WASHINGTON-The National Association of Attorneys General's long-awaited report on the automo- tive repair industry is out.
Though it may provide some consolation and hope for a motoring public already wary of being ripped off by repair shops, reputable shop owners may well resent the broad brush with which the report paints the industry.
In calling for reform, the 139-page report-the first comprehensive analysis of the industry in more than a decade-said that automobile repair is the top concern of consumers nationwide. It further claims ``many of the dollars consumers spend on auto repair are spent on unnecessary repairs and services.''
Some shops, it said, deliberately and repeatedly defraud consumers.
The 43-member association, which goes by the acronym NAAG, issued the report Oct. 30 during a consumer protection seminar it held in Santa Fe, N.M.
Though the NAAG Auto Repair Task Force was formed in Decem ber 1992, in the wake of the Sears,
Roebuck and Co. auto service fraud scandal, the report does not cite any specific companies that have faced charges of auto service irregularities in recent years.
Its broad-based inquiry into auto repair practices was conducted via surveys, research and public forums, including ones in Washington, D.C., in October 1993 and Des Moines, Iowa, in April 1994.
The NAAG task force urged federal agencies to work with state and local governments to insure the integrity of vehicle repairs. Its recommendations include:
Requiring greater ``consumer disclosure'' by repair shops to help curtail unnecessary repairs;
Requiring explicit disclosure of repair work and charges before and after repairs, including detailed estimates prior to repair and itemized invoices afterward;
Making repair shops disclose the use of ``flat-rate manuals'' and that flat-rate times may not coincide with actual repair times.
``Flat-rate manuals should be as accurate as possible,'' the report said. ``Publishers should be able to substantiate the times listed, such as through the use of field or time studies.''
Reforming shops' incentive wage plans to eliminate contests, bonus programs and product-specific sales quotas, and instead rewarding technicians for the quality-not quantity-of repairs;
Reforming the service writer's role to ensure any verbal or written communications do not lead to overselling;
Improving the training and competence of technicians, especially in light of today's changing technological environment;
Having manufacturers identify and redesign frequently repaired items so that they can be more easily serviced or replaced;
Ensuring that independent repair shops have better access to the technical information necessary to make repairs properly and to ensure competitive prices;
Rewriting owner's manuals so that they are more complete and reader-friendly; and
Enacting or reforming state laws as necessary to implement these recommendations.
The report does not purport to be an exhaustive study of the repair and maintenance industry, but only a series of recommendations based on insights gathered by the task force.
It does, however, promote the use of certification programs-operated by private organizations-for automotive technicians and repair shops.
The report specifically cited three such programs, from the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP), the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Automotive Service Association (ASA).
The attorneys general singled out those associations' ``self-imposed'' codes of ethics and conflict resolution programs on behalf of consumers and repair shops. They also mentioned MAP's Uniform Inspection Guidelines, which currently cover repair procedures for some eight vehicle systems.
To order copies of the report, at $35 each plus tax, contact: NAAG, 444 N. Capitol St. N.W., Suite 339, Washington, D.C. 20001; (202) 434-8030. Fax: (202) 434-8008.