Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Free At Last, Free At Last! Great God Almighty, Free At Last!

Yea, verily! I have kicked another one of my corporate overlords to the curb!  Last year, I ushered Wells Fargo to the door after their abysmal customer service, and their ridiculous service charges were bleeding my checking account dry.

An even bigger, more enduring, and ultimately more satisfying battle was with my propane company, Amerigas.  I have been an Amerigas customer for all fifteen years I have been in my home in Virginia.  This was not entirely by my design, since the 500 gallon underground propane tank attached to my home was installed by the home-builder before our arrival.

The way these things go, the tank was owned not by me, but by Amerigas.  It was installed on my property, but Amerigas had sole rights to service the tank.  That meant that Amerigas had an actual monopoly on my propane purchases.

After a while, I started to check the propane prices on the regional and national market.  I kept this information in a spreadsheet and tracked every bill.  I know that petroleum prices in general have been rising, and I have no reasonable complaint about that.  But I noticed that Amerigas was charging me a premium for my propane, usually about $0.40/gal above market price.  Considering I purchase in 500 gallon blocks, this is a sizable chuck of change.  What's more, they would be very helpful in their program to "Amerilock" me in at that exorbitant price, while competitors in town were offering much cheaper propane.

However, I was legally unable to purchase from competitors, because Amerigas owned the tank.  I was stuck with Amerigas!

Seeing this, about five years ago, I asked Amerigas to allow me to purchase my tank.  They initially said, "OK," but because I was a "good customer", they offered to drop my price for propane to below market for the rest of the year, to which I happily agreed.

This little game went on every year for three years.  I would happily call and complain, request to buy my tank, and they would lower my price to below market.  As long as I was paying below market, I figured, "Heck, I'm getting a good deal, so why switch?"

Then a couple years ago, they got nasty.  Amerigas said they were no longer allowing tank purchases, and if I wanted to remove my tank, I would have to pay heavy surcharges to close my account, would have to hire a third-party company to remove the tank myself (to which NO third-party company would agree, because since I don't own the tank, they can't take on the liability of touching an Amerigas tank), and Amerigas would actually charge me to recover the remaining propane in my tank, propane that was bought and paid for by me.  I scoffed; I gnashed my teeth; and I swore, but there was little else I could do but eat the expensive propane costs for another year, continuing on as an Amerigas customer.

Finally, this year, I talked with a neighbor who was successful in his kicking Amerigas to the curb.  I knew it could be done!  Using his advice, I called Amerigas and informed them that I would like to purchase my tank, to which they responded, "We don't do purchases."  To which I responded, "Fine.  Then we will abandon it in place.  I will fill it with sand or you can come and get it, and we will take on a new supplier."  To which they responded, "Oh, well, it looks like we can sell it to you, for a price of $750." (Which is quite reasonable, actually.)  I placed a lock on the tank (so they wouldn't fill it), and marked it as "DO NOT FILL."  The last thing I needed them doing was coming out to fill me up with 500 gallons of expensive propane as I'm trying to be rid of them.

After a couple of weeks, Amerigas finally generated an invoice for the tank, which I promptly paid.  Then I had to wait for my bill of sale to arrive.  It was this document that would allow me to prove ownership of my tank and shop my propane throughout town.  But the bill of sale wouldn't come.  The check had cleared, but no bill of sale.  After two more weeks, I finally called Amerigas and they apologetically said they'd send the bill of sale right away.


Finally, with bill of sale in hand, I owned the tank.  Hooray!!  I can call any propane company for service, and I can shop around for the best prices.  Isn't that how the free market is supposed to work?

I just got off the phone with Valley Energy, and they are offering propane today at $2.659/gal.  This sure beats Amerigas's Amerilock price of $3.49/gal!  So I pre-purchased nearly 1,000 gallons for this coming winter.  For our normal winter usage, this will be a savings of $831 for this year alone!!

SOLD!

21 comments:

Barry said...

Way to go!
Stick it to the man. Or are you the man... hmmm.
Well you know what I mean :-)

Dad said...

Unbelievable, isn't it! Good work. You should be a consumer advocate (when you're not making whiskey or brandy).

Matt and Deachi said...

Congratulations!!! Purchasing the tank will pretty much pay for itself in one season.

Scott said...

Exactly!

sandih1024 said...

Way to go Scott! You make your Mamma proud!

Anonymous said...

Hey Scott, I'm having the exact same issue with Amerigas. They are trying to charge me $3.91 gal when competitors are at $2.79. I've offered to purchase tank as well as tank swap. They refuse both. Tell me they don't do either any longer. I've said I'd abandon my tank just like you and was told they would then start charging me a monthly tank rental. I hate Amerigas. They are costing me an additional $250 to $300 month minimum.

Karen said...

I'm the anonymous comment above. Any suggestions?

Scott Harris said...

Tell them you won't pay the monthly rental and to come and get their tank, or else you'll rent a backhoe and place their tank on the curb. Sure, you are probably bluffing, but you have to get ugly. I swear, I feel for you. These are just the same kind of things that I went through.

Anonymous said...

I've done that. They told me I'm not allowed to remove their tank only they can, etc... It's been horrible. I'm having someone look at their damn contract this week. I'm trying to create such a stink that they will want me to leave. Quarrels is offering a tank swap but they are refusing to let me go.

Anonymous said...

They've also said, I'll either pay the rental or they turn it over to collection and ruin my credit.

Scott Harris said...

I would get a lawyer. I've heard some people had to do that.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's what I just told the district mgr today. One way or the other, I'm finding a way out. I can't take it anymore. Thanks.

Scott Harris said...

Good luck!

Karen said...

OMG! It's a miracle. After contacting for the ten thousenth time and telling them I now am moving on to seek legal counsel, they have agreed to let me buy or swap tanks. I'm out!!!!! Thank God, I'm out!!! The incredibly loud obnoxious wheel is now getting the grease. The battle is finally over.

Karen said...

Sorry, so excited, my prior post has spelling issues. lol

Scott Harris said...

Congrats! I'm sure the legal counsel threat did it!

Anonymous said...

Hey Scott....as a former employee of Amerigas (and will never work for them again) I can tell you that here in Iowa, an underground tank was never "owned" by Amerigas but simply "installed" by Amerigas. You might want to check with the contractor who built your house and/or the original home owner to make sure that Amerigas actually owned the tank. It's highly unlikely. Did they charge you any tank rental? If not, I can assure you they did not own the tank. Most realtors dont check on the status of propane tank ownership when trying to sell property. Do your homework and you could end up getting your $750 back.

Anonymous said...

Just an F.Y.I. Anyone can change LP providers at any time no matter who owns the tank. If Amerigas owns the tank on your property and you do not want their services, simply choose a provider that you want to switch to, ask them to install one of their tanks, and then contact Amerigas to make arrangements for them to pick up their tank. Be sure to give them a time constraint or you will be mowing around the tank for several months. They cannot charge you a tank removal fee since the new provider actually removed the tank for you, however, they will try to bill you a service "termination" fee. If you call the office and raise a little hell, they will write off that fee for you.

mas4492 said...

I have kicked Amerigas from five properties over the past 30 years. They are not a company I would deal with or stand by silently if some else was looking for a supplier. Way to go, big guy.

john said...

jumping in 5 years after the original blog. I am glad I found this. In Manassas, I bought my home last year and was told Amerigas owns the tank. I got my initial fill up for about $2.10 gallon. Then the next was $3.20 a gallon. This year I had one fill up at my lock price of $3.15 a gallon.

With fuel being so cheap right now, I started wondering what Propane was going for. It's about 2.04 nationally. When I called, they said the price was still 3.15. I found your blog, and called to purchase my tank. As it is 22 years old, the price was $800.

I'll save that $800 on the first delivery at the current $1.89 instead of $3.15.

They did all the paperwork by e-mail, took less than 2 hours!

I'll be sharing all this information with my neighbors!!

Thanks!!

Ann in Ohio said...

Help, I am having a similar problem with Suburban. I bought a house in Ohio and was told by the previous owner that he bought and buried the propane tank, but that he didn't have any paperwork. Suburban insists that they own the tank. Suburban wouldn't come out and fill the tank for more than a week and the tank was below 5% so I called another company. I looked at the serial number I could see on the underground tank and told Suburban the number. They said it didn't match. Another company filled the tank the next day. Suburban keeps insisting that they own the tank and that I have to pay $10,000 if someone else fills it. I asked for the lease agreement. It was from the original company that Suburban later bought. It doesn't have any terms for removal of underground tank. Renters rented the house for 10 years before the sellers decided to sell the house. I have a transfer form to transfer the acct from the owners to the renters, but it is not signed. I am considering asking our lawyer what to do. The realtor said we could ask the other company to remove the propane since we didn't know who owned the tank. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I never had an underground propane tank before.

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