Stick with reputable professionals and you can shut the garage door on repair scams
Feb 24, 2012 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
My journey into the world of garage-door repair began with a bang.
Trust me on this: When an automatic garage door is forced out of its tracks, and the high-tension cable connecting it to the operating system snaps, the resulting BANG! will startle you like a gunshot.
It was a repair that would require professional help. The time had come to delve into a segment of the home-improvement industry known to harbor scam artists.
There was simply no other way to regain full use of the most flexible room in the house. For many people, a garage is a place to park cars so they will be free from threats such as weather, vandalism and theft. For others -- including yours truly -- it can be a home office, wood shop or even a staging ground for a model railroad.
Either way, it's not much good if the door doesn't open.
But, I found a fix-it person with a good reputation, and I got the work done for a reasonable price -- downright cheap, actually. It turns out that finding a good repair shop isn't really that complicated, especially in this day of online access to information. It takes a little bit of research and a good game plan.
"That is a big piece of metal hanging over your head, and it needs service," said Sheldon Kelsey, service technician for Texas Overhead Door of Burleson.
A big mistake
I love my garage, but not necessarily the garage door. Truth is, the door had not worked properly for years. Keeping the door in good working order simply hadn't been a priority, mainly because in the 12 years I have lived in far north Fort Worth, I haven't once parked a car in there. In hindsight, I think my attitude was that opening the door didn't need to be an efficient experience as long as it opened somehow.
A few years ago, when the remote control for the garage door stopped working, I tossed it aside and just used the doorbell-style switch on the wall. When that switch stopped working, I just started opening the door manually.
The turning point came a couple of months ago, when I noticed that the door could be lifted even when the handle was in the locked position. I began to worry about break-ins and decided to jimmy a large crescent wrench into an opening on the door's vertical tracks, so that if anyone attempted to open the door it would remain shut.
That turned out to be a mistake. The next day, I forgot the wrench was in there and attempted to open the door. When the door resisted, I attempted to force it open.
The cable snapped, and two roller wheels popped out of the track. The door listed unevenly, like a ship taking on water -- with the left side touching the ground and the right side about a foot in the air. I managed to wedge a piece of scrap wood between the right side of the door and the garage ceiling, forcing it into a shut position, and began to ponder how to find a reliable repair shop.
Searching for help
An automatic garage door opener isn't a complicated system. Various models operate differently, but mine consists of a power unit on the ceiling and a chain connecting a trolley arm to the door. There's also a torsion spring mounted atop the door, and a high-tension cable running down each side of the door -- storing lots of energy so that the door can be lifted with little effort.
Scientifically, it's a simple setup. Still, fixing a garage door can be dangerous for the untrained, mainly because the torsion spring and cable, as well as the brackets holding them in place, can cause serious injury if they snap when you are nearby.
That's why so many garage-door repair shops are out there. And anywhere there's a profit to be made, there are bound to be profiteers.
Here are tips to get started in your search for a good repair shop, based on interviews with a technician and several consumer guides:
Make a list of prospective companies you might call, and run a background check on each one. Whether you find a company in the Yellow Pages, during a Google search, from friends' recommendations or in coupons mailed to the home, the online world has made it easier than ever to research possible scams.
One easy method is to do a Google news search (Go to the Google main page and look for the "news" link). I came across several articles in the Star-Telegram and other newspapers, as well as footage from a recent Dateline NBC episode, about repair shops abusing customers. In one instance, a woman was charged more than double her original estimate. In another case, a single company was operating under more than a dozen names, all of which had different phone numbers that rang to a single call center.
One particular Star-Telegram story told of Texas Overhead Door Co. in Burleson. Owner Chris Fletcher had been interviewed about how, for a period in 2006, another company had operated using his company's name -- all the while doing shoddy work. Fletcher won a cease-and-desist order against the company, but he didn't stop there. To save his business' good name, he went around making things right for all those customers who were unsatisfied with the work done by the other guys -- and ate the cost. To me, that's a company worth consideration.
Stick with places that have a storefront and a history. If it's locally owned, or at least locally operated, it's more likely to do it right the first time and to respond promptly when something goes wrong. During the initial phone call, ask the voice on the other end of the line for the legal name and address of the business.
Check the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org). By typing "garage door repair" in the website's search engine, I found more than two dozen places in my area that had an A-plus rating, with no customer complaints on file.
When you make that first call to a repair shop, ask up front what the hourly rate is for a garage door tuneup, and if someone can inspect your garage door and offer a free estimate (most places will). A tuneup should run less than $100.
If major work must be done, get at least three estimates and choose the best value -- which is often, but not always, the lowest bid. Watch for offers that seem too good to be true.
Don't pay the repair bill up front. Wait until the job is done.
I called Texas Overhead Door Co. on a Tuesday. Even though the company is in Burleson, it employs several technicians and frequently works in the far north Fort Worth area. I was told that the normal rate for a tuneup was $89, but the company had recently published a coupon offering the service for $49. I asked for, and received, the coupon rate.
I asked for a Friday appointment, and I was told to expect the technician, Sheldon Kelsey, between noon and 2 p.m. that day.
On Friday morning, Kelsey called before 10 a.m. and asked if he could come early. I gladly obliged.
When Kelsey arrived, I gave him a quick tour and showed him the problem. He said that as part of the $49 tuneup, he could put the high-tension cable back on its drum, realign the door and tighten all the nuts, bolts and other connections. He did all that work in about a half-hour, and also applied a nonsilicone spray to the roller wheels.
He checked the doorbell-like switch and found that it had a bad connection and needed to be replaced. He said he had some fancier switches in his truck that cost in the neighborhood of $35, but that he also could go to a nearby hardware store and pick up a more basic switch for $6 and add that cost to my bill. I agreed, and Kelsey drove to the store and returned 15 minutes later with a new switch.
He installed the switch, then checked out the two remote control devices. One device magically began working properly, after years of dysfunction. The other was diagnosed with a dead battery, which I agreed to replace myself at the next opportunity.
Kelsey also inspected the power unit and adjusted the chain so it had a tighter fit. I didn't know this until Kelsey explained it, but a properly adjusted automatic garage door basically serves as the door lock. Garage door handles are essentially obsolete, and many doors no longer come with one.
Kelsey was out of there within an hour. I did have to call him back later that afternoon, when the garage door got stuck in the open position.
Kelsey was back at my house within about 90 minutes of my call and quickly diagnosed a short on one of the eye sensors at the bottom of the garage door. He fixed that in about five minutes.
Texas Overhead Door offers a 90-day warranty on work performed during a tuneup and a one-year warrant on installation of an operator.
My total cost, including the $6 doorbell, was $55.40.
That's easily a price worth paying so I can go back to loving my garage, and ignoring the door for a while.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796
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