In a bid to assure customers of the integrity of tire shops, the Tire Industry Association (TIA) plans to integrate the Motorist Assurance Program's accreditation into the association's certified store concept, due out next year.
Under the partnership formed by the two groups, a store, for example, can earn MAP's accreditation in automotive service, then work on TIA's standards for tire and wheel service. Officials from TIA and MAP said the two groups decided to partner to offer the tire and wheel program instead of wasting time and money by developing them separately.
``We needed to have a very defined and professional plan of action for all our members to follow in terms of taking care of customers,'' said Larry Morgan, TIA president. He added the program is a major project for TIA in 2004.
TIA's certification plan is due to be released next year, though the association still is mulling the ``Certified Store'' name. Plans for marketing the program among consumers also are to be determined later, though MAP officials said the group has some features like its Web site and TV spots that could be extended to include tire dealers.
``Our recognition level is very high,'' said Larry Hecker, president of Bethesda, Md.-based MAP, which is marking its 10th anniversary this year.
To participate, TIA members pay a discounted application fee of $75 for the MAP accreditation that is paid each year to renew the service. Without the discount, the fee is more than $300. TIA also plans to charge a fee for its designation, but the association has not yet determined the cost.
Both groups said the certification increases consumer confidence and at the same time increases value for the business.
``By accrediting auto repair facilities that follow standards that our organization has developed, it sends a message to the customer that those stores are worthy of continued visits and recommendations to others as well,'' Mr. Hecker said, adding the TIA partnership will take similar standards to tire work.
Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services for TIA, said the association is developing the standards for tire certification. He said eventually the association wants to include all of its dealer members-including automotive, commercial, earthmover, farm and industrial-in the certification program.
``We're focused on tires, and our certified concept is going to be more weighted toward technician training and education,'' he said.
No final criteria are ready for any of these segments, but he said automotive and commercial are first in line since TIA already has technician training programs for those segments. When the criteria is announced next year, he said the initial phase will focus on both of these sets of dealers, but the MAP certification only applies to automotive repair and the maintenance industry.
To gain MAP accreditation, repair shops must pledge to provide written recommendations for repairs based on system failure, improved system performance or preventive maintenance; offer a written estimate, including the reason for repair, and not perform any work without the customer's approval; employ personnel who are trained to MAP's Standards of Service; provide a written limited warranty at no extra cost; and provide free dispute resolution services from an independent program at the customer's request.
MAP also requires shops to meet other criteria, including assurance that none of the owners, principals, managers, officers or employees of the shop have been convicted of criminal offenses related to fraud in the marketplace within a two-year period of seeking accreditation. They also must prove the shop has not had a significant number of customer complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau. The accreditation also includes further criteria.
The organization was formed several years ago to improve the industry's public image and restore trust in automotive service businesses after Sears, Roebuck and Co. auto centers were accused of charging customers for unneeded vehicle services. MAP has since grown to include the support of many of the industry's major automotive and tire companies.
Its stated goal is ``to promote communication, education and cooperation among consumers, the automotive industry and government.'' And, MAP literature says, ``the choice is simple: Regulate ourselves...or face unwanted government regulations.''