Am I getting ripped off? (Gas Furnace Run Capacitor replacement)


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Old 11-18-08, 09:38 AM
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Am I getting ripped off? (Gas Furnace Run Capacitor replacement)

I recently (yesterday) had a gentleman from a local plumbing, heating, and air conditioning repair company come by to do some routine maintenance and "winterization" of my gas furnace and Heat Pump through a service agreement purchased earlier this year. This gentleman seems rather nice, but seems to be engaging in some high pressure sales tactics.

Let me say first, this system is old, and I'm fully aware that it's on its last legs and nearly time to replace it. I've already started looking at estimates, but knowing little about these systems, and less about the local companies and their customer service, the only thing I have to go with is the history with a couple of companies that have come by for estimates or basic repairs.

This gentleman was checking my system and insuring that it would be ready for Winter, when he found a capacitor in the gas furnance that he said was bad. He pulled it out and showed me the readings on the meter. I know a bit more about electronics than I do about HVAC systems, so I understood clearly that when the cap said 7.5 uF with a +/- 6% tolerance, and the capacitance reading on his meter stated 6.4, that means it is old, out of tolerance, and the (probably) electrolytic dielectric is failing with age and use.

He mentioned the various horrific things that could happen with this capacitor being bad, including floods, asteroid impacts, and apocalypse (of course I'm being sarcastic here), and suggested replacing the cap. I asked him how much, and he quoted me a price of over $260, but said he could probably get me a deal. I told him that didn't seem to be a good use of my funds, since I'm planning on replacing the entire system within the next few months anyway (at his, and other contractors behest).

He thought for a moment, and said, "Tell you what. Since you're such a loyal customer, and I want your business, I'll go ahead and replace it for free." He proceeded to go to his truck, find a replacement cap, and replace it. It took all of 5 minutes, and he didn't charge me for it.

This sounds like spectacular customer service, until I checked on the replacement cap's wholesale cost, and found a website that carries it for about $9.00, plus shipping. Obviously, the part itself is insignificant compared to the labor, but considering he had already pulled out the old one and could have easily put in a new one (or the old one back in), my concern is that he was giving me a "false deal" to try to win me over. Of course, I appreciate the gesture anyway, as it was certainly nice of him, but I worry that he was trying to make me thing he did a giant, expensive personal favor for me when all he really did was hand over a $9 part he could easily write-off.

My concern is what is industry standard. If a contractor is performing maintenance on a customer's system that they've already paid for, and has to replace an insignificant part (or at least insignificant in that it requires very little skill relative to the understanding of the greater system in order to replace it), was his original quote too high? If you were in his position, having already pulled and checked the part, would you have charged ~$280 minus $9 for labor?

Thank you for your help, and I appreciate any and all advice.
 
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Old 11-18-08, 01:57 PM
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Then again, he may have just been attempting some humor which you weren't ready for.

Like telling a customer that their bill for a $3.25 hamburger is $ 325.00. It takes you aback for an instant.
 
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Old 11-18-08, 04:21 PM
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The actual number he gave me had a "fifty" at the end of it, so if it was that kind of joke, it was in the thousands!

Unfortunately, he was serious about the original amount.
 
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Old 11-18-08, 05:09 PM
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From your story it sounds like he was trying to scam you but man thats some scam. He had to have some guts even suggesting a capacitor would bring that much installed. Im guessing he is not the boss and the real boss is pressuring him to sell parts at inflated prices. Some shops even make a game of it trying to outdo each other on specific parts. Regardless, you seem like an intelligent guy, so just get 2 or 3 bids, research, take into account personal experience and then make a decision.
 
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Old 11-19-08, 05:33 AM
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Thanks for the advice. The real reason I was asking about this particular contractor was so I could know whether or not to trust him again. If the "industry standard" for heating and air stated that he should have charged me for the part and an outrageous amount for the labor to install it, but he did it anyway, then he earned some loyalty from me, but I get the impression that he knew what he was doing was cheap and easy, and was giving me a false deal to try to manipulate loyalty out of me.

Scary on the high-pressure sales tactics you mentioned, though. Thanks for the help!
 
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Old 11-19-08, 07:12 AM
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Originally Posted by ksesock View Post
He mentioned the various horrific things that could happen with this capacitor being bad, including floods, asteroid impacts, and apocalypse (of course I'm being sarcastic here), and suggested replacing the cap. I asked him how much, and he quoted me a price of over $260, but said he could probably get me a deal.
Because none of us were actually there to see facial expressions and such, we do not know if this worker was a comedian or was sort of using intentional comical remarks to feel out your possible gullibilty. No way can we know this.

If you said, "Go ahead and change it out for $260, we have no way of knowing if he'd say, "Oh, I was just kidding! It's a $10 part and I'll do it for 15 bucks (or whatever)", or, if he would think he found a sucker and install it for some "real deal" price of say $99.50 or something.
 
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Old 11-19-08, 08:03 AM
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Granted, and good point. My impression, based on my memory of the conversation, is that he would have been happy to walk out of there with a check of less than $260 and change, but more than $9.00. $99.50 is probably not too far off the mark.

My concern ultimately revolves around whether or not this is an industry standard, if actually replacing a part somehow gets you into "I'm charging you labor" land, whereas before, this was just a "routine checkup", kind of like at the doctor's office. If this treatment is what I could reasonably expect from pretty much everyone, then I don't really fault him for following the "industry standard", and in fact, deeply appreciate his propensity to do away with the standard to attain and maintain my loyalty. Practically, and in all circumstances, it is patently ridiculous to charge the minimum hour's worth of labor to spend thirty seconds to install a part that just snaps in, when he's already taken the old one out to show me, and will have to reinstall a part (either the old or new), regardless of what I agree to. However, there is a great deal of difference between the theory that the various industry groups and organizations standardize, and the practical nature of the situations the technicians they represent will find themselves in.

It reminds me of the old "Know Where Man" joke:

Knowing Where To Put It - Goofball.com

(also, Snopes has one of these: snopes.com: Know Where Man)

It's a question of what does the industry say his knowledge, training, and time are worth, versus what is fair.

I know this is getting a little past heating and air conditioning specifics, and more into philosophy, but it directly speaks to how much I can trust this man and the company he represents, especially since I'm looking to spend a great deal of money in the very near future with a contractor. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to heating and air contractors, I look at them like politicians. I don't trust them even after they've done everything in their power to try to prove themselves to me.
 
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Old 11-19-08, 08:25 AM
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Well...here's my experience..

Refrigerator quit cooling about a week after I had moved it to install some flooring, also cleaned the coils while it was out. Lights on, but no cooling. Checked the basics as I knew them, finally called repair company as I had no time or much experience with them then. Guy shows up, right on time, checks symptoms, slides unit out, plugs in readily accessible plug at bottom rear of unit. Compressor immediately starts.

Total time...maybe 5 min incl paperwork, total cost $85 (with...hmmm...90 (?) day guarantee).

Was his work worth $85? Well, he fixed the fridge. And how would he have gotten paid for the trip and expenses otherwise?

Your guy was already there for the checkup, and prob went further than most would have by actually checking the value of the cap. He may have been kidding about the bill, or he may have been saying "Thats what it would normally have cost someone on a repair call".

Is he an independant or the owner of the company? Or just one of the good old time techs who does more than is required?
 
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Old 11-19-08, 09:15 AM
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He works for a local conglomerate. As to how they're structured, I'm not certain.

In the case of this gentleman, I'm starting to lean more towards "good ol' time techs", as like I've said, he does seem like a good guy. During the actual check up, he explained what he was doing, what he was checking, and what the various parts do and were for. He almost seemed interested in educating me, and I've got no problem paying for a service call with him, should one occur (interestingly, I had one of those with this same guy, late at night, last January).

I just hate to be manipulated, and I'm reminded of this story:

Scams: "I Fell For The Locksmith Scam"

Not an HVAC issue, obviously, but still indicative of the kind of scamming that can go on in any industry.
 
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Old 11-19-08, 12:25 PM
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Where I live, you pay any workman a flat fee for the service call, plus sometimes a diagnostic fee as well. I can understand that.

On my furnace, a replacement part they quoted me was $130 over what the part actually cost, and was a 5 minute install with no tools. This guy told me all the other companies were charging even more for this $50 part.
In a lot of industries, I see companies charging twice the actual price of the part. For the most part, I find that a bit unreasonable, but it seems to be the norm.
$260 for that $9 part? That is scary. But I do like the fact that he explained all the stuff he did.

blue3
 
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Old 11-19-08, 03:00 PM
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The cap's manufacturing tolerance was +- 6%. In motor applications I have always used the -50% and +200% rule of thumb. I am also surprised that he had a cap meter with him. My thinking is that it was a scam from the start.
 
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Old 11-19-08, 07:00 PM
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I like the conversation here. I think I can clear some of questionable air. First, when the Technician took the time to explain how the many parts worked it showed that he had very good training and that he was proud of that training. A capacitor tester is standard in our vans simply because of the amount of refrigeration service we do but it should be standard to all service techs. Im all for giving someone a second chance and from your explanation, this guy sounds honest and knowledgeable. If this company is strictly residential, there is more pressure on him to sell parts because there is a higher percentage of delinquent accounts. Not fair to those who pay but there is a tremendous overhead in this business.
 
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Old 12-18-08, 03:42 PM
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Getting ripped off

[QUOTE=ksesock;1465933]I recently (yesterday) had a gentleman from a local plumbing, heating, and air conditioning repair company come by to do some routine maintenance and "winterization" of my gas furnace and Heat Pump through a service agreement purchased earlier this year. This gentleman seems rather nice, but seems to be engaging in some high pressure sales tactics....My concern is what is industry standard. If a contractor is performing maintenance on a customer's system that they've already paid for, and has to replace an insignificant part (or at least insignificant in that it requires very little skill relative to the understanding of the greater system in order to replace it), was his original quote too high? If you were in his position, having already pulled and checked the part, would you have charged ~$280 minus $9 for labor?


DUDE!!! the EXACT same thing just happened to me. As a matter of fact the guy quoted my wife $220 and gave her the same scary story about the house catching on fire or whatever...luckily I told her before hand not to sign up for anything. Anyway after she told me what happened I asked around and got more info and realized that something didn't sound right. Then I read this post and am convinced the guy was scamming us. You know what the kicker is though...the day before the guy came, the heater worked fine and since he came and left it doesn't work at all. So we called them back to fix it and a different guy came out and said the cap went out and that it's $220. So if this is a scam then the entire company is in on the scam. I won't divulge the company name until I resolve this fiasco and confirm the scam part of the deal.
 
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Old 12-18-08, 04:17 PM
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You could have said, "Gee, sure am glad it is only the cap and not the whole motor? What would you charge if it was the motor?"

Did you ask what their labor rates are? Maybe with trip charge and hour work (maybe they give no fractional hour rate, and make you pay minimum hour) it is $200. Labor rates vary in the country. The Hamptons, or Palm Beach, or Beverly Hills rates may be different than Winnetomonka, Minnesota.
 
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Old 12-18-08, 05:45 PM
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your ammunition on this one was everything was working and it wasn't a breakdown call on either.it sounded like he tried to kid himself out of his SCAM with a new/old one especially when he actually showed you the meter reading to prove his point...he was pushing parts.if it was a breakdown your at his mercy unless you dive in with a meter and pre-check the unit before the call.like you saw...the price is bull, and anything for your units (except compressors) is availible on line or over the counter at Grainger Industrial Supply they welcome all DIYRs.
 
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Old 12-22-08, 09:16 AM
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I can't imagine any tech testing the blower motor capacitor on a routine annual check-up, especially if there had been no complaint of blower problems. I'm assuming the blower worked just fine during the summer when you were using the central A/C (heatpump). I'd be highly suspicious of this company and probably not include them on my list when time came to buy the new system.
 
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Old 09-22-11, 01:49 PM
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Same thing happened to me last year, they ended up charging me $700 for a annaul contract and 2 cap replacements on gas furnances here in vegas. The $300 annual is more than other places charge and they had a minimum fee for each unit repair.
 

Last edited by Gunguy45; 09-22-11 at 03:54 PM. Reason: Removed company name
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Old 09-22-11, 07:31 PM
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In my years as a furnace repairman, I replaced VERY FEW capacitors.
 
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Old 09-25-11, 07:55 PM
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I measure caps when performing checkups, as well as flame rectification, (after cleaning the flame sensor) vacuum at pressure switches, amperage, esp and delta tee. I recommend replacing caps when 10 percent below rating.
That price would be extremely high in this area while performing a routine checkup since he was already there.

A midnight beeper call would be a different story.

A Fieldpiece meter will perform many of these tests. I use a Fluke 902.

It looks bad when a cap fails right after a checkup was performed, and you can't charge for labor on a callback. You can end up with the homeowner and the boss mad at you.
 
 

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