The truth about air conditioning service contracts

WASHINGTON – Air conditioners can get stressed during hot summer months, but service and maintenance contracts aren’t necessarily worth the money.

Washington Consumers’ Checkbook believes most companies sell service contracts to keep workers busy during the slow season. “They’re usually not very good deals for consumers,” says Checkbook’s Managing Editor Kevin Brasler.

Most contracts call for semi-annual checks of equipment but don’t cover repairs for issues that might be discovered. And Checkbook finds there’s no evidence service contracts extend the operating life of air conditioning units.

Prices on new equipment or units can vary dramatically, so Checkbook recommends consumers get at least three estimates before making a purchase. Brasler recommends getting up to five estimates.

Secret shoppers for Checkbook discovered prices varied from $209 to more than $1,000 to have the same programmable thermostat installed. Because prices vary so dramatically, Checkbook recommends consumers get at least three estimates before making a purchase, and Brasler says five estimates is better than three.

Added, price does not reflect quality, “High quality HVAC services are just as likely offer low prices as lousy ones,” Brasler says.

The trick is to shop around.

Proposals for service or equipment should detail a fixed price in writing.

“Don’t settle for an estimate with an hourly rate,” Brasler says. “Good companies will tell you after diagnosis exactly how much it will cost to fix it or install it.”

The most important thing homeowners can do for their air conditioners is replace the air filters as needed, Checkbook says. Dirty filters make air conditions work harder and can lead to breakdowns.

Checkbook ranks quality and prices of 221 area air conditioning repair companies here.

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