Don’t be a product repair victim

Whether it’s a broken refrigerator, television or any other product, don’t let yourself become a repair victim due to a technician’s poor training, mistake, or outright fraud.

Start with research. When you first encounter a problem, contact the manufacturer. The issue may be a common one for which the company has developed a fix, perhaps at no cost to you. Also, search the Web using keywords such as: “freezer stays cold but refrigerator is warm.” That might suggest what the problem is. The information will help you anticipate what to expect from a technician and evaluate the diagnosis.

Repair or replace? You may find that the diagnostic charge justifies buying a new product instead of repairing an old one. Don’t spend more than 50% of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one. And if an item has already broken down once before, replacement may make more sense.

Find a pro. Ask people you know to recommend someone trustworthy to do the repair work. Even then, be sure to check out the company to make sure it’s reliable. You’ll probably have to use a dealer or other factory-authorised repairer if the product is still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Getting a diagnosis. Ask in advance how much a diagnosis is likely to cost, including a trip to your home, towing, or anything else that might apply. Provide as much detail about the problem as you can and describe any recent repairs you have made to the item (but never offer your own diagnosis).

Get it in writing. After obtaining a diagnosis, ask how sure the technician is that he has identified the cause of the problem and whether he’s guaranteeing that the repair will correct the issue. If he is, find out if he’ll put it in writing. If the repair doesn’t fix the problem, a contract that contains such a guarantee may give you stronger legal rights than one that simply says the technician will replace a certain part or perform a specific service.

Decide whether to obtain a second opinion. A second opinion may be worth it if it’s a big-cost repair or your gut tells you that the diagnosis may be wrong.

Verify the price. Find out whether the price is fair by checking with competitors, use a web search, or ask on online forums for your product.

Get a written estimate. Read the estimate carefully, checking the guarantee for parts and labour and any fine print. Be sure the work contains a clause requiring the shop to get your approval before exceeding the estimate. And never sign a blank work order. The estimate should specify the type of parts: new, used and whether original.

Ask for the old parts. Tell the shop that you want to retain the old parts, if practical. That may reduce the likelihood of fraud or provide an extra incentive for the technician to make sure the part really is defective.

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