When appliances fail, expats lose bargaining power

Expats are highly vulnerable when a product fails, be it an automobile, a refrigerator or a television  set.

The quickest way to get a bad deal would be to call at random from the telephone directory or from one of those pieces of paper someone jammed into the mailbox or porton.

Certainly there is an expat tax when a repair person must be called. There is no secret that First World foreigners pay more. Most would be happy if the device worked well again.

In every case recommendations of Costa Rican friends are vital. If the problem is with an automobile, having the friend drive it to a repair shop avoids the problem of faulty Spanish and the Gringo tax.

That’s not easy to do when the problem is a refrigerator, a washer or dryer. These are not easily portable.

The first problem in calling repairmen to the home is the uncertainty that they will actually show up in the general vicinity of the agreed time. Or the agreed week.

Clearly, expats have to establish the ground rules beforehand. How much and how long?

Several Central Valley repairmen routinely charge expats 50,000 colons or about $100 for a house call. Repair parts are extra. Even some of their colleagues wince at that price. A fair rate, one repairman told a reporter is from 15,000 to 20,000 colons, and perhaps a bit more if there is a lot of time or labor involved or a long distance to travel.

At least in the Central Valley there are shops that carry a wide variety of repair parts, and thetecnico, as they are called, should not charge extra for dashing out to obtain a part. Nor should there be money paid up front for repair parts. Paying up front is a good way to guarantee that the workman never will return. They will be down at the cantina laughing about the foolish Gringo or Gringa.

Repair parts can be expensive, particularly if the refrigerator or washer is one of the new digital types. A single computer board may cost 100,000 colons or $200 at the sources. Some devices have a handful of such boards. When a digital microwave fails, the cheapest action might be to buy a new one.

The good news is that some of these devices can tell the repairman what is wrong if the tecnico is sufficiently schooled in the necessary skills. Similar to computers, the device can give an error message on a repairman’s hand-held device.

Personal recommendations are vital to avoid the possibility of inviting a crook into the home. And the recommendation is only as good as the person making it. Some robbers pose as repair people simply to gain access.

Once the job is finished, the expat has to check out the device to make sure it is operating well. Guarantees are only as good as the workman, and none wants to return to do a free second repair job. So once the tecnico leaves, there is not much recourse.

In additionn to personal recommendations, the Web site quienpagamande.com can give guidance on some topics. For example a recent posting recounted the trials of an automobile owner whose vehicle was sequestered for eight months in a repair shop.

The site is operated by Hazel Feigenblatt, who was an award-winning reporter with La Nación. She is in the United States, but the site concentrates on failures in Costa Rican customer service. There is not a lot of information on home appliance repairs, however. The name of the site loosely translates to “he who pays rules.”

Ms. Feigenblatt’s location is important because libel and slander laws in the United States give broad protection to commentaries on criticism of products and services. Many of the comments would generate court cases in Costa Rica. She also has aFacebook page.

The United States also is home to many consumer friendly television and radio shows, too.

Ms. Feigenblatt has her own list of shame, led by Citibank with 84 negative votes and Amnet with 38.

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