Does the automotive service business need an overhaul? The attorneys general of 43 states believe it does. And so do a great many consumers, according to a report released recently by the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). The product of a two-year study by the NAAG's Auto Repair Task Force and presented recently at the associ-ation's Consumer Protection Seminar in Santa Fe, N.M., the 139-page report calls auto repair the U.S. consumer's No. 1 headache.
That's a stinging indictment of the automotive service business-one tire dealers, as an important and growing segment of that industry, should not take lightly.
In fact, the NAAG, on the basis of this study, is calling for major reforms in the way automotive service outlets do business.
Other than the questionable assumption that a great many consumers are being ripped off for unnecessary auto repairs, the NAAG report offers some sound recommendations that service outlets and automakers would be wise to implement. Among these:
That service outlets inform consumers beforehand of all anticipated diagnostic and repair charges and obtain owner authorization before undertaking additional work not listed on the repair estimate;
Then, after the work is completed, that shops provide customers with detailed invoices itemizing all charges for parts, labor or other services;
That service outlets cease such incentives as sales contests, product-specific sales quotas and bonuses that might encourage the sale of unnecessary repairs;
That manufacturers redesign vehicle components to make them easier to maintain, repair or replace, and make owners' manuals more informative, so consumers can make knowledgeable decisions on car maintenance.
At least some of these recommendations are likely to turn up as reform legislation in these 43 states.
Before that happens, the industry should voluntarily adopt these consumer safeguards-lest legislators take the task in hand and come up with much less palatable regulations.