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Caught On Camera: Air-Conditioning Repairmen Inflate Fees To Fix Simple Problem

SANTA CLARITA (CBSLA) — As the sun beats down on Southern California, Investigative Reporter David Goldstein turned up the heat on air-conditioning repair companies, with some apparently attempting to charge for repairs that weren't needed.

Here is a full script of his report:

"It's not working."

We set up our undercover producer with hidden cameras in and around this condo in Santa Clarita to find out if local repair companies would give us an honest estimate.

But before we called in the technicians, we called in an expert.

"The pressures look great."

Gabriel Cioffi teaches air-conditioning repair at LA Trade Technical College. He checked out our unit.

It's working properly?

It's working properly.

It was working properly until we had him disconnect these two wires, cutting the power to the fan.

He says it should be no more than a $200 repair job.

"Should a qualified technician catch what you did with those two wires?"

"Absolutely. It should be very easy to diagnose."

"OK. Hi!"

First up were Ron and Ziv with Excel Heating-Ventilation and Air Conditioning. Their website claims they're reliable professionals.

"You tried to operate it and nothing?"

"No, it's just hot or warm air. Just warm air."

Ron left with his tools, saying he was going check the unit outside. But our hidden camera shows him just walking by it. Several times. Never inspecting to see what was wrong.

"OK, so he's almost done out there."

Even so, they pretended to diagnose the problem.

"Ron thinks right now that it's a part of the wiring and the controller."

And gave us a price.

"The simple fix is, we're talking about $500, and he's gonna rewire it and do, like, make sure it's working."

"Hey, Ron. David Goldstein with CBS2 News. How are you?"

Ron couldn't explain why he didn't find the two disconnected wires.

"Why was it $500 to rewire from inside to outside?"

"The price is not me, my friend. This is not my company."

"How are you today?"

"Good, thank you."

Next was Vlad, who responded after we called American West Appliance Repair. Their website touts experienced technicians with factory training.

He actually went outside and checked out our unit, doing some work that we couldn't see. Then he came back with his finding of what's broken.

"Yeah. I have parts in my car. This a very popular problem."

"But not cheap."

"Not cheap? Oh."

"Yeah. Parts, tax, labor and total, $322.34."

"Everything's working fine. You're just trying to rip us off, and you're trying to jack up the price. Right?"

"Maybe, yeah."

"Maybe you are. Yeah. So you admit you are. You're trying to jack up the price."

"I'm glad you're honest. That you're saying that yes, indeed, that you did try to jack up the price. That's very noble of you to be honest, and I appreciate that.


You're welcome.

But when Vlad left, we connected the wires to test the unit.

It wouldn't work.

"Hold on here."

Cioffi  found this piece of something wedged in between the two metal contacts that prevented the unit from starting.

"You ever seen anything like this."

"No, that's a first."

"So he's doing this to con us."

"Apparently yes."

"Hey, Vlad. David Goldstein, with CBS, remember me?"

The next week we caught up with Vlad. Who this time wasn't coming clean.

"I have no idea about ..."

"Oh, come on. You were honest with me before. You wanna be honest with me? Did you put that piece in there?"

"I have no idea about this. I'm just check connection, and check low voltage."

Several companies did find the problem.

"I found a bad wire downstairs, so I replaced it, and it came on."

Like NRG Heating and Air, who didn't even charge us!

And Reliance Home Services, who found it and charged a reasonable price.

"So it will be $80."

But Vlad, while honest the first time, wasn't budging.

"Not my fault."

"How did it get there? It wasn't there before you got there and our expert said he only way is if someone put it there."

"I have no idea, sir."

Experts say the best way to avoid being overcharged is to get more than one opinion, especially on big-money repairs.

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