVAC companies hire phone solicitors to pitch their services. The person on the phone might say something like, “We have a technician in your neighborhood today, can we schedule some preventative maintenance?” These third-parties may not even be directly affiliated with the air conditioning company.
Why do they do this? If an air conditioning company has to have someone cold call you, they aren’t busy to begin with. They also know if you pick up the phone, they may be able to upsell you services you weren’t intending on buying.