Problem Solver: Months after air conditioner breaks, cooler heads prevail

With record-setting heat, this summer was one of the worst times in Chicago history for Patrick Maher's air conditioner to break.

In early June, just as the area was heating up, Maher's 38-year-old Tappan central air unit abruptly stopped working.

The Schaumburg resident wasn't too worried. A year earlier, he had signed up for a TotalProtect home warranty. The advertisement he received in the mail promised that the warranty company would repair or replace his major appliances if they broke down. The first covered appliance on the list was the air conditioning system.

The ad promised 24-hour, seven-day-a-week protection "of your critical home systems and appliances."

In bold letters, the letter added, "no matter the age, make or model."

So Maher signed up, agreeing to pay $39 a month for some peace of mind.

When he called TotalProtect about his air conditioner, he assumed it was covered.

On June 25 the warranty company sent a repairman, who examined the machine and determined it was dead.

"Recommend replacement," the technician wrote on the invoice. "Will contact warranty company."

A short time later, a TotalProtect representative called Maher with bad news. His claim had been rejected.

"TotalProtect said it wasn't properly maintained," he said.

Maher was floored. The air conditioner was almost four decades old. What could he have possibly done to keep it running longer, he wondered?

The representative told him he would receive a formal denial letter detailing why TotalProtect was not responsible for paying the claim.

After waiting two months, Maher gave up and sent a letter to What's Your Problem?

"I think TotalProtect is not going to send me a denial in writing because they know they're wrong," he said.

Without a formal denial letter, Maher remained in a sweaty limbo. Although his house was scorching hot, he held off buying a new air conditioner, hoping TotalProtect would provide a new unit or send him a formal rejection.

He spent the sweltering summer without air conditioning.

"It's been pretty lousy," Maher said. "Every time I look at the thermostat it's in the upper 80s or low 90s," he said. "I felt like sleeping on the washer and dryer. Every time I walk into that room it's about 10 degrees cooler for some reason."

In September he began looking at newspaper ads for end-of-the-season specials, hoping to snag an inexpensive air conditioner. He would then cancel his home warranty, he said.

"I'm not going to be spending $39 a month on nothing," he said.

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