ORLANDO, Fla.-It's a safe bet there will always be a need for automotive service shops.
Statistics compiled by the AAA, the leading provider of roadside assistance to North American motorists, bear that out. The group responded to 28.7 million calls for emergency road service in 2000-an increase of about 100,000 calls from the previous year.
The organization said the moderate increase in road service call volume reflects last year's healthy economy and motorists' willingness to spend money on preventative maintenance.
``Road service call volume could increase in the coming year,'' warned Marshall L. Doney, vice president, AAA Automotive Services, ``if consumers begin to defer new vehicle purchases, or mistakenly delay needed maintenance in reaction to high fuel costs or other economic uncertainty.''
AAA's advice to consumers concerned about the costs of automobile ownership is to carefully maintain their current vehicles to ensure trouble-free operation and avoid needlessly high repair bills.
``AAA independently inspects and approves nearly 7,000 automotive repair businesses-including new car dealerships and independent shops-as part of its Approved Auto Repair program,'' and encourages its 44 million members to patronize them when seeking reliable assistance, Mr. Doney said.
Fewer than half of the road service calls received by AAA in 2000-44 percent-resulted in the vehicle being towed for service. The majority of the stranded motorists were able to return to the road with the motor club's assistance.
Motorists who were unable to start their vehicles, usually because of battery failure, accounted for 20 percent of the calls. These vehicles typically required a battery boost or jump-start.
Other reasons AAA members required emergency assistance included:
* Lockouts-15 percent;
* Flat tires-12 percent;
* Extrication and winching-1 percent; and
* Out of fuel-1 percent.
Miscellaneous calls were 7 percent of volume, according to the organization.
AAA maintains a network of club-owned fleets and more than 13,000 independent service providers who operate 42,000 service vehicles-the largest such fleet in North America.