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CONSUMER AWARENESS : Reduce Odds of Being Victim of Repair Cheats

January 08, 1994|From Associated Press

When you have a home appliance on the blink, choosing the best place to take it for repairs isn't always easy. It's important to have confidence in the person or shop doing the work, because there are plenty of ways to take advantage of repair customers.

One of the most common ploys, says Alan West, a certified electronics technician who teaches consumer electronics at Moberly Area Vocational Technical School in Moberly, Mo., is to surprise a customer with a large bill, leaving him or her the choice of either paying the high tab or not leaving the item in the shop.

Other deceptive practices are replacing parts unnecessarily or charging for new parts never installed. Although there's no scientific way to find an honest and competent shop, West has several suggestions to reduce the odds of becoming a victim of appliance repair cheats.

First, you need to decide where to take your equipment to be fixed:

* Ask friends, co-workers and neighbors for recommendations.

* Make sure your repair person is a certified electronic technician or CET. Most technicians who have earned this national certification display the document on the wall.

* Ask to see the service shop. If it's tidy and clean, with modern-looking equipment, odds are you're in good hands.

* Find out if they guarantee their work--a typical guarantee is two years on parts and 30 days on labor.

* Consider going to a nearby vocational or technical school. The repair work may take longer, but because you pay the school, the students have nothing to gain by cheating you.

Once you've chosen a shop, take the following precautions:

* Before you take your equipment to be repaired, find out what it would cost to replace it with a new model. If you're going to spend more than about 70% of the price of a new VCR to get the old one fixed, you're probably better off kicking in a little extra to get the new one with the manufacturer's warranty.

* Find out how long it will be before someone at the shop can look at your equipment. If it's going to be months before they even open up your CD player, you may want to take it elsewhere.

* Be as specific as possible when describing the problem. Otherwise the technician may concentrate on a TV picture that appears too blue, not realizing that intermittent sound failure was the reason you brought the set in.

* Ask if there's a minimum bench charge or a minimum hourly rate. If the shop charges $10 an hour, but there's a three-hour minimum, you're out at least $30 no matter how easily your item is repaired. Also find out its definitions of minor and major labor. Frequently "minor" labor is anything that doesn't require parts, but you don't want to be charged for major labor just because your VCR needs a $2 fuse.

* Ask the service person to call you with an estimate before any work is done, and remember that the shop usually has some leeway. If you're given a wide price range, don't simply give the green light, because you can bet the final bill will be at the high end of that range. Instead, you may want to give them a limit: "If it's $40 or $45, go ahead and fix it." If the estimate seems to be on the high side, consider asking for a more extensive guarantee on the labor--say, 90 days instead of the usual 30. If the serviceman balks at that, or the estimate sounds downright outrageous, think about getting a second opinion.

* If you have the job done and feel you have been ripped off, put your complaint in writing to the repair shop. Include photocopies of any receipts and as many details as possible. If you don't get a satisfactory response, contact your local Better Business Bureau.

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