Imagine this common scenario: your air conditioner breaks and you call an HVAC company to come repair it.
Now ask yourself this: How do you know if they are scamming you? If you’re like most people, you don’t.
It can be like dealing with a car mechanic — since the equipment is complicated and you’re not sure how things work, it’s hard to tell if the diagnosis is trustworthy or not.
The mechanic uses words and phrases that sound alien to you. You feel helpless having to take the mechanic’s word that something actually needs repairing or replacing, leaving you vulnerable to being scammed out of your money.
So how do you avoid being scammed by an HVAC contractor? There are a few commonly used scams in the HVAC industry that are easy to spot if you know what to look for.
If you’re low on refrigerant then you don’t just need more of it. You also have to fix the leak that caused the low refrigerant in the first place. Remember, an air conditioner doesn’t use up refrigerant like a car uses gas. The refrigerant circulates in a closed loop. The only way it can get “low” is if there’s a leak.
So if a contractor says, “All you need is more refrigerant,” that translates to, “I will keep letting your air conditioner leak refrigerant so I can keep charging you for more.”
If you need more refrigerant, ask the potential contractor to show you the leak. Keep in mind that only licensed HVAC professionals can handle refrigerant.
Free estimates for jobs are fine. But according to the Better Business Bureau, some HVAC companies will trick you by offering a “free” tune-up in order to make a high pressure sales pitch. They’ll magically find something wrong during the “free” tune-up and try to scare you into high-cost repairs (or even replacing your entire heating and air conditioning system).
Just remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true (like a free tune-up), it probably is.
Never do business with someone who wants to skip making a contract.
The contract is solely for your benefit because it will list:
Unfortunately, there are many bad actors out there pretending to be licensed and insured technicians. They may call or email unsuspecting homeowners claiming to work for a local HVAC company. Beware of any unsolicited phone calls or emails, especially if you’ve never done business with them before.
An HVAC technician must be licensed in order to work in the field. Whenever hiring an HVAC company, ask for their licensing information and look them up with your state licensing board to make sure it’s valid. Also, ask for proof of workers’ compensation insurance in case one of the workers gets injured on your property.
If you are facing multiple HVAC repairs, get a second opinion from a reputable professional. Usually, one defective part is causing the problem. A contractor may try to scam you by saying he’s going to replace one thing, but then mysteriously needs to replace other parts as the job progresses.
You can avoid this by getting a detailed upfront quote in writing. It should include the work, price, and time frame of the job.
Another common HVAC scam is saying they replaced a part when they didn’t do anything at all. If any parts are being replaced, ask them to show you the old, broken part.
Never pay the full amount until the job is finished to your satisfaction. Asking for a minor down payment is fine. But a contractor that asks you for everything up front, either in cash or as a personal check should be considered a red flag.
If you are facing any expensive repairs or replacements, always get at least one more opinion from another company.
Keep asking questions. It will only benefit you. And use a credit card. It will offer you more purchase protection (usually $500–$10,000 per claim or incident).
The best way to avoid being scammed is to look for contractors with good reputations.
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