Paying for Failure

The vertical machining center built in 1996 was dirty, but it had been making parts a week earlier in a factory near Milwaukee. When we brought it into our plant our best mechanics looked at it and motioned for help.

We called a local CNC repair firm and asked for assistance. The repair guy they sent charged $120 per hour, plus $75 per hour travel time. He was booked up for a week. We checked his references as best we could. Nothing negative showed up on the web, so I decided to take a chance on him and signed a paper he thrust into my hand.

After a day of noodling around the machine, he said the control was giving him consistent error signals. By the second day, he declared that he needed a new board. I OK’d the order of the part. He came in with it three days later. He then attempted to reset the parameters but ran into more glitches.

He called a colleague to consult, and they fretted for five hours and still couldn’t get the machining center to perform properly. They were getting frustrated and irritable. I overheard them calling my machine “that old jukebox” and speaking disparagingly about the dumb machinery dealer who paid good money for a “boat anchor.”

After five days, the repair guy told me that his “operating clients” needed him and that they took preference over a “speculator.”

I told him I had lost faith in him. He presented me with a bill for $6,073 for labor and travel plus $1,247 for the board.

I told him I wasn’t better off than before he showed up. He said, ”you agreed to pay for my time and material. I could not guarantee success on that thing,” pointing toward my VMC.

So what should I do in this case? I despise rewarding failure. I want to pay for success, not hours expended to no avail. He told me that when you go to a doctor you get no guarantee.

I have not paid him and he is threatening legal action.

Question: Should you have to pay a technician who fails to fix your problem?

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31 thoughts on “Paying for Failure

  1. Brent Mackintosh

    It really depends if he was being up front about no guarantees for success. If he was, then you would have an obligation to pay him for his attempt to repair the machine. However if he presented you with empty promises and glossed over your obligations, then perhaps you could negotiate a settlement. These types of disputes happen over a lack of communication on both parties. I would study the agreement you signed.

  2. Ed Gnifkowski

    You paid for the board. He was obviously working outside his area of expertise. I wouldn’t pay him for services unperformed. A positive gestgure would be to pay him for his travel. Consider it a lesson in smart buying.

  3. Denny Esford


    As a lawyer and former tri-state service manager for a major Illinois machine tool distributor, I feel your pain. Unfortunately, many CNC repair guys do not have the sophisticated skills or equipment to really diagnose your problem and end up doing trial-and-error parts replacement based on what has worked for them in the past.

    Whether the contract you signed is legally enforcable is a good question considering he did not actualy fix your machine, i.e., it looks like he failed to perform. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details (of the written agreement). You are probably on the hook for the part, but labor may be another issue entirely.


  4. Jim Goerges

    If you choose a reputable firm, have a conversation with them. If you were trying to “low bid” you seem to have received what you contracted, you owe money. The question is what price would have fixed the machine problem? If this number is $20k for example, you still have issues. Maybe the real question is what were you told when you took this machine on trade, was it disclosed properly? If they said it never worked after an electrical storm, then, you must realize that fixing the machine is a dicey thing. More importantly did you disclose to the person you hired that it had “electrical damage” caused by an electrical storm. So, as with most things, if there is more to the story, those things should be considered in your decision. Is stiffing a guy $6K and having your name associated with that worth anything? Tough decision, choose wisely! Good luck!

  5. Chris k.

    I will take him to court for lost machine time,B…SING ON THE JOB.
    He is what I call idiot.Send report to B.B.B,and make the company name “famous”
    on the internet.We like to know to who not to call.We have to put end to this “wanabees”.

  6. Leonard Jones

    I say you need to pay the bill, same thing as buying a used car if it breaks down you still pay to repair it and it is not always as simple as just replace the parts.

  7. Jeff Richlin

    As both a customer of service and a supplier I feel your pain in both directions. We are faced with this issue all the time. We at Richlin Machinery are asked all the time to fix all kinds of stuff. We are knowledgeable in all types of machine repair. We have learned over the years what can be fixed, what might be fixed and what should be left as better off dead. We also have learned over the years what factories are capable of supporting a repair of a machine that is 16 years old. This is not to say that there has not been a cost involved with acquiring this knowledge. In our 40 years of supporting technical equipment we have had to eat plenty of uncollected service calls. For us this has been a better way to go, keep the client’s good faith, have beans and rice for dinner that night. We have learned as a supplier to make the issues clear at the start: R and D = paid by the hour or Fix it for a fee. There is always a gray area of what happens next. A reputable supplier will adjust his bill for services rendered. At the same time a buyer will do the same. There should be some FAIR middle ground. Sounds like in this case that they did not perform, did not communicate, and did not build any good will. I think you have a strong case to argue for non payment due to lack of performance. Good luck.


  8. Jim Rutkowski Jr

    I would get with my legal team and go over contract first.
    Then, I would get the gentleman back in my facility and see what can be worked out.
    If he refuses to work with you, then you can do the following:
    1) Return the board since that was not the issue if you can.
    2) Determine what you feel is a fair cost for what he produced. Write him a letter detailing what you are willing to pay and your reasoning. Pay him for that and put paid in full in the comment of the check. If he cashes the check, your issue is resolved since he accepted payment for this per what is on the check.
    In the future, use a not to exceed P.O. for one days service and any future work to be discussed at end of each day.
    That way, you are not surprised by an evergreen bill.
    Finally, post your frustration about the providers service on net for all to see.
    Just remember, he will probably do the same in reverse on you.

  9. Val Zanchuk

    Unless there is some sort of best efforts clause in the contract, I think there is an expectation that the vendor will fix the problem. If he’d been honest about his lack of success (and/or skill) in fixing your problem, he would have stopped long before he spent all that time on the machine, giving you some feedback on his progress, and the opportuntity to decide to throw more money at the problem or not. I think you should pay for the board (and try to return it, even with a restocking charge), his travel time (a goodwill gesture, since he traveled more often that he should), and the time he should have spent on the machine before he reached his limit of knowledge. This last bit is an opportunity for some negotiating with him if you want it, otherwise it’s your judgement call.

  10. Joe Dvorak

    I have had this before on “old Jukebox” machines. The question is not if you pay. The question is the amount. Fact is he did work for you. You are better off then before. Now you at least know what is Not the problem, The repairmen I have had were honest enough to discount heavily when they could not find all of the problems. I would pay $2,747. The board cost plus $1,500 for time. GOOD LUCK!

  11. Chuck Snow

    I have been in your shoes before and unless you get a guarantee from a service provider I think that you need to pay the invoice. We spent thousands trying to repair a Meritor automatic transmission in one of our Kenworth highway tractors unsuccessfully.
    I know that it just does not seem right and my best advice is to spend more time researching service providers in future.

  12. David Chacon

    If he promises to fix the problem , you should not to pay it. But a lot of customer look for a technical service for fix any problem and this is that they hope or at least looking for any answer or suggestion about what is the best path for re-start any machine ( in some occasions , change some spare part or change the machine at all ) and this is the goal that people who works in maintenance or technical service ( like me ) should to look for. We need to look for the best choice for our customers

  13. clayton smith

    I agree with Joe D. You have to pay something especially if they tried. I had my electricians out to fix a Proth grinder and after several days he found out what the problem was but couldn’t fix it without a board.

    It took several months to get a response from Proth and to find their distributor, which I finally did after writing to China and $ 1700.00 worth of boards are on the way that I’ll install myself but I still had to pay the electricians.


  14. Jim Paich

    Offer to let him complete the job or deduct from his bill the amount to have someone else repair the machine.

  15. Seth Emerson

    Remember the story about the manufacturing engineer who retired out of this big company. About a month later his old boss calls him. “Lloyd, (That was his name, honest) The machine that you worked with has stopped. It won’t re-start and the production line is backing up!” Lloyd agrees to come in and fix the machine. He shows up with a little hamer and a tape measure. He tells his old boss that he will fix the machine for $4000. His boss is desperate and agrees. Lloyd pulls out the tape measure and measures one side of the machine to mark a single coordinate point. He pulls out the hammer and gives the machine a sharp “rap” on that spot and the machine starts up and merrily chugs into production. His ex-boss is relieved, but tells him: “Lloyd, I can’t pay you $4000 for a single rap of the hammer!” Lloyd agrees to provide an itemized bill. The Bill = Item (1) single hammer blow = $10, Item (2) Knowing where to apply the hammer blow $3990. Total $4000. It looks like your guy knew how to accomplish the first part of repairing your machine – He probably didn’t know the second part. I agree that a travel cost reimbursement and the cost of the board is probably enough.

  16. Joseph Waszak

    No Way should Anyone get paid for FAILURE !!!!!!!! ( I Don’t get paid for doing nothing )
    What I am astonished at ,is the fact that the so called president of these good old United States is still on the pay roll ?????????????????? ( All he does is WASTE Many, Many GOOD Peoples Time, Money, And Effort.) I can Not begin to immagine the Dollar figure that can be put on the wasted effort of ALL That he has caused.)
    Any one of my Grandkids could do a better job than obamma !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And NOT wreck the country , as he is desperatley trying to do.
    America needs to WAKE UP !!!!!!!!!! BEFORE it’s WAY TOO LATE.!!!!!
    We Have to get ALL The dead beats And Un-Qualified off the pay roll !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Joseph waszak.

  17. Alan Hyman

    I had a similar issue with an electric forklift I was not familiar with. I called the local dealer who when asked said yes I have a tech who is familiar with this unit and can fix it. I said OK I’ll pay you your hi tech rate for your expert. Almost identical scenario unfolded as you described to yourself. Tech installed new parts he determined it needed only for it to behave same as with old parts in it. I called the dealer up and politly said you have 2 options as I see it. Continue to work on it and only charge me from here on out or call it quits. Tech showed up first thing in morning and swapped out the new parts for old and left. I thought electronic parts were non-returnable? By choosing this option he basically admitted to failure and that he had no faith in his tech to continue. At $120 an hr I would expect an expert not a parts mechanic training himself on a new beast. How do you even know he didn’t do any damage in his attempts? You don’t owe the guy a red cent, why would you even consider paying him? If the guy was honest he should have told you straight up the first day hey i’m not real familiar with this unit so before I start accumulating expensive time etc. this that not tic toc on your time. I see one idiot here and if you pay him then 2 idiots. Car dealerships do this all the time, if they have 12 techs in there shop maybe 2 are seasoned pros all the rest are amateurs at best yet they charge the same, I wouldn’t let one put air in my bicycle tire.

  18. Bob Grover

    I had a similar situation occur with a company that was working on an assembly machine. They were to get the machine operational by performing engineering and replacement of parts. After they took the machine and worked on it for months it never was operational. They sent me a large bill that I refused to pay. After they thought about what they did on the machine they decided to forget about the payment. I sent a payment for their materials but not labor. You should be able to work out some sort of agreement that benefits both parties. If I was the owner of the company that worked on your machine I would not charge the full amount, as I stand by and guarantee, my work!

  19. John Otto

    I’m no lawyer but I do live by a code that certainly seems to have been lost in translation. Some of us grew up watching Andy Griffith – my dad looked just like him but it seems like the MBA’s have infiltrated our world.

    That being said, I’m sure that if you read the contract you will be screwed. I work without contracts because if I took the job on and didn’t fix it my conscience would kick in, but I guess I must be a Flintstone.

  20. Don VanHoosier

    Lloyd, I had a similar problem with a 1994 Cincinnati Maxim 500. The tech spent the first day going through all the circuits , saying he was close to a solution. By the end of the second day he was cursing and throwing things. Third day he decide that the card cage back plane was faulty and we ordered that. Thee days labor plus travel and accomodations already. Came back the following week to install card cage / back plane.
    This did not fix machine, eventually fond a loose fuse on output card and got machine to start up. He did not turn machine off to verify that it would start again. He said it was ready to go and left. Next morning machine would not start , same as before he came.
    With the help of their telephone support I tracked the problem down to a shorted out cable on the coolant solenoid . They sent me a bill for $7200.00 . I worked negotiated to pay for parts and they wrote off $6000.00 in labor, hotel and travel. They felt bad and have given great support for our machine since. So I would definitely negociate something you can live with. Good luck as I know this can be a tough call.

  21. Don VanHoosier

    Lloyd , I forgot to ask what brand and model of machine it was and general idea of what is wrong with it. Just interested , I kind of like to learn about issues people have had and if they get resolved.

  22. Fred Jones

    This is the same as your car. If it is out of warranty you are at the mercy of the mechanic. It is trial and error to find a good honest one. Even if you choose to use the dealer there is no guarantee the mechanic is a good one and they WILL make you pay before you can have your car back. I experienced your same story on a machine but I called the manufacturer for the repair. The outcome was no different. The machine is still not fixed to this day. If we did not pay we would not be able to receive factory service or parts.
    Their resolve to this issue was to send us a list of every part in the B-axis for replacement ($15000) and another $4000 for the labor, all to be paid up front.
    This was after we had already paid $6000 for the service performed that solved nothing.
    We are now on C.O.D. for parts or labor because I complained as far up the ladder as I could.
    This is a MAJOR machine manufacturer with world wide sales.

  23. Mark Ellenberger

    The most common problem I ran into in all my years of service repair is; company purchases machine hires regular electrician to hook it up, the 3 phase power is not balanced, one phase is 170vac. The regular electrician hooks it up “unwittingly” to the control power (cpu power) and instantly frys the control at power up. Now the $$$$ machining center needs a new control which will set the company back 6 to 20K. Be careful who you hire to wire your machining center. When power is applied there is no turning back.

  24. Jim Cerutti

    We had a similar issue about 5 years ago. We had a VMC about the same age as yours from a nationally known Manufacturer. The machine tool distributor told us it was a control issue and to call them. OK no problem we got them in here and they spent a day testing and calling the office. The repair guy said it was a drive board and we said oK order one. Next day he installed it and promptly burned it out. Long story short after 3 boards and 5 days messing with the parameters and calling the office we had enough. They guy just didn’t know how to fix the machine and was learning on the job.
    One of my friends who own a shop close to us recommended a free lance guy to come in and look. He had worked for the machine tool builder years before. He had the machine running in 3 hrs with a spare board he had in his truck and a new spindle drive cable that he made. The cable was bad all along.
    I got a bill for over 12K from the control Co. We refused to pay for all of it and offered to pay for one day and one board. Many phone calls from them later we agreed to pay about 7K of the bill. I sent the check and thought it was behind us. They sent the rest of the bill to a collection agency! We still refused to pay and threatened to sue. I was told we couldn’t get service from them any longer. NO problem there!
    I tell any machine tool builder who comes thru the door we only deal with certain control builders and have never had a problem. I was told after the fact this was common with that Company. We gave them a PO to repair the machine. It was never repaired by them. I feel I did more than enough paying them the 7K.

  25. Mark Berenato

    No, I would not pay him his full charge. I have had expierences that were similiar and if the machine was not fixed I was not paying the full amount. I may offer a amount for some work but not payment in full. Most reliable machanics won’t charge if they cannot find the problem.

  26. John Corrigan

    Think about it as if you were the one who spent that time trying to fix it. This is how this person makes his living. He is not in it for charity. This is another case of a customer wanting something for nothing. Would you sell a machine for a lower price at a loss after your customer already agreed to a set price? Again, the up front agreement is what is important. Stipulate that if the machine is not fixed, there is a financial remedy.

  27. Curt D

    Hi Lloyd,

    Any chance you can go back to the seller? Sounds like they need to kick in some money to make this deal right for everyone. If this machine has that many problems and they didn’t say anything on the front end. It might be worth a few phone calls to let them know the status and ask for some help so you can pay the bill and not loose money on the deal. Then work with the tech to see if he can knock down the bill a few thousand since he didn’t solve much.

  28. dan k

    How many years have you been in business Lloyd?
    If you’re regularly involved in buying CNC machines for resale, it seems you
    would have made friends with more than one ‘good’ cnc tech by now.
    Or have a good one on the payroll at a more reasonable pay rate….say $25/hr?
    Hard to find good techs….
    I think there are some sharp dealers out there that have invested the time to learn how to
    fix certain brands of cnc machines themselves, and save on the big invoices. They probably buy selectively and only those brands they are familiar with. Maybe they have good relations with sharp techs that really know certain brands?
    Some strategy to consider for “next” time…..perhaps?

    This is the chance -everybody- takes when they buy a cnc machine, or a car, or a
    bulldozer without seeing it run first. In other words, be prepared for these types of outcomes if you buy under these parameters. Or…..stick to buying simpler cam operated
    machines that do not have any computers attached.

    This is a loose-loose situation.
    You hurt because you have a big bill and a still-broken machine
    Tech guy is frustrated and will hurt if you don’t pay for all the time he has spent.
    Probably if you don’t pay and they send this to collections or small claims court, a judge will settle it by cutting the bill in half? Each of you is half mad and half glad it is half settled…but still a no win.
    Lesson learned?

    dan k

  29. R B

    Yes you are a businessman.
    Yes you have got a problem VMC.
    Yes you may have bought a lemon or it got damaged in transit or at installation.
    Yes that makes for a really lousy day.
    Yes you need to Grow-up and Man-up!
    Sounds like you owe the Tech guy his money.
    Just because you bought a machine that crapped out on you is no valid reason to stiff someone who tried to help you in good faith. Grow up and own up to your obligations.
    Pay the Tech and send him a letter of apology.

    You most likely don’t have much legal or moral real estate to stand on.
    You most likely didn’t have a “fix-it or you don’t get paid” clause.
    A court would most likely side with the tech over you.
    When you lose and there is a court order to pay what’s owed and penalty the Collection companies are a giant pain to deal with and can leave lasting bruises on you & your company reputation with banks, other creditors, customers, suppliers…..

    That said, there are a couple of things you may want to do the next time you buy a piece of equipment:
    1) Have a full diagnostic run on the machine before you buy it and keep a FULL record of it BEFORE you buy the machine by your own sourced technician(s). This is especially important on older and limited history machines. models and brands.
    2) Run a trial test piece as a reference article. The trial piece should have features similar to what you plan to use the machine to make. Get the trial piece fully inspected and documented. Keep the piece and pack it carefully.
    3) Stipulate in your purchase contract that the payment for the machine is contingent upon it being installed at your facility, that the same full diagnostic be conducted by the same technicians, obtaining the same results & keeping a copy for your records. Also make the payment contingent upon making the same trial piece as before, have it fully inspected, and have it match the pre-ship piece.
    4) BE HONEST and FAIR.
    5) Buyer beware is something the even the Romans knew.

    Sorry for your troubles but don’t stiff others because you have troubles.


  30. Jim Goerges

    Lloyd, how about telling us how you handled the situation? You asked, we gave, let’s have closure now, what did you do?

  31. JOL

    Repairing used equipment is not a black and white situation. Your company had every opportunity to stop the technician from continuing to work on your problem. It sounds like you might have started to doubt his skills before the entire week went by, why not tell him to stop working on it immeadiately, and submit a bill for time up til then?

    More importantly as previously stated you could have spent smart money up front and had a factory tech or hired third party service group to inspect the machine before purchase, identify some issues that will need repair, and use that diagnosis to negiotiate a lower price on the equipment since you can verify before hand it will need $XXXX.XX of dollars to bring it back into service.

    We have customers who self diagnose their problem, tell us what parts they want replaced only to show up and find out that the items they felt failed were not the actual problem. Who’s fault is that? We were only doing what the customer requested and can’t help that instead of paying for a professional diagnosis they used their maintenance staff to determine the problem.

    You owe the tech for parts, travel expenses, and should negiotiate a discount on some of his labor. People who think the choice to not pay anything and go on the internet to bash the repair facility are ludicrious. A technician can not work miracles every time.

    I would be asking myself why did the previous owner sell the machine in the first place? Maybe they knew this was a ticking time bomb, and washed their hands of it so they were not stuck with thousands in repair costs like you find yourself in.


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