Virtually EVERY A/C manufacturer and dealer offers a ‘limited’ Warranty on their equipment (and possibly the installation). Many offer a standard 1 year coverage period (or 5 years, 10 years, and even “Lifetime”), but what does that mean – and more importantly – what does that cover!?

There are many misconceptions that homeowners have about what kind of warranty they have – and what it will cover in terms of repair, replacement (and especially LABOR!). It is extremely important to read the fine print of your warranty page. Most homeowners believe that if anything goes wrong with their new A/C system, they are covered 100%. This is actually not true!

All manufacturers offer additional coverage (i.e. ‘extended’ warranties and/or ‘labor’ warranties). These are the important warranties that need to be considered when buying a new A/C system. The manufacturer may give you a parts warranty of 5 years or 10 years depending on which system you buy. If you are buying any individual piece of a system, generally the warranty is only one to five years (such as with condensing units). Labor to replace a part that fails before the one year expiration is generally paid for by the dealer who sold or installed it. Manufacturers then will typically only pay the dealer for their replacement labor up to 60 days from the original installation date (unless there is a high rate of failure on one particular part).

I believe most customers think that investing in the highest price system gives them the best quality. This is also not necessarily true. I regularly recommend that a customer buy a good piece of equipment, regardless of brand, and invest in both the extended warranty as well as the labor warranty.

It is very important to understand how a labor warranty benefits the customer. A labor warranty covers you for the cost of the labor involved in the repair. It may not cover you for all of the costs (such as a service call to diagnose the failed part, the time to fill out the warranty paperwork, trip time to pick up the part, etc.). These things are not free – they cost the dealer. If you are replacing a high cost part (i.e. a compressor, fan motor, evaporator coil, condensing coil or circuit board), these kind of items are warrantied under your five or 10 year ‘parts’ warranty – but the labor for the replacement is really covered only under a labor warranty. The service call for the diagnostic service and the time spent by the dealer to fill out your warranty paperwork and pick up the part, if it is not on the truck is not part of the deal.

What exactly then is the dealer’s responsibility?? Some of the very best units on the market (or what you may think are the best units on the market) have the worst parts warranties. An illustration of this would be when you can buy a new air handler unit cheaper than you can buy the replacement coil that goes into that air handler unit. Under this example, something is definitely wrong. When the manufacture’s parts counter tells me, ‘we’re in the business of selling equipment, not parts’ – again something is wrong. Occasionally every manufacture (no matter what the brand name) is going to have a bad run of some parts. From the highest priced piece of equipment on the market to the lowest, there are inevitably equipment failures across the board. The manufacture only gets serious about changing the quality of these parts when failure percentage rates change their bottom line profits.

The dealer is the guy in the middle, he has to have a relationship with the manufacture that is on-going in order to purchase equipment at better wholesale pricing. He also has an obligation to the customer to give the customer what they paid for as well as to stand behind the work that he did. I call this the referee position, this is a very sensitive position to be in. From the customer’s point of view you sold them the unit and you should repair anything that goes wrong with it because it’s under warranty. This is the reason that manufacturers sell labor warranties!!! Labor warranties were designed to specifically cover the customer expense of the (frequently) heavy cost of the dealer’s labor, not the entire cost of the repair (i.e. parts + labor).

Think about this for just a minute, if you go out and buy the least expensive new car on the market and you fail to change the oil or have the car serviced for three years, do you think the car dealer is going to stand behind your failed jackhammer-sounding engine, or your constantly slipping failed transmission? It’s not going to happen. Air-conditioning units in Arizona run more hours in one year than most people’s cars (unless you’re some kind of delivery person). Very few people have their A/C units serviced anymore. They only have their units repaired when they fail (with the comment: ‘it’s under warranty!’). I am not picking on customers, I just need them to understand tht this is a mechanical piece of equipment that needs to be maintained and checked-on periodically. My recommendations are that these services (maintenance) are conducted at the beginning of the season. And by ‘beginning of the season’ I mean, before the heating and before the cooling is necessary.

With the changeover to the new 410A freon (that runs at 30% higher pressures), we are starting to see more and more leaks in many of the manufacturers’ new equipment. This is something that my experience told me to expect as this transtion took place. The principle is ”with higher pressures you’re going to see more leaks“. We are now seeing warranty claims for leaky condensing units, evaporator coils, and service charging ports at a greatly increased rate. No single manufacture has a monopoly on this problem. This has been an unavoidable problem for years with all manufactures. In a sizable metroplitan market, a carbon bearing in the bottom of a rotary compressor could cause hundreds of compressors to fail in just that one market alone (and DID in the early 70’s). A crack in the suction casting on a scroll compressor (along with a bad spot weld of the brackets inside a scroll compressor) caused nearly 500 compressors to fail in Dallas in one year. Almost every manufacture will have a problem with the design, engineers are not perfect, they have the ability to make mistakes just like everyone else.

Dealers are the ones that find these mistakes and adjust the factory quality by reporting these mistakes and returning parts under warranty. When the factory gets back so many warranty parts, they correct the mistake. It really is that simple.

It is absolutely baffling as to why the manufacturing and chemical industries did not come up with a Freon that runs at lower pressures than the R22 Freon we have been using for over 50 years. It is still pretty simple: higher pressures mean more leaks. The dealer is responsible for the solder joints at the connection of the outdoor condensing unit, and the solder joints at the indoor evaporator coil. If you have a leak any where else in the system than those two locations, the dealer did not cause the problem. When you stop to consider that there are probably 200 to 300 manufacturer-produced weld joints in every new air-conditioning split system, then it is no surprise that having a leak in that system is possible (again considering that we are running at 30% higher pressures with the new Freon). The dealers can only work with what is available and approved by the clean air act, the EPA and the manufactures.