It was obvious what was wrong. A motor started making lots of noise and then quit completely. I looked it up and it was the "Draft Inducer Motor".
I got a local furnace repair place that I qualified with Yelp to come start the repair process. I told the dispatcher what was needed. The repair guy showed up without the part ("We don't stock our trucks with that part"). He verified that it was indeed that the "Draft Inducer Motor" needed to be replaced.
The next day he gave me a quote of around $900 to fix the furnace. I was in the middle of a meeting in the middle of some lettuce fields when he called so I told him I'd get back to him.
$900 sounded like a lot to me so I removed the motor assembly from the furnace (took 1 minute), got the part number off of the motor, and looked it up on the Internet. I found it for well less than $100. Ultimately, I bought from a place that seemed reputable and was able to deliver it overnight and from them the motor was $140.
When it arrived, I disassembled the draft inducer motor assembly and reassembled it with the new motor and put it back in the furnace. Everything was very straightforward and easy and took me about an hour and the furnace works fine again.
A $900 estimate for a $100 part and an hour of time (or less for someone who does this frequently)? Great work if you can get it!
I gave them a bad Yelp! The owner commented to my Yelp!:
"We appreciate this members concern with regards to pricing. However there are a lot of things to account for when running an HVAC business that this customer fails to see.
"First of all the service call and diagnostic are totally refunded from the repair charge that I quoted at $865 bringing it down to $770 when all is said and done. Secondly of course when you buy a non factory part online that comes with no warranty and install it yourself you are going to get it for cheaper, much cheaper! We only install factory parts from the manufacture that comes with a 5 year warranty not to mentioned installed by a licensed and insured contractor.
"For example my son's braces cost me over $4,500 this year however all the parts and metal only cost the dentist $185. Do I feel I got ripped off because of this? Absolutely not! When you acquire a professional service to perform work; you are paying for many things, not just the part. You are paying for the skill and technical know how of the technician. Not to mention things like Insurance, trucks, liability, workers compensation, employee training, vehicle maintenance, gas, test equipment, state and federal taxes, employee compensation, advertising, tools, warehouse and office rent, phones, lighting, warehouse and truck stock, management administration, office equipment, computerization, legal fees, employee benefits, office staff and supplies just to name a few. [...]"The motor I ordered was new and an exact replacement part with a 5-year warranty. I remembered his quote being $900, but maybe he said $865, not really a significant difference. The braces analogy made me laugh - my kid's orthodontist and assistants spent many, many hours over a period of years working on my children's teeth.
But then he gets to some valid points: "Insurance, ..., liability, workers compensation, ..., state and federal taxes, ..., legal fees, employee benefits, ...". A whole lot of costs imposed by government and lawyers. I rather doubt they justify charging $900 for a $100 part and less than an hour of time, but it justifies part of it.
Now let's consider what I would have to earn in order to cover that $900 fee. Since I'm a programmer and I do some hourly consulting, I actually can consider what it costs me on a marginal basis pre-tax. Between FICA (15.3% - both halves since I'm a consultant), Federal Taxes (36%), and State Taxes (11% in California), with AMT ensuring that there are no deductions, my marginal rate is 60+%. In order to pay that $900, I'd have to earn $2,250 pre-tax. Of that $1,350 off the top would go to various governments, $800 would go to the furnace repair company of which a significant portion would also go to various governments, I estimate that $15 would go to the motor distributor, and finally $85 would go to the motor manufacturer and much of the manufacturer's cost also would reflect taxes and costs imposed by various governments.
This is a great example of a simple transaction in which governments are sucking the life out the economy. Probably near 80% of the money required for this simple repair would've gone to governments. All for no real gain by me, rather just trying to repair a rather critical household item and get back to where I was before it broke.