Creative Consumer: Time to Fix or Trash Your Appliances?

Once you choose a repair company, alert the technician up front that you are going to want your old parts back. This is a good test to make sure the technician really does replace those parts. Keep in mind, the technician cannot give you your old parts if they contain hazardous materials or if the manufacturer requires their return in exchange for warranty service.

Don't pay big bucks up front. Established companies should not ask you for any money at the beginning of the job. Certainly don't pay more than ten or twenty percent. When the job is complete, pay by check or credit card. It's hard to fight the charges if you pay cash. If the company has misdiagnosed your machine, it should send a technician back at no charge. However, if the new repair requires different parts, you may get some money back or owe some more.

If you take small appliances or electronics to a repair store, get a claim check before you leave your belongings behind. And pick your items up in a timely manner to avoid storage fees.

Beware of situations where appliance repair companies approach you. An air conditioning company called William B. and offered to tune up his AC unit for $34.95. Once the technicians got in the door, they claimed William's air conditioner needed much more than a tune-up. They persuaded him to pay $259 for all sorts of services he probably didn't need at all. Unfortunately, upselling like this is common.

Be the hunter, not the hunted. Don't do business with companies that come to you out of the blue. Beware of companies that call and claim to be subsidiaries or affiliates of the company you usually use. And don't panic if one of these companies tells you your appliance is a hazard. That's an age-old ploy. Stop using the appliance and get a second opinion.

To Be a Savvy Consumer

Figure out if the appliance is under warranty. If so, contact an authorized repair facility and the fix should be free.

Check out appliance repair companies with the BBB and your state and county consumer protection agencies. Also check to see if they are properly licensed, if applicable.

Get an itemized written estimate and a written warranty.

Apply the 50 percent test to decide whether to repair or replace the appliance.

Don't do business with appliance repair companies that contact you until you check them out.

Where to Complain

If you have difficulty with an appliance repair company, contact your county and state consumer protection offices plus the Better Business Bureau. If the company must be licensed, complain to the state agency that licensed that industry.

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