'PrimeTime' gets the goods on repairmen

April 23, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Everyone knows the feeling. A repair technician says your refrigerator needs a new whatsit, or the guy at the electronics place concludes your VCR's thingamajig is kaput.

You frown. Maybe you ask some questions, hoping to sound knowledgeable. But all you really know is that you'll soon be parting with some cash. And you only hope the machine will work right again.

Alas, ABC correspondent Chris Wallace confirms that feeling of helplessness tonight at 10 o'clock on his segment of "PrimeTime Live" (on Channel 13).

A Florida investigator estimates that fully half the appliance repair industry is dishonest, and the network production team seems to prove his theory by rigging a series of tests.

For example, a computer affixed with ultraviolet identifying marks is taken to an electronics outlet, where technicians say they had to replace the keyboard. In fact, upon pickup the same keyboard is in place.

In similar checks of 15 shops, with computers, VCRs and CD players rigged with a single, easily fixed defect, Wallace notes in fairness that three did thorough, honest jobs. But four others were borderline cases and the rest seemed clearly dishonest.

"PrimeTime" also rented a house in McLean, Va., removed a couple wire connections from otherwise perfect appliances, a dishwasher and a refrigerator, and called some repair people. The kitchen was rigged with hidden cameras and microphones.

Proving again that there are honest workers out there, the first dishwasher repairman quickly finds the loose wire and charges a minimal service fee. But the second claims to have replaced the whole switch, and cameras seem to show him merely planting an old switch as proof.

A couple of refrigerator repairmen are also seemingly caught in the act of pretending to replace a motor.

And like Allen Funt from "Candid Camera," Wallace appears later to reveal the hidden cameras and confront the men. Yet neither admits to the fraud. Unfortunately, this "PrimeTime" report does not offer a great deal of help to consumers.

It advises us not to choose repair people blindly from the phone book but to get referrals from others or manufacturers, to insist on an itemized repair bill and to ask for the old parts back, and, especially, to stay in the room with a repair person while the work is being performed.

Yet one of the show's experts concludes that a dishonest repair outfit can still rip you off.

And what should you do if you suspect a dishonest repair, and wish to investigate and/or seek redress? The show offers no concrete help there, either.

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