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How to choose a technician

What you should and shouldn't reasonably expect
when the appliance technician comes to your home.


Why is it so difficult (and sometimes a little frightening) to call a repairman to fix your refrigerator, dishwasher or clothes dryer? Appliances are, in general, so reliable that they only break once in ten years. Your car needs service once or twice a year. You know who to call for that. Maybe if your dishwasher or refrigerator broke more often, you'd know who to call! Well, we wouldn't wish that on anyone, so let's look at problems we can do something about. If the problem is unfamiliarity, ignorance really, then the solution is knowledge. Just how is the appliance repair game played?

To answer that question, let us first ask ourselves: what do we want in a service technician?


In an ideal universe, an appliance repairman would appear at our front door five minutes after we realized our dishwasher or refrigerator was broken, fix it for free and disappear again for another five years till another machine broke.


That's not reality, of course. More realistically, you want to be able to find a technician easily, pick up the phone and call, and get a live person, not a recording. You want the technician to arrive in a reasonable amount of time and not waste your whole day, make the right diagnosis, have the right parts in his vehicle, and fix your refrigerator or dishwasher correctly the first time. All for a reasonable amount of money. And when problems do occur (and sometimes they just do,) you expect to be able to pick up the phone again and handle it easily.

For the technician's part, they know that you're stressed. They know that you didn't call them because you want them there. You're calling because you need them there. Between that and the press trying to convince you that all service technicians are out to deceive the public, they know that the situation can be sticky, and emotions can run irrationally high. In our experience, those circumstances, more than any other, are where disputes come from.


Another reality is that phones and repair vehicles and parts stocks cost money. Labor costs money, even when that labor is driving to your house, waiting in line to buy parts for your refrigerator or dishwasher, or waiting to answer your phone call. Yellow page advertising is not cheap. All these things you justifiably expect as a convenience; but deep down inside you know that convenience comes with a price.

Your cost should be roughly 100-150 dollars for an hour's repair. That's reality. That's their cost plus a reasonable profit. Very few people are getting rich repairing appliances.

If you decide not to have a recommended repair performed, a "trip charge" or similar minimal service or diagnosis charge is reasonable. Some companies advertise "No service charge" and they should honor their advertising; however, whenever you see this, you will also likely see the words "when we make the repair" or something similar. In general, it is not reasonable to expect them to come to your home and diagnose your problem without paying them some minimal fee. Most just ad it in to the cost so you really do pay for it. You better off dealing with a company that tells you up front what the minimum cost may be.


When shopping for shoes, you can shop at Macy's or you can shop at Wal-Mart. Often the product is the same; the difference is the label, the ambience of the "shopping experience," and the service. You can also buy your shoes from some guy on a corner, probably for a lot less money. But your gut tells you that when you have a problem with them (and you will) he won't be there any more.

The same is true of appliance repair companies. There are varying levels of technician training, attention to service, pricing and longevity. I am not aware of a jurisdiction where the law limits what they can charge you; that's not capitalism. But if they charge you a little more, you should expect a little more service and reliability.

In general, the longer a company has been in business with the same owners, the better. They may not be the cheapest game in town, but they'll be there when you call, both with problems and for your next repair. Such companies also usually have a better system for handling problems, disputes and misdiagnoses. And though it's not a hard-and-fast rule, the type of advertising they do may also be an indication of whether a company will be there for the long run. Also independent techs are good also because you deal with the same person on the job and on the phone. 


Machines can be temperamental, and technicians are human. Mistakes happen, even to the most experienced technicians. If they make an error in diagnosing or repairing your machine, they should return to the worksite and fix it again for no extra labor, service or time charges. (That's part of what you paid for in the first place.) However, there may be a difference in the cost of parts, for which there should be some kind of adjustment; you should expect to either get a refund or to pay a little more.


Just for your general info, even the best technicians experience "callback rates" of about 4 to 7 percent, meaning that out of 100 machines they fix, the will have to go back and fix the same problem on roughly 4 to 7 of those machines. The odds are really very small.

You should not have to wait any longer for them to return to fix the machine a second time than you waited the first time.


If the technician's experience tells him that the machine is too old or worn to continue satisfactory operation for a reasonable length of time after he fixes it, he may advise you to take it out of service or replace it. In this case, there should reasonably be a service charge or trip charge for them coming to your home and making the diagnosis.


It is not reasonable for you to expect them to name an exact time when they will be there. A 2 to 5 time window is reasonable.


Technicians plan their day by a number of factors. Usually the primary factor in the morning is geographical; they try to line up calls so they are not cutting back and forth across town all day; this is a waste of time (and money!) for both technician and customer. As the day wears on, stuff happens. Emergencies occur; if someone is losing 500 dollars' worth of meat, their deep freezer may be put in front of your dishwasher. Machines can be cantankerous and can take longer to fix than usual, pushing the rest of the tech's schedule back.


If they get behind, they should call you and revise their ETA so that you aren't waiting all day for them to show.


When the technician replaces a part, you still own it. In most jurisdictions, they are required by law to leave it with you. However, there may be some exceptions for safety, cleanliness or other concerns. You may want the technician to dispose of certain parts for you; for example, most oven thermostats contain a potentially extremely dangerous sodium compound. If the part can be rebuilt, such as with washer transmissions, there may be a "core charge." This means that the technician must return the old part for rebuilding, or else they will have to charge you a rather hefty extra fee for keeping it. The technician will let you know which ones they are when the situation arises.