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A/C Repair and the elusive transformer

Choose a punchline to the following joke: How many repairmen does it take to fix an air conditioner?

a)  More than 3.  OR

b)  We don’t know yet.

If you don’t think either punchline is funny, it’s because this isn’t a joke.

At least we’re not in the middle of a heat wave

Usually when an air conditioner goes kaput, it’s on the hottest day of the year. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

Last Saturday (May 31), I uncovered the air conditioner condenser outside and replaced the filter in the air handler upstairs in the side attic.  And then, for the first time this year, I adjusted switched the thermostat to “cool” and adjusted the temperature and felt the air wafting down from the vents.  Another task to check off on the honey-do list.

About twenty minutes later, I noticed the air conditioner had shut off.  I checked the temperature at the thermostat and, as I suspected, it was still warmer than the set temperature. Not good. There was no reason why the AC should have shut off so soon.

I adjusted the thermostat.  Nothing happened. I switched the fan from “auto” to “on.”  Nothing happened.  I checked the breakers in the basement.  Nothing had tripped.  I returned to the thermostat and played around with it again.  I didn’t expect anything else to happen.  It’s just that I had run out of troubleshooting options.

Fortunately, we have a service plan

We pay a third-party company monthly for a maintenance and service contract that covers our air conditioner and boiler.  Even though I was sure that our agreement covered this sort of thing, I waited until Monday call them. I wanted to avoid the possibility of after-hours charges in case it didn’t.

Phone call #1 (Monday)

I spent half an hour on hold.  When I was finally about to speak to an operator the call dropped and I spent another 15 minutes on hold when I called back.

The service call could have been scheduled for the same day (between 12 and 5 or something like that) but that conflicted with my schedule.  So we scheduled the service for Tuesday.  At least this company specifies a time range for their service calls, including the evening, so you don’t have to spend the entire day waiting.

Service call #1 (Tuesday)

Repairman arrived as scheduled and began his troubleshooting process.  He checked the thermostat.  It was okay.  He went upstairs in the side attic and checked the air handler.  Transformer was no good.  Unfortunately he didn’t have one on the truck and would have to order it.  He checked the condenser at the side of the house.  The contactor was no good.  He was able to change that part.  How these repairs are related (ie. cause and effect) I don’t know, but at least he fixed half of our problem.

He placed the order for the 240 volt transformer and told me to call the company once the part arrived in a day or two. He also told me that our plan covered the repair, otherwise we would be paying more than $400.  

Phone call #2 (Wednesday)

I received the part on Wednesday and called to schedule another service appointment.  I felt unbelievably lucky that there was an appointment available that evening.

Service call #2 (Wednesday evening)

The repairman who showed up at our door was a subcontractor.  I don’t care who fixes the AC as long as it get fixed and we’re not the ones footing the bill. Before he even crawled into the side attic, however, he realized he had the wrong part.  It was not a 240 volt transformer but rather only a 110 volt. I remember the other contractor specifically saying that he had to order a 240 volt transformer. Obviously the person who picked the part for shipment had made a mistake.

Okay.  Stuff happens.

But now I am beginning to feel a little frustrated. Repair guy tells me that he has a supplier where he can easily get the part, but it was too late in the day.  He tells me to expect a call the next day to set up another service call.

Phone call #3 (Friday)

Nobody called on Thursday, so I called the company on Friday.  I explained the situation:  first repair guy had to order the part, the second repair guy couldn’t install it because the part was wrong. Operator was very nice and insisted that she would get someone out the same day. I said that the part was supposed to be a 240 volt transformer and wanted to make sure that anyone who came out would have the right part.  She assured me that would be the case. She was wrong.

Service call #3 (Friday)

I knew we had a problem when the repairman– the third one in the same number of service calls– arrived and asked questions like this was the first service call. He did not have any notes or other information about our repair. I asked him if he had a 240 volt transformer on his truck.  He said no. Even though we both knew it would be a waste of time, he went upstairs and took a look anyway.

He called the office.  They had no record of the first service call (their guy) or the second service call (subcontractor).  Really?  With computers and smartphones, you’d think that keeping service notes would be easier than ever, yet still the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Worse yet…. Service guy #3 placed the order for the correct part.  At least I assume it is correct this time.  And yes, you guessed it, once I receive the part, I have to call to arrange yet another service appointment.

The system is flawed

Repair guy #3 insisted that having the part delivered directly to the customer usually works well.  However, that hasn’t been my experience. I understand that you can’t expect every part to be in the truck stock so parts have to be ordered.  But when I received the part, I had no idea whether it was the right one or not.  

We could have saved unnecessary service calls (inconvenience for me, expense for the company) if the original repairman received the part and followed up on the repair.  He would know whether or not the part was correct since he was the one who ordered it.  He was also the one who originally diagnosed the problem.  I know it’s not that big a deal, but I hate explaining the same thing to three or four people. Otherwise, the company needs to have better internal communication, so their workers are not going in cold.

I am not very confident at this point

I expect that the part will be delivered today, and if we are lucky, it might even get installed today.  Yet, based on past experience, I have my doubts. Last Tuesday I thought that I was going to be writing about how wonderful it is to have a service contract: peace of mind, overall savings and all that stuff.  I never expected at least four service calls for something that should have been fixed in two. I have been very patient up until now, mainly because this company is so flexible in service call times.  But I am getting frustrated and my fuse is about to blow.

Update:  Tuesday June 10

One week to the day that the first technician came to fix our air conditioner, the fourth technician arrived to install the part.

That almost didn’t happen. We were lucky to receive the part because the address on the package was wrong. There is no such address on our road. Fortunately, the delivery guy had our phone number and called to verify the address.

If the address had existed and no one was home at that address, he would have just left the package at the wrong house. If he wasn’t able to reach me when he called, he wouldn’t have delivered the package at all. In either case, it would have been another delay.

So we got lucky.  Part delivered.  I called the company and they arranged for the service call. There was an opening the same day between 4 and 8.  The technician was in and out between 4 and 4:30 and our air conditioner is finally working!  And just in time for the hotter weather that we are expecting next week.

To add a bit of irony to this story, the technician that showed up today carries that part on his truck….

Sometimes you just have to laugh, or you’ll go insane.