A/C Busted? Good Luck.

Fraudulent air conditioner repair contractors making the rounds have become just as relentless as this summer’s heat waves.

A little while ago, the Today Show set up hidden cameras in a house in New Jersey. Several certified air conditioning experts first verified the home’s central air conditioning unit was in excellent working condition. Then they set up a common and easy-to-fix problem: a simple broken wire that shuts the unit down. The cost to repair it should have been less than $200.

Every repairman they called tried to charge for repairs the air conditioning unit didn’t need.

One contractor fixed the broken wire and the unit was working, but the contractor lied and said the air conditioning unit was leaking and would cost $692 to repair.

Another contractor tried to charge $850 for several new unnecessary parts.

Still another contractor likewise tried to charge for unnecessary parts, including one that didn’t even exist in the unit, for a total charge of $950.

Here’s a “Behind the Scenes” look at the sting.

You are most vulnerable to fraud when a system fails in the middle of a heat wave and you don’t already have a contractor relationship. At that point you rarely sweat the extra steps necessary to find a trustworthy professional.

Do it while your system is still working. Don’t wait until you find yourself stranded in 100-degree heat, feeling pressured to make a decision quickly. Find the right contracting business, and sign up for their maintenance agreement program.

Regular maintenance, inspection and cleaning twice a year is recommended to keep HVAC systems in tip-top shape. In the middle of the summer, especially during heat waves, the best contractors are busy taking care of their regular customers and may be delayed before they have time to visit your home. Steps to finding the right contractor include:

Get referrals from family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others you trust who already have a solid working relationship with an HVAC contractor. Consider the help of screening services like Angie’s List, Consumer’s Checkbook and others.

Be sure the contractor employs North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certified technicians. NATE is the industry’s baseline technician certification trade group.

If your jurisdiction requires HVAC licensing, verify that the contractor is properly licensed. Also check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure a contractor doesn’t have a string of complaints.

Verify that the company belongs to a reputable non-profit trade organization, like ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America). Membership can demonstrate a commitment to ongoing education.

Ask the contractor to describe their employee training program. If they’re not able to answer this question, they probably don’t have one, and that’s a red flag.

Verify that the contractor provides a regular maintenance or service agreement program.

My family has a HVAC service agreement with Cropp Metcalfe. It costs about $300-400 a year. They serviced our heat pump in June, but in the absolute hottest week of the year, July 4, it went kaflooey. But they replaced the motor and condenser, a $1000-plus repair, at no charge.

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