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How to Identify 7 Common HVAC Scams

As with car mechanics, we hear all too often about regular everyday homeowners who are conned out of their money from unscrupulous HVAC contractors, and it doesn’t stop there. These same scams leak into the commercial industry as well, but on a much larger scale. Some contractors will do whatever they can to get your money. Honest contractors will tell you straight up: it’s pathetic. The industry is filled with it and it’s a good idea to keep up on the most common tactics people are using and how to spot them. Here are the top seven most common HVAC scams:

Scam 1: “See this? This is bad. You need a new one.”

It’s not news that parts go bad. You will need to replace some eventually, and identifying these bad parts is the job of the contractor. A common scam is to point out a perfectly good part and talk about why it’s bad and that you desperately need a new one. Not every contractor who says it’s a bad part is lying, though.

Identifying the scam: It’s simple, really: is the building properly cooled or heated? Is the unit noisier than usual? Is there a bad smell coming from the unit or vents? If you said “no” to all of these questions, then there may be nothing really wrong. Do your own research before agreeing to have any work done! For example, if they say your compressor is shot, then do a quick Google search for: “signs of a bad HVAC compressor” and see what comes up. There may be a simpler way to diagnose it than the physical part.

Scam 2: Oversized AC units

With HVAC units, bigger is not always better. But there are those few contractors who will push the biggest unit they have on you with no regards to the size of your building. A unit that’s oversized is more expensive to purchase and install upfront. But it’s also significantly more expensive to run over time. The unit should cycle on and off as little as possible. If you have one that’s too big, it will take no time at all to adjust temperatures, but will also shut off quickly. Then it’ll turn on, and then off, etc. This is not natural. The unit should be consistent if sized properly.

Identifying the scam: Ask for the numbers and the formula they use to calculate the load and size of the unit. This website is a starting point;  but it's always best to get a second opinion. In the world of HVACs, the size of the unit truly matters!

Scam 3: The Fake-Out

One very common scam is when the contractor claims to have replaced the part and your problem should clear up in a few days. Well, they didn’t. Almost every single replacement is an instantaneous fix. A frozen unit may need to thaw, but that’s about it. Results should be immediate.

Identifying the scam: This is a particularly difficult scam to spot because it’s one you can’t really do much to prevent aside from standing there and watching them replace the part. The best way to prevent it from happening to you is to never call the wrong company in the first place. You don’t need a crystal ball to find out if they’re legit or not. Look at online reviews and see what others are saying about that company. When in doubt, skip them.

Scam 4: “Hi! I’m calling on behalf of [insert honest company here].”

They are more than happy to come out and offer you your free inspection! This scam often uses the names of larger companies to trick a wide range of people to work with them.

Identifying the scam: Unless you see a marked van or pickup truck with the company’s logo, it’s probably not legit, nearly every single honest company uses marked vehicles. Operations policies for honest contractors should require that an employee never go to a service call in their personal vehicle. And this is exactly why.

Scam 5: Overpricing

Competitive pricing makes this scam a bit convoluted; however, there are plenty of companies that don’t overcharge because of their quality; they overcharge because they can. It’s one of the scams you don’t see as often because most facility managers are 100% aware of pricing. You know when something is overpriced. Even if you’re wrong, you should do the research and get a second opinion.

Identifying the scam: As stated above, do the research. Call another company and see what they are quoting. Give them a previous quote after they’ve given theirs and see what they say. If they say something like “well, our labor is cheaper” or “we have bulk discounts from the manufacturer because we’re a larger company, so we can sell the products at lower prices,” then the initial quote was legitimate. It’s just on the higher tier. If they say “you’re kidding me” or “that’s ridiculous!” then it’s past being on the “higher tier.” Regardless, you get what you pay for. If you pay for ridiculous, you’ll probably get ridiculous.

Scam 6: “Oh! I have a used one in my truck.”

If you call for an inspection and they find out your compressor is bad, for example, then they may offer to do the replacement on the spot. No honest (or smart) contractor will install a used part. Put simply: it won’t last. It can cause strain on other parts, reduce efficiency, and oftentimes just not work for more than a few weeks. On top of all that, why is there a used part in the truck? Answer: it was the bad part that was replaced for another client.

Identifying the scam: Never buy used parts. It’s as simple as that.

Scam 7: Frequent Tune-Ups

Tune-ups are important to keeping your system healthy. It’s recommended you get a tune-up once a year. Shady contractors will try to schedule them before every season (4 times a year) and sometimes even more! Don’t buy into their lies.

Identifying the scam: Only get a tune-up once a year. Make sure the contractor is from a reliable and reputable company to ensure they don’t say things are bad that aren’t.

If you are suspicious at any point during the process, you should check up on the company. Read reviews, find the information yourself. Does it match up? Take pictures of the “bad parts” and send them to other HVAC companies or post it on expert forums. It’s vital in the HVAC industry to get a second opinion. Once you find an honest and reliable contractor, stick with them! Sadly, you may have a hard time finding another one.

What scams have you run into in your experience? Leave a comment below and let us know if you've encountered any others!

Ryan Gavin is an associate at Comfort Pro, you can reach him via his company website at info@comfort-pro.com.

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