What to do when product repairs go wrong

Don't settle for product repairs that didn't fix the problem

Published: December 19, 2014 05:00 PM

You’ve done everything you can thing to make sure that a product repair goes right. Yet, now that the technician is done, you’re having the same problem, or maybe there’s a new one. So what should you do when product repairs go wrong? (Read our earlier article, "Don't Be a Product Repair Victim.")

First, your rights likely depend on whether the technician acted reasonably and on what the contract or work order says. If the repair was unsuccessful but the technician took reasonable steps to diagnose and fix the problem, you may not be legally entitled to anything.

“Service providers don’t guarantee that everything will go perfectly. They guarantee that they’ll do it as a reasonably competent person would in that profession,” says Richard Alderman, who heads University of Houston’s Consumer for Law Center.

It’s another matter if the technician was negligent or, even worse, engaged in fraud, says Daniel Blinn, managing attorney of the Rocky Hill, Connecticut-based Consumer Law Group.

In November, for example, the Maryland attorney general’s consumer-protection division ordered an appliance-repair company in that state to return $100,000 to customers for repairs that it did not complete or that were unnecessary. The company told one woman that her washing machine needed a control board that would cost $43 even though the real reason her machine wasn't working was that a quarter was stuck in the appliance's water pump, the state determined.

It also can make a difference if the contract guarantees that the repair will fix the problem, as opposed to, say, simply replacing a part, says Blinn.

Here’s what to do

Research the issue. When product repairs go wrong, it can be difficult to tell whether a technician acted reasonably. Consider posting the details of the repair issue on one or more message boards for your product and see what others say. You might even get some comments from professionals.

Complain to the repairer. Even if you think the technician was negligent, start by being nice. “If they’re a solid, reputable company they want you to be taken care of,” says Randy Carney, executive director of the Professional Service Association, which certifies independent appliance repairers.

Here’s what to expect

If you believe the technician was negligent or dishonest. You might be entitled to so-called expectation damages, an amount necessary to put things the way they would have been had the job been done correctly, Blinn says. The same goes if you have a written guarantee that the repair will fix the problem.

You also might have a right to so-called consequential or incidental damages when a product repair go wrong, especially if the technician’s negligence caused you to suffer a loss beyond the cost of the repair. And if there was fraud, you may be able to collect double or even triple damages, as well as legal fees.

But hopefully it won’t get to the point where you’ll need to enforce your rights. Make a reasonable argument. If the technician works for a company with higher-ups, ask to speak to a supervisor.

If you think the technician acted reasonably. As complex as a diagnosis or repair might have been, a company should be open to negotiation if it didn’t fix the problem. For instance, it might agree to charge you only its wholesale cost for any additional parts and/or forgo another labor charge or diagnostic fee.

Call in another repair company. If the first shop won’t budge, call in another shop. If you do, get a detailed work order, and keep your receipt. Those can help you show that the initial repair wasn’t done correctly and prove your damages. Also, don’t throw out any replaced parts that you kept—they're useful evidence when product repairs go wrong

Complain to a third party. If you’re unable to get satisfaction, it’s time to seek help from third parties, such as the Better Business Bureau. You can also file a complaint with your state or local consumer-protection agency or the entity that licenses or registers the repairer, such as an occupational licensing board. In some states, car-repair shops are overseen by the department of motor vehicles.

Dispute the charge. If you paid by credit card, try disputing the charge. But keep in mind that a successful chargeback doesn't prevent a company from initiating legal action you or reporting you to credit agency.

Consider legal action. Ultimately, when product repairs go wrong, unresolved complaints end up in small-claims court. Nolo.com has a lot of free information about small-claims court, including state-by-state charts that show the rules and dollar limits for disputes, which vary by jurisdiction. Consider consulting a consumer attorney, especially if the dispute involves a significant amount of money.

—Anthony Giorgianni

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