I ndependent tire dealers have a new class action lawsuit to watch. This one alleges that national retailer Kmart Inc. has defrauded its automotive service customers.
Regardless of the outcome of this suit, the potential for more negative publicity about the business of automotive repair seems certain, as happened in 1992 when similar accusations were made againsts Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Now Kmart must defend itself.
A Tulsa, Okla., county district judge recently certified a national class action lawsuit that alleges Kmart ``engaged in a systematic scheme of fraud relating to the sale of automotive repairs and services'' at its more than 1,000 U.S. automotive repair centers.
Kmart denies all this and wants the Oklahoma Supreme Court to dismiss the case.
For independent tire dealers and other auto service providers, the allegations against Kmart represent another blow to the tarnished image of auto repair.
Beyond the publicity already generated by the case, attorneys for the plaintiffs plan to seek court approval to begin advertising the class action certification in 17 of the country's largest-circulation newspapers. Notices also will be mailed to thousands of Kmart auto service customers and fleet accounts.
If this happens, the story of Kmart's alleged automotive repair fraud will be repeated in newspapers and on television news shows nationwide.
By inference, the allegations against Kmart will tend to make all purveyors of automotive service suspect.
Is this fair? Of course not. But dealers and others offering automotive service might want to begin polishing their image in the consumer's eyes.
As a start, we suggest you restate your company's policy-to both consumers and employees-that you provide honest automotive repairs and treat customers fairly. Then set about developing and employing a set of procedures, as well as checks and balances, to ensure that fraudulent practices don't occur at your dealership.