The Running Repairman

Does a world renowned doctor show up at a patient’s door within hours of being called? Unless the patient is filthy rich, probably not. First, the patient goes to the doctor’s door. Second, and more to my point, a world renowned doctor is in high demand. Therefore s/he need not work crazy long hours or off-hours to get paid. In other words, if the patient wants the best doctor then the patient might have to be patient.

Call me conceited for concocting this comparison, but does a locally renowned furnace repairman show up at your door within hours of your call? Maybe. It depends on why he’s renowned. Some are renowned for their quickness to and affability at the home. Others are renowned for their skill and honesty. Few repairmen are renowned for skill, honesty and congenial quickness.

A customer of mine learned that the hard way. He preferred my services, but heard that I couldn’t make it out the same day. So he called Havoc Heating & Air. They’re well regarded on Yowl too. More importantly, they were available the same day. So why not give them a try? A try they were given.

Havoc’s repairman diagnosed a bad pressure switch. He blamed the switch’s failure on the furnace brand’s use of inferior parts. He didn’t have a new switch with him, so he was going to order the part and return next week. The trip out was $89. That was going to be applied to the repair fee of $289.

So what’s wrong with that? He diagnosed correctly. He expressed an opinion about the brand based on his years of experience. He can’t be blamed if they don’t have the part. After all, there are hundreds of different vacuum switches out there. And their price wasn’t bad. So what’s the problem? Let’s see…

  • They should have had the part. Real repairmen carry universal vacuum switches on their truck at all times. This one replaces most OEM switches, including the one Havoc was going to order. They didn’t order it because the homeowner called me when he realized he was going to have to wait through the weekend. I had it fixed before the weekend.
  • This is another example of how the practice of applying the trip fee to the repair fee is misleading. The homeowner is a long time customer, so I gave him a break. But had I charged him full price, I would’ve charged practically the same price as my competitor without the silly suggestion that I was crediting one fee towards another.
  • The inferior parts comment was uninformed at best and manipulative at worst. This brand of furnace gets their vacuum switches from the same supplier as other brands, including some of the same brands that Havoc sells. Repairmen know this because we see the striking similarities between brands. Brand bashing serves only to soften the homeowner up for the future sale of a different brand.

A great many of the stories on this site started with two calls into my office. The first call ended with the homeowner reluctantly calling someone else because they couldn’t wait a day or two. The second call ended with the same homeowner happily waiting that same day or two. Congenial quickness turned to badness between those calls. The running man is not always the best man.

Havoc Strikes Again Before: Click here for the prequel.

Three months have passed and I just heard a different homeowner’s story from two years ago…

It was an unseasonably warm spring day two years ago. The homeowner was getting ready to host a party when the air conditioner went down. She didn’t want sweaty guests, so she called around looking for someone that could repair it in a hurry. Once again (Or should I say “once before“?) Havoc Heating & Air was the running repairman. They went out the same day when others could not.

Havoc found that it was low on Puron (the new Freon, so to speak) due to a leaking pipe. The repair would have been $800, but she signed up for their $150 bi-annual maintenance program. That got her a $100 discount on the repair, so the final bill was $850 including the two maintenances to come. Her pocketbook was hurting, but at least her guests were happy.

Ten days later the air conditioner went down again. That time it was the capacitor. You’re normal if you’re suspicious. However, it’s entirely possible that the capacitor failure was an unrelated bit of bad luck. The same thing has happened to me. (I’ve run over ten thousand service calls, so almost everything has happened to me.) They installed a new capacitor for $150.

Two months after that it broke again. That time it was a bad compressor. Running while low on Puron is hard on a compressor. Havoc theorized that the stress incurred during that time finally manifested into a compressor failure. Replacing a compressor is expensive, so the homeowner put down a deposit on a new air conditioner. Again, suspicion is warranted. And again, it could just be a bit of bad luck.

It could just be bad luck, but it ain’t. Let’s analyze more critically:

  • The homeowner said that they spent an hour on the first repair. I have a hard time believing that, but it’s possible if they cut corners. It would take two to three hours to do it right. Regardless of the time, the wholesale materials cost for that $800 repair (“discounted” to $700) was less than $50.
  • The second repair was priced right, but only because she got upset with them. They originally quoted $400. I have a hard time believing that. Two year old memories are fallible. I bet they quoted closer to $300. Regardless of the quote, the wholesale materials cost for that hour long repair was less than $25.
  • The air conditioner replacement was incorrectly specified and completely unnecessary. They quoted a 3.5 ton unit. She has a 3.0 ton unit. She didn’t know it at the time, but she needed neither because the compressor was still under warranty – a fact they knew but never brought up.

How do I know they knew? Because every repairman knows. Compressors have had five year warranties since the beginning of time. Fortunately the replacement never happened because she changed her mind and got her illegal 50% deposit back. (California contract law only allows for a 10% deposit.)

The supposedly bad compressor chugged along through that summer and the next. It finally quit permanently a few days ago. Even under warranty it’s going to cost around a thousand to replace the compressor, but that’s better than paying $2400 for an illegally installed air conditioner. (They weren’t going to pull the legally required building permit.)

The running man is not always the best man.