WASHINGTON—When you have what you think is a good thing, you want everyone to know about it. But up until now, companies adhering to the vehicle maintenance and repair guidelines of the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) haven't been able to do much crowing about their efforts.
The organization has gone a long way toward cleaning up the sometimes unscrupulous image of automotive service and has been very protective of its good standing—and use of its logos and trademarks—within the industry.
However, for the first time, service shops that have been MAP-accredited for a year—and participating companies whose facilities have MAP's blessing—can begin incorporating the MAP name and logo into their advertising. Previously, they could not advertise their affiliation with or accreditation by MAP, but were allowed to display its plaque and decal in their establishment.
MAP President Larry Hecker told Tire Business the organization's members requested and its board approved lifting the advertising ban in order to ``help them—and us—promote what we're doing'' while giving shops higher visibility and publicity to their customers and potential customers.
The nationwide rollout of Washington-based MAP's shop accreditation program began in October 1998 and is now complete.
The group verifies the use of its standards on a shop-by-shop basis through an annual accreditation process that then allows shops to post a decal proclaiming they are ``Accredited by the Motorist Assurance Program.''
Formed in June 1992 as the ``Maintenance Awareness Program,'' MAP was begun by a group of service providers, manufacturers, associations and automotive-related companies concerned about the reputation of the automotive repair industry following allegations of auto service fraud lodged against Sears, Roebuck and Co. The mass merchandiser became one of MAP's charter members.
Since then, MAP committees of automotive experts from some of the biggest names in the business have devised sets of ``Uniform Inspection & Communication Standards'' covering every major vehicle operating system, including: brakes; exhaust; electrical; steering and suspension; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; engine maintenance and performance; and driveline and transmission.
Currently, 170 member companies—representing 23,000 repair shops—belong to the organization nationwide through their participation in the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association.
Members from the tire industry include American Car Care Centers Inc., Big O Tires Inc., Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., Goodyear, Merchant's Tire and Auto Centers, Montgomery Ward Auto Express, Penske Auto Centers Inc., Pep Boys—Manny, Moe and Jack Inc., Tire Kingdom Inc. and Tireman Auto Centers.
MAP scrupulously protects its name and logo, which Mr. Hecker noted are federally registered trademarks. Any unauthorized use constitutes trademark infringement as well as a violation of state or federal statutes.
The new advertising policy—amending the standards MAP's board adopted in March 1997—guides the advertising practices of participating companies, and requires that:
All products and services advertised by companies participating in MAP are to be truthfully, clearly and accurately described and illustrated.
Advertising should enhance the image of the industry and help build customer confidence in the service provider.
MAP members also agree to:
1.Conduct themselves with integrity and in accordance with the highest ethical standards.
2. Ensure that any claim made in advertising is supported by a reasonable basis in fact.
3. Avoid depicting a product in an unsafe manner or in a use for which it is not intended.
4. Stand behind the products and services they sell.
5. Abide by all applicable advertising guidelines as set by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Federal Trade Commission, Broadcast Network TV Standards, and other regulatory bodies.
6. Make available in sufficient quantity all advertised products and services to meet reasonably anticipated demand, unless the advertisement discloses the number available or states the offer is good only while supplies last.
Consumers now will likely see MAP's name and logo in print ads and commercials, on stationery, business cards, business signs and commercial vehicles, and could even hear reference to a company's participation in MAP in its recorded telephone messages.
The group's logo stands for something, Mr. Hecker reiterated. Stores exhibiting it proclaim: ``My shop is a good place for customers to do business. We will try to take care of you in an honest and fair manner.''
In another change to the way it operates, MAP recently adopted new requirements, effective April 1, for communicating the results of a vehicle inspection to customers.
It is MAP policy that, ``before any service is performed on a vehicle, an inspection of the appropriate system must be performed. The results of this inspection must be explained to the customer and documented on an inspection form.''
All services offered and performed by a shop must be done according to MAP's Uniform Inspection & Communication Standards.
The organization further states that ``the condition of the vehicle and its components will indicate what services/part replacements may be `required' or `suggested.' In addition, suggestions may be made to satisfy the requests expressed by the customer.''
When a component is ``suggested'' or ``required'' to be repaired or replaced, the decision to do so ``must be made in the customer's best interest, and at his or her choice, given the options available.''
However, MAP continues, ``when a repair is required, a MAP shop must refuse partial service on that system if proceeding with the work could create or continue an unsafe condition.''
On the other hand, ``when a procedure states that `required' or `suggested' repair or replacement is recommended, the customer must be informed of the generally acceptable repair/replacement options whether or not performed by the shop.''
The group's guidelines advise shops that ``suggested repairs are always optional. When presenting suggested repairs to the customer, you must present the facts, allowing customers to draw their own conclusions and make an informed decision about how to proceed.''
The aim of the revision, Mr. Hecker said, is ``to provide as much disclosure and information as possible to customers so they can...understand more fully that suggested repairs are optional, as opposed to saying something is absolutely required.
``And that's the mission or theme we've been following all along. We've just refined the policy to make sure consumers know that.''
Since it began accrediting shops, MAP hasn't had to drop any, he said, though it has identified problems in a few. ``We told them, these are the problems; if you resolve them, we'll be happy to reinstate you. If not, you're out.
``In all the cases, they've very quickly taken care of the problems.''
At least eight or more companies have applied for but not received accreditation because they have outstanding complaints yet to be successfully resolved, he added.
As it fine-tunes and continually updates and revises its inspection standards, MAP has been working closely with at least 15 states that are interested in possibly adopting those guidelines.
Mr. Hecker said MAP also is helping some states develop uniform enforcement policies ``so that their investigators who go out to repair shops will have the same ruler and criteria by which shops are measured.''
A number of states, such as New Jersey, California, New York and Maryland, have strong automotive regulatory activity, he said, while others have consumer affairs departments that handle various types of consumer complaints that include automotive concerns.
In Florida, automotive repair comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which recently established a Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Its new director is scheduled to speak at MAP's monthly meeting in May.