Central Air Conditioner Evaporator Coil Leaks and Warranties

A quick Internet search of words “class action suit” with any of the major air conditioning equipment manufacturer’s names in front, i.e. “Carrier class action suit”, “Trane class action suit” or “Lennox class action suit” reveals story after story of the lawsuits arising due to refrigerant leaks in evaporator coils in brand new to fairly new air conditioning and heating units.

While you probably can’t find an air conditioning contractor in Phoenix, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, that isn’t painfully aware of this epidemic problem, you are a little harder pressed to find a homeowner who is aware this can happen to them…unless it already has.

Most homeowners are under the impression that since they just spent anywhere from $6,000 to as much as $13,000 on average to replace an older central heating and cooling system that they are “covered” in this scenario, only to find out that they may not be!

Let me explain:

Most of the major air conditioner manufacturers include anywhere from a five to ten year limited parts warranty with all new equipment purchases installed in a residential (home) application. The key words being “limited” and “parts”. Let’s look at the details of that warranty.

1. “Limited” – It’s important to know that almost all of the manufacturers stipulate that the equipment purchase be “registered” online within 60 days of purchase or the warranty automatically reverts to a shorter time period; usually five years, but with some as short as one year.

2. “Parts” – Most homeowners do not realize that if they did not opt to purchase a manufacturer “extended labor warranty”, that the manufacturer will provide the part at no cost under warranty, but do not pay for the labor or other materials needed to complete the repair. In the case of an evaporator coil replacement, this cost can be anywhere from $1,200 up to $2,500 or more depending on the model, access and other conditions.

3. Maintenance – Most manufacturers require proof that the unit has received all recommended routine maintenance every six months (some only require proof of annual maintenance), or they can and will deny a warranty claim. In most cases the manufacturer requires the contractor submit copies of maintenance records and invoices for proof.

4. Shipping – Most manufacturers limited parts warranties do not cover the cost of shipping and charge very high amounts to expedite shipping. In the case of coils which come in large, heavy boxes; these charges can be in the hundreds of dollars.

5. Lead Time – A manufacturing trend in the last decade known, as “real time manufacturing” has become the norm with heating and cooling equipment manufacturers. Real time manufacturing is a way for manufacturers to keep costs down by not stocking replacement parts and manufacturing them on an as needed basis. This means when an air conditioning company calls to order a part such as an evaporator coil, the manufacturer starts building it when it is ordered…usually after a few days! Recently, we ordered a part for a client that purchased a lesser-known brand air conditioner a year prior from another air conditioning company who went out of business. Unbelievably, the manufacturer said their policy was they would not even begin manufacturing the part until paid in full, and only after a 3 day waiting period after the check had cleared! Our poor client waited almost one month for her part to arrive in 100-degree weather. Luckily we were able to provide her with some temporary cooling, but needless to say this whole situation just seems wrong no matter how you think about it!

So what can or should a homeowner do to insure themselves against these added expenses and aggravation?

1. If you are about to or have recently purchased a new air conditioning and heating system, strongly consider purchasing a labor warranty. Depending on the system and type of coverage, an extended warranty can cost a few hundred dollars to as much as $2000. While that seems like a lot of money, if you consider the monthly cost over the course of a ten-year warranty, even the highest cost of $2000 works out to be less than $17 per month. Earlier in this article we gave an example of an evaporator coil replacement (a known problem) costing as much as $2500 for full air conditioning repair, making the decision to purchase an extended labor warranty a good investment.

2. Make sure your contractor provides proof they registered your equipment with the manufacturer, or has provided you with the information needed for you to do it yourself. At Magic Touch Mechanical, we register all equipment we install on behalf of our client as a value added service, however we have clients who purchased equipment from other air conditioning companies that did not register the equipment or tell the homeowner they needed to. That is not news you want to find out when a repair is needed and you realize you are not covered for parts or labor!

3. Have your central cooling and heating system checked and serviced twice a year. A good way to remember is call your HVAC Contractor the first time you consider turning on your air conditioner for the season, and again when you are thinking of turning on your heat. Consider purchasing a routine air conditioning maintenance agreement from your contractor; at Magic Touch, we call and send mailers to our maintenance plan members so they don’t forget its time for their routine maintenance.

4. Consider hiring a contractor who has their own brand of air conditioning and heating units. These brands are sometimes referred to as “private label” or “white label” brands. For example, Magic Touch Mechanical offers several brands of equipment from the major manufacturers, but we also carry our own brand called; Magic Touch Air.

There are a few advantages to purchasing a private label brand:

a. In order for an air conditioning contractor to get a private label agreement with an equipment manufacturer, the contractor has to have proven the company is financially sound, purchase a significant amount of HVAC equipment, and have an excellent track record and longevity in the community.

b. Because of the large financial commitment the contractor needs to make with the manufacturer, the company usually gets preferential treatment meaning the manufacturer will jump through hoops to make the company happy…which includes quick turnaround times.

c. Because it’s the contractors name on the line, they are going to do everything in their power to provide a great experience for their client.

d. Because the contractor knows they are going to sell specific models of their own equipment, they usually keep spare parts for those models in stock to avoid long wait times caused by real time manufacturing.

Purchasing a new HVAC System is one of the largest investments homeowners ever make, and knowing manufacturers are facing legal battles for manufacturing defects like coil leaks doesn’t exactly boost one’s confidence in the decision.

In a place like Phoenix, Arizona, air conditioning is a necessity not a luxury. Hopefully armed with this information, you are now empowered to make the best decisions for you and your family!