Home & Garden Columns

Corruption in the Repair Industry

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday July 13, 2010 - 12:12:00 PM

I worked as a television and video repairman in the 1980’s, was employed by several small repair shops and was self employed at it. I was pretty good at troubleshooting the circuitry in TV’s and VCR’s, yet some of the jobs were more stressful than I would have liked.  

In my time as a technician I learned that the retail price of repairs often didn’t reflect the amount of work put into someone’s unit, but instead reflected the company’s need to pay its overhead in order to stay in business. One reason why I never made it big as a repair shop owner was my fear of overcharging. I always wanted to give the customers a good deal, and in the process of that I didn’t make any money.  

Price gouging of automotive repair shops and electronic repair shops includes replacement of more parts than are required to make a unit functional again, charging for work that never took place, and making up ailments in someone’s unit that exist only in the imagination.  

I admit that a couple of the shops that I worked for, that were located in Concord and Pleasant Hill, participated in some of this price gouging. The owners of the shops justified this behavior by saying that it was the only way that their business could be profitable.  

In some instances, the same part invariably wears out in one make of television set, computer, or automobile; it means that the troubleshooting time is minimum for technicians who have “seen that before.” It further means that fifteen minutes can be spent to fix something, and yet the full repair price gets charged for the unit. In the 1980’s, the Hitachi made VCR’s were notorious for bad idler wheels. The symptom was “eating tapes.” This repair could often be performed without disassembling the unit, could be performed in five minutes or less, and about ninety dollars in labor could be charged because that was the standard rate.  

Home electronics repair law, and automotive repair law seem largely unchanged in the last twenty five years. Registration with Department of Consumer Affairs was and still is a legal requirement for someone who represents that they perform these repairs; although today more shops appear to be in violation of this requirement. Budget Cuts have forced the merger of the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair with another agency.  

Having the license is no indication of repair prowess. There is no exam for a service dealer registration; it is a matter of completion of the paperwork and payment of their fee every year. A contractor’s license can also be used, and that license does involve testing.  

In some instances, a repair estimate is given for more than your unit is worth, not because it takes that much money to repair something, but instead because the technicians don’t want to deal with hours of troubleshooting that could otherwise be spent more profitably on someone else’s easier repair. This is called “shot gunning,” in which every part is replaced that might possibly cause the symptom, as opposed to doing the tests that would tell you which part is bad. The customer is told falsely that all of these parts were “shot,” meaning worn out. Should you accept such an estimate, you are paying for the technician’s laziness or lack of competence. Should you turn down the estimate, you’re paying a diagnostic fee for a diagnosis that didn’t happen.