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Beware of the Cheap AC Tune-Up

By In AC Maintenance (professional) On July 2, 2013

In last week’s blog post about professional AC maintenance, I mentioned at the end to beware of those super-discounted pre-paid coupons for AC tune-ups.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Amazon Daily Deals, Groupon, Sweetjack, or google “Daily Deals”.

More out of curiosity than anything else, I purchased a pre-paid coupon for a $29 AC tune-up. I didn’t expect much, and it turns out I was right not to.  I had this done about a month ago when it was still too cool outside to need to use my air conditioner.

Scheduling the appointment was easy, and the tech arrived on time.  He was professionally dressed, wore booties when inside the house, and was very courteous.  I’m pretty sure he was also a rookie; when my wife let him in to the house he asked her “What brings you in today?”

The tech spent about 45 minutes going over the interior and exterior components of my air conditioner.  I didn’t want to make him nervous, so I just left him alone to do his thing.  I don’t know exactly what he did during this time, because everything was already very clean and well maintained, but he did end up getting caught in the rain and got pretty darn wet.

When he was done with everything, he brought his iPad inside and made his pitch.  He regretfully informed me that my system was very low on refrigerant and was not cooling at all.  I was quite surprised, because it was working just fine earlier that day when I tested it.  Huh.  I decided to keep that detail to myself.

The tech went over prices for new air conditioners as well as furnaces with me.  My existing furnace is an 85% efficient 80,000 btu furnace, and he recommended a larger 95% efficient furnace.  If you know anything about sizing furnaces, you know that this makes no sense at all.  Click this link for info on why furnaces shouldn’t be oversized.

I managed to keep a straight face and ask “If I’m going with a higher efficiency furnace, wouldn’t I want to stay with the same size or go smaller?”  He said no, you always want to go bigger.

“How come?”  I asked.

It heats your house better.”  He replied confidently.

I asked if there was any way to fix my air conditioner, and he said he could but it would only be a “band-aid” option.  He could add refrigerant to the system to make it work again, but he also explained that because my air conditioner uses an older type of refrigerant, he would need to add a tracer dye to help locate any potential leaks, which is now the law (not true).

The cost of this “band-aid option” was $617.  I was so shocked at this dollar amount that I asked him to email me that quote.  He said he wasn’t able to email it, but he let me take a photo of his iPad screen which showed their different service options.  The most expensive ‘solution’ was a 5-year service plan for $4,101.  I kid you not.

Screen Shot

Adding refrigerant should cost way less than that, dye is not required, and most importantly, my system was working perfectly.  I tested it again after he left just to make sure, and it was working fine.  What a joke.

At least now I know how they can afford to do these tune-ups for so little.  If you need to hire an HVAC contractor, my advice is to ask friends and family for a recommendation.  Also, check out reviews on Angie’s List, Yelp, and Google Local.  You get what you pay for.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


About the Author


Reuben is a second generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben has worked for Structure Tech since it was purchased by Neil in 1997, and is now co-owner and President of the company.



    20 + year HVAC veteran here. I think its good to publish these articles. There are techs, parts-changers & salesmen. It's the customers responsibility to know what they are buying. It is not the governments job nor anyone else to perfirm due diligence for you. The better educated customers are, the faster that the parts-changers and salemen go out of business (or get their act together) and leave the customers to the qualified technicians. Summary: If it sounds like too good of a deal to be true....


    Could you recommend a good AC technician in west TC suburbs?

  • Marianne Zura 2 YEARS AGO

    Reuben, once again thank you for a great article. Like the fellow above who disagreed with you writing it and giving a/c techs a bad name, let me disagree with him on this point: as a woman living solo, whenever I go to a mechanic or need a tradesperson to come to my home to evaluate or fix something that I can't do myself, I always wonder if I'm being taken for a ride. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten the upsell shpiel from an oil change to a brake job et al or, like you write here, wrong information to upgrade a system, hence potentially spending waaay too much money or any at all when no fix is needed? (I can thank my Dad for helping me sort out the wheat from the chaff in these situations!) You do a great service by writing articles like this that I can pass on to my girlfriends (sometimes divorced, single moms) who can't afford to lose hard-earned money to some hack or be scared into thinking they need a new system when they really don't. Thank you, thank you, thank you!


    I had a similar experience recently here in Missouri. The capacitor went out on my 12 year old Trane AC. I had an annual service agreement with a local company and called them to fix it. While the tech was here I asked him to check the coolant level which he gladly did and said it was perfect and the system was well maintained. Fast forward nearly a month and the same company was out for my annual service although it was a different tech. He tells me my coolant is extremely low and gives me the pitch. I tell him that his very own company was out less than a month ago and said the level was perfect. He starts stumbling with his words and says he will go out and double check. Came back and said it was fine after a thorough cleaning, a cleaning he was there to perform to begin with then he hurriedly left. Not only did he try to upsale something I didn't need he also showed that he probably didn't even do the cleaning he was there for until I pointed it out. Unfortunately this was an extremely highly rated company on Angie's List as well

  • Bobby Hill 2 YEARS AGO

    I see a couple problems with this situation. First of all the "needed repairs", it does not look like the technician that was out proved the need for the repairs at all. As with anything, any homeowner should ask why and to have it proven to them, even if they don't completely understand it. There are many ways to explain stuff so that the average person can understand it and know what is truly going on with the system. The second problem I see is that the technician came up with a "repair plan" that is not customized for your actual needs. The things listed above look like something out of a book at he probable goes over with every customer he comes in contact with. Again all goes back to the proof of the problem, why do I need to do these repairs?

  • Chris 2 YEARS AGO

    As a new homeowner and bargain shopper, this article is very helpful. Since I don't know very much about HVAC I could be at the mercy of someone trying to sell me something I don't need if they use some large industry words that I don't understand or refer to laws that don't exist. I am smart enough to know what I don't know so I would like to think I wouldn't fall for this A/C salesman without getting a 2nd opinion but there are plenty of people who would just sign the dotted line. Thank you for this article.

  • brandon larson 2 YEARS AGO

    95% efficiency is not a larger furnace its just more efficient than your 85% furnace. A bigger furnace would be more btuh. Anything above your 80k btuh would be a bigger furnace. But yes I agree the tech that came out was incompetent. Techs like this give the industry a black eye. Publishing story's like this and media does not help. This is true for mechanics at any trade, doctors ext.. After all we are all human and make mistakes..talking bad about others doesn't look good either. We all know some people are just out there to rip people off, and I agree making a name for yourself gets you more referral's from other people. I am a service tech and very technical and make a point to prove that what I am doing is the right thing to do.. Proof is everything. And people see that.

    • Reuben Saltzman 2 YEARS AGO

      Brandon - I meant what I said; I understand the difference between size and efficiency. The tech was recommending a furnace that was both more efficient and had more BTUs. I have to disagree with your opinion that publishing stories like this doesn't help the industry; I believe it does. You say you're very technical and make a point to prove what you're doing is the right thing to do; do you do this for a fraction of what everyone else in your industry charges? Let me put it another way. If there was some local home inspector offering worthless home inspections for $99, I would want people to know what they're getting. The best thing I could ask for would be for someone without a dog in the fight (not a home inspector) to share their bad experience. This helps consumers understand why those who do a better job charge more. As they say, "If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." I've had a number of HVAC firms share this post; if you're proud of the service you offer and you're not the cheapest in town, I would think you would want to share this too.