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Buyer Beware: A close look at the bill

So this bill for $587 came in the mail from the air-conditioning company. This outfit is a small, locally owned company with whom I’ve done business for upwards of 12 years. To my knowledge, they’ve never cheated me. Or so I thought.

The company that used to service my AC would send a guy twice a year for a routine check-up and service job: once in the spring to work on the air-conditioner and once in the fall to work on the heater. Every single time their guy would go up on the roof, he would come down with some part in his hand claiming it needed to be replaced. This would turn a $40 bill into a $200 bill.

SDXB, who was living with me at the time, became suspicious. Our neighbor told me about Mast, and I discovered that for a single annual fee they’d do the semiannual service job…and not once did the serviceman ever claim anything up there needed to be fixed.

Well, time has passed. We have had a recession that has affected Arizona worse than any economic slowdown since the Great Depression. In addition to jacking up the price for the regular check-up, Mast has laid off many of its servicemen, and our guy—who I suspect is the only craftsman they have working for them—is working 50% time. He is not a happy camper.

When I told M’hijito about the six-hundred-dollar repair bill, he remarked that he could have bought a new swamp cooler for that price. Not quite—they cost about $2,200—but in fact, six hundred dollars would run his regular air conditioning through the summer. The whole idea of running a swamp cooler during the two or three hot months before the air gets too humid for the system to work is to save on air-conditioning bills.

Part of this bill is for a new 3/4 hp motor. Another part is apparently a renewal for the annual check-up.

I thought I’d bought a new motor for that unit. Also, because M’hijito bought a new central air conditioning unit last year, we paid for the annual check-up in the fall, so that his bill comes due in the fall and mine comes due in the spring.

Being a pathological saver of receipts, I happen to have all the receipts for all the work we’ve had done on the downtown house. And lo! Here’s one for Mast, dated 2007…

On March 15, 2007, Mast replaced the 3/4 hp motor in that unit. They charged $193 then; this time they billed $393. They replaced a belt for $10.50; this time they charged $20. They replaced three cooler pads for a total of $25.20 at $8.40 apiece; this time they charged $54 at $18 apiece.

Now, supposedly we’re in a period of zero inflation. We all know that’s not so, but we know prices haven’t gone up much in the past couple of years. If the cost of that unit went up 3 percent over the past three years, it should cost $211 today.

Get online and you find that yea, verily: swamp cooler motors range in price from about $60 to about $235.

So I guess we’ll be looking for a new air-conditioning contractor. How disappointing.

It’s easy to understand that when a company is struggling for survival it might raise prices to try to stay in business on the customer’s back. But it seems counter-productive: rip off the customers and pretty soon you don’t have customers.

6 thoughts on “Buyer Beware: A close look at the bill”

  1. You can complain about that too! You don’t just have to pay it. If they’re over-charging for parts, you can ask them to give you a bill that actually reflects the actual charges.

  2. Absolutely! As usual, they’re out on Saturday and so I’ll have to wait until Monday to pester them. But they’ll be waiting for pay from this end until after they sort out their bill.

  3. I’m so glad you’re disputing the bill! I’m so sorry stuff is just building up for you right now. Between your last couple of days of ouchy spending and Gai Shan Life’s really crappy week, I think I have zero room to complain. Good luck!

  4. Just curious about your cost on the swamp cooler. That cost seems exhorbitant!! I know they are much less at Home Depot – is the $2200 the total cost for someone to install one? Or is that a particular brand?

  5. @ Mrs. Accountability: It’s a figure I spotted on the Web while googling swamp cooler motors. One or two sites are selling the whole cooler. Admittedly, I didn’t look closely, since that wasn’t what I was looking for. HD often has rock-bottom prices on equipment like that.

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