Most people hate being charged for an estimate so appliance repairmen are under pressure to do it for free. It costs a lot more than you’d think to send an engineer to someone’s house and then spend time working out what’s wrong with an appliance. It’s not possible to do it free, but customers hate being charged for it, so tricks have to be employed to make it “free”.
Some trades have always given free estimates. Builders, estate agents, roofers, double glazing companies etc – all are companies who usually charge a lot of money, often many thousands of pounds. The estimates are free, but the costs incurred in coming out to quote are just included in the prices charged. If a customer doesn’t accept an estimate they are able to make enough profit on the next job to cover the expenses of the ones they lose. And as most of them need to come out and inspect things before coming back another day anyway it’s not a problem.
It’s different for appliance repairs
The opposite is true for a domestic appliance engineer who needs to try and fix an appliance in one visit, with any second visit deeply cutting into any potential profit. They also can’t charge enough to cover wasted time and journeys on previous jobs, people will simply buy another if it’s too expensive to repair. Repairing appliances that can cost as little as £200 to replace puts quite a severe cap on amounts that can be charged.
There can be a catch to free estimates
Many adverts do offer free estimates (and even free call-outs). But you will often have to fit in with their times – when they are already in your area – and you’ll often be expected to wait in all day. Engineers can’t afford to be so accommodating with times if you aren’t paying. More importantly they are also likely to be very reluctant to spend much time looking at your appliance and doing any actual work – even though many faults need exploratory work and time to accurately diagnose.
I’ve heard of many cases where they didn’t even take the top or back off and just quoted a price based on the description of the fault. If the fault looks like it will need more than a few minutes to diagnose – they simply can’t afford to spend the time with no guarantee they will get paid anything. It’s totally understandable really.
Basically if you are not paying for something, you often don't get it
It’s also very common for them to not tell you exactly what is wrong with your appliance, and exactly what they are quoting you for. This is because they will need to guard against customers using them to diagnose the fault and then fixing it themselves or ringing round to find someone to do it cheaper. So you may well be just given a price, or a vague description of the problem with a price and it’s take it or leave it.
Free estimates don’t reward honesty
Another problem is that if your washing machine is not worth repairing, and a repairman tells you this honestly, he will lose money. Even honest people can find this soul destroying. I once went out with 5 jobs, and only one customer had the repair done. All the rest said they’d rather buy a new one. Fortunately for me I didn’t give free estimates at that time, so I was able to charge each one a small amount to at least cover costs. If I’d been committed to giving free estimates I would have lost out big time.
The point of this article is not to vilify everyone offering free estimates, but to defend traders who make a stand and say, it costs money to come out and diagnose a fault. Someone has to pay for it – and it should be the person who doesn't have a repair done, not the next customer.
Engineers with reasonable (often nominal) estimate charges prefer to charge because they are usually just trying to be honest and up front about charges. Their call out costs are not additional charges, they are usually just the portion of the labour costs that cover the coming out and diagnosing. To give free estimates a trader usually has to charge higher prices, so ironically if you do have a repair done it’s often cheaper with someone who doesn’t give free estimates.
Some engineers have no choice and have to offer free estimates
I am not saying that all people offering free estimates will be cowboys or try to overcharge. In some areas, because the vast majority of rival companies offer free estimates and no call-outs it can be very difficult or even impossible for a genuine repairman or company to not follow suit. It takes bravery, and is a big risk to charge for something others are apparently giving away for free. But some do and strive to still give a good, honest service as best they can. Also, a local repairman covering a village or small area may be quite happy to give free estimates and absorb the costs, which will be far less than someone covering a large city. However, in many cases – particularly if a trader covers a large area in a big city – free estimates are often ultimately subsidised by higher repair charges.
I personally prefer to deal with a repairer who has the luxury of being free to be totally honest with me over whether he thinks my product (whatever it is) is worth repairing or not without being penalised financially. I don’t want to have someone in front of me that will lose money if he is honest and advises me my product isn’t really worth repairing, and who can only cover his costs if he can persuade me to have a repair done. I know I could still get ripped off but it just seems logical to me.
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