Sometimes A Warranty Is Important

I’ve purchased warranties on relatively low cost items before.  It wasn’t something I gave much thought to.  I was asked “do you want to warranty on those tires?”  I said yes.  Then ten minutes later I thought to myself: Gee, that was a waste of money.  Even if something had happened to the tire during the the warranty period, it would have been cheaper to go to Walmart and have the hole plugged than to pay for the warranty.

On the other hand, sometimes that warranty is an important insurance policy.  I don’t have enough experience to know when you need a warranty and when you don’t, but I can say that I’ve had bad experiences with HVAC.  HVAC labor is probably the most expensive I’ve had to pay for.  And that’s when things go as planned.  When things go wrong, watch out!

My 23 year-old heat pump failed about a year after I bought my house.  I was given a few estimates, after which I decided not to go cheap.  The estimates seemed to come in at about the same price for the same heat pump, but only one of the companies made any attempt to do everything by the book.  Britts Mechanical (I think was the name) made all the measurements to determine the correct heat pump capacity.  They offered a one year warranty and said they would pull all the necessary permits.  Even though they cost a little more, I didn’t want to take any risks.

Almost immediately after getting the new heat pump and air handler, my electric bill went way up.  Now remember, my ancient heat pump from the 1980s probably had about half the efficiency of the modern one.  I was expecting a bill that was 20%-40% lower.  Unfortunately for me, I have a lot of self-doubt, especially when I don’t understand something very well.  And I don’t have a clue how a heat pump works or what a normal August electric bill in North Carolina is.  Also, I only had one data point; the high bills disappeared as soon as it cooled down.

In any case, I still complained to the owner that I believed something was wrong.  He said he could come by and take a look and told me to contact the electric company to get information about average temperatures.  Well I was doubting myself even more after that, so I declined and said I would keep an eye on it.  So the next summer I lost my job and moved to Maryland.  I got two very large electric bills during the summer but assumed it was because my roommates had simply turned the a/c way up (which was true) while I was gone.  What I didn’t realize until the following summer was that they had turned the a/c up because it wasn’t working (and of course they never said anything about it).

Two years had passed, and I now had tenants living there.  They were having problems with the a/c and eventually received a ridiculous electric bill.  My warranty had, of course, expired by this point, but I contacted the company that did the HVAC work.  Apparently they had gone out of business, but I didn’t know this yet.  More about that soon.  I was given the number for Air Experts, which at the time, I believed was the same company that had done the original work.  The lady on the phone insisted that the problem was due to the high temperatures.  After discussing it for a few minutes, I finally caved and accepted her conclusion.  I gave my tenants the company’s contact information and went on vacation.

My tenants had the company come out more than once.  Apparently the first time they couldn’t find the problem, so they did some maintenance instead.  Eventually they found a few problems.  The air handler wasn’t draining, and the heat sequensor was stuck which was causing the auxiliary heat to run continuously (whatever that means).  It had obviously been this way since they installed it.  I have no idea whether they did the installation wrong or if they just sold me a broken heat pump.

Many weeks went by without a bill ever appearing.  I assumed they were embarrassed over the whole thing and weren’t going to send a bill.  This had already cost maybe $1000 in excess electric bills, and I would think that for the two summers the thing was running with serious problems, its life span was probably shortened.  Since I was partly at fault, I didn’t push the matter.

Then the bill did come.  Apparently they had sent it to my tenants’ address instead of my current address.  I felt like this was adding insult to injury.  How many times am I going to have to pay for another person’s screw up?  So I sent a nasty email.  This was when I was told that the two companies were actually not the same.  One had bought the assets and hired the employees of the other, and so they technically had no obligations to me.  Sounds fishy, right?  Ultimately, they agreed to drop most of the charges.  Why I still had to pay for maintenance that I never even asked for, I don’t understand.  I was irritated again a few months later when I received a letter that went out to all their customers stating that they the two companies had merged.  To this day, I’m still not sure if one of them really ever went out of business.  However, I was lucky to get any concession at all since the warranty had expired.

So I guess the lesson behind all this is to not only get a warranty, but make sure you use it.  Don’t sit on it until it’s too late!  I think you can see how you can quickly have costs mounting into the thousands of dollars.

That was the first bad experience.  I had not learned my lesson yet.  At almost the same time this was going on, the a/c compressor in my car failed.  It cost around $750 to get it replaced.  Here again, the labor was not cheap.  I noticed almost immediately that the new one didn’t seem to be doing as good a job as the old one.  However, I had just changed jobs and was only driving two miles to work, so I assumed it was just taking a while before it started cooling.  I know, I know, I should have figured this out.  I don’t even think a/c takes any start-up time like heat.

After a few months, I drove to North Carolina on a very hot day.  I learned very quickly that the a/c was not working at all.  I ended up making 10 trips in total to the mechanic (5 there and 5 back).  On one of those trips, the company that sold the compressor, SPI Distribution, sent the wrong compressor, according to the mechanic.  Ultimately, I wasted about a day’s worth of time making trips back and forth, and it cost me an extra $222, again for mistakes that were 100% another person’s fault.  This time there was no warranty on the labor, and I wish I had thought about that before they did the work.  I never made an attempt to get any of the money back.  I had no warranty.  I hadn’t directly done business withe the company that sold the part, and I couldn’t even get my mechanic to give me the receipt.

In the future, I won’t pay for any labor or parts that involve heating or cooling systems without a warranty.  If it’s just duct work, maybe that’s OK, but expensive mechanical equipment needs a warranty.  Perhaps I’ve just had some bad luck.  What are your experiences?

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