You can avoid most of these system replacement scams by making sure you work with a reputable AC installation company. We’ll cover more on that in other articles.
Mechanics, contractors, and craftsmen: a time-honored tradition of blue-collar work, and unfortunately, also the source of a lot of ripoff reports and scams. Just like auto mechanics, we hear a lot from homeowners who were gently (or not-so-gently) separated from their money by shady contractors.
Lately, we’ve even been hearing these scams perpetrated on a commercial scale.
It’s unavoidable in any large industry. There will always be someone who is trying to take advantage of you. The rest of us – the honest guys who want to do good work at a fair price and keep our customers for life – view them as the enemy.
They’re the bad apples, and they spoil our reputation. So, in this article, we’re going to expose them and their plans so you won’t fall for them again.
So, in an industry full of mostly decent guys, how do you avoid meeting the crooks?
Here are the scams we see most, and how to spot them a mile away.
This one is running rampant, and that’s pretty surprising, given how easy it is to spot. It can get pretty convoluted, though. Here’s the thing: the best contractor is probably neither the most nor least expensive you’ll talk to. His prices are likely to be somewhere in the middle, because he’s not trying to lowball you and hit you with surprise charges, and he’s also not trying this scam on you.
We see this one from Orlando AC Installation companies who claim to be more prestigious than they are, or companies whose entire business model is built on trying to convince you that other company’s pricing is too good to be true.
How to spot the scam: Do they say things like “[Company X]’s prices are only that low because they do bad work” or “You get what you pay for,” get a second and third opinion. Call another company (or two, or three) and see if they’ll quote you for the same job. You can even share the first estimate with them. If they say “Well, we can undercut that with cheaper labor” or “We have a discount through the manufacturer” or something like that, the first company’s pricing is probably within reason, but on the higher side.
If, on the other hand, they say “that quote is a total ripoff,” well, you should probably believe them.
Because, you see, even though we just said to watch out for guys who say this, you DO get what you pay for. If you pay for absurdity, absurdity is what you’re going to get.
Look, sometimes you just do need a new part. Parts go bad. Identifying and replacing faulty parts is part of our job. After all, you’re not trained for that.
However, some AC repair contractors take advantage of their customers by pointing out parts that aren’t broken and replacing them. It works on two levels: they get to charge you for a new part, and they get to resell the perfectly good used part you just allowed them to take.
Of course, not every contractor who says this is scamming you … so …
How to spot the scam: Ask them what the part is, and do a little research before you sign off. It’s pretty common for them to say your compressor is the bad part, since compressors are quite expensive, and therefore quite valuable. You can quickly Google “signs of a bad compressor” and if none of the symptoms sound familiar, you might be getting ripped off.
Try and remember that, as the homeowner or facility manager, you always have the authority to stop work and dismiss a company. If you suspect a scam artist, it might be the perfect time to do exactly that.
Often, a very simple scam contractors (a term we use loosely) will use is the Fake Repair Scam. Put simply, they don’t repair anything, or they do a stopgap repair. Perhaps they stop at charging a system they know to be leaking refrigerant without repairing the leak. Perhaps they don’t replace a part, even though they know they should.
Then they fake you out by telling you the repair is done and things should go back to normal in “a day or two.”
And that’s when we have a problem.
How to spot the scam: No repair will take “a day or two” to get back to normal. Repairs are almost always instantaneous. The only exception is frozen evaporator coils, which can take a few hours to thaw. Beyond that, you should see immediate results.
Unfortunately, your only recourse is to attempt to sue to recover your money, in most cases. You can avoid this, like we said in the introduction, by doing a little research and hiring a reputable company straight off. Online reviews are a great help, as are referral sites like Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau.
If you’re ever in doubt, hire someone else.
When things seem too convenient, sometimes they are. Now, we endeavor to make everything easy, but one thing we don’t do is sell used parts. Remanufactured and refurbished parts direct from a manufacturer? MAYBE. But used, in our truck? Never.
No honest contractor will do this to you. Used parts are unquantifiable, and more often than not will reduce efficiency or strain your system. Oftentimes, they’ll only work for a short while.
And if you’re wondering why the contractor had a used part sitting in their truck? It’s very likely a part that they pulled out of some other client’s system … because it wasn’t working properly.
How to spot the scam: Insist on new parts. Insist on itemized lists and transparency. Insist on knowing what work is being done at all times. Never buy used parts from a shady AC repairman.
Also? Watch for guys who try to sell you “new” parts that turn out to be refurbished or used. Just pay attention, and you’ll be fine!
Free inspections are a common and necessary part of doing business. There is absolutely no red flag associated with that. What is a bit off is the part where a lot of shady contractors try to piggyback off of reputable companies.
Let’s say someone calls you and says they’re with Orlando Air Conditioners (a company we find QUITE reputable). Of course, you want a free home inspection or audit from us, right?
Unfortunately, sometimes, you’re actually talking to a fly-by-night trickster using a name to fool you into hiring them.
How to spot the scam: Every reputable AC company we know (ourselves included) use marked vehicles and uniforms. If the truck your contractor shows up it doesn’t contain the name of the company they claim to work for, they’re not who they say they are. Also, “marked vehicle” means properly marked, with permanent decals or paint, not a window cling or a door magnet.
Standard policy for the best AC companies in Orlando requires that employees use work vehicles, not personal vehicles.
And this scam? This scam is why.
With central air and heat pump units, bigger is not necessarily better. In fact, units that are too large come with higher installation and operating expenses. They’re also more likely to malfunction or short cycle.
That means it will turn on and off too quickly. When that’s happening, your AC isn’t able to dehumidify your house, and you’ll see a noticeable decrease in air quality. What’s more, it’s bad for your system, especially your compressor. You’ll get wear and tear on your system at a higher than average rate.
Oh, and your bills will be higher, too.
How to spot the scam: Ask them if they’ve done a “load calculation” and what formula they used. A load calculation is a little bit of math any real HVAC contractor knows how to do. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion.
You’d be surprised how quickly second opinions unmask scam artists.
Everyone knows what an HVAC tune-up is, right? We’ve discussed them in other articles. They are the best bang for the buck available in AC maintenance. A technician goes over your AC with a fine tooth comb (literally and figuratively) to spot and fix small problems before they grow.
So where’s the scam? Well, that lies in frequency.
How to spot the scam: Reputable HVAC companies (like Orlando Air Conditioners) will remind you to have an annual tune-up, often right before the warmer season starts. Scammers will try to sucker you into seasonal tune-ups (4 times a year), at quadruple the expense.
Don’t fall for it.
If you’ve run into any other shady HVAC companies and want to clue us in on the ways they tried to rip you off, please drop a comment! You can also give us a call if you want a reliable, honest company to give you a second opinion.