AKRON (April 26, 2016) — The AAA, long a beacon of hope and assistance for stranded motorists on the nation's highways, has “poked the bear,” in popular parlance, and the bear's not very happy.
Putting its members/customers first has always been the watchwords of the organization since its birth on March 4, 1902, in Chicago in response to a lack of roads and highways suitable for automobiles — with nine motor clubs with a total of 1,500 members banding together to form the now ubiquitous “Triple-A.”
The group has, for the most part, elevated the providing of automotive service, with its member-providers' ever-present tow trucks on the scene to help out a motorist with a flat tire, dead battery and a host of other calamities that typically befall drivers.
But now the AAA has seemingly taken on a bit of a “Big Brother” persona — and some members of its Certified Approved Auto Repair (AAR) program are not comfortable with the group's demands that shops provide AAA with customer information as part of its Approved Auto Repair Agreement with member repair facilities.
According to a letter sent to AAR member shops last January, AAA-affiliated auto clubs across the U.S. “shall require all AAR facilities to implement an Internet-based repair portal and/or shop management system interface to send member vehicle service transaction data to AAA by Dec. 15, 2016.”
That requirement has some independent tire dealers and automotive service shop operators hopping mad over having to share customer data with AAA. Norm Jones, president of Kirkwood Auto Center in Wilmington, Del., called it “a privacy issue” since AAA would be taking data without customers' knowledge and permission. The other concern, he told Tire Business, is that “they are now our competitors, due to the fact that they are building their own shops in several parts of the country.”
Some aftermarket associations have become involved in this issue, including the Tire Industry Association (TIA), which has hosted meetings between AAA officials and AAA-certified repair shops that are also TIA members, according to TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield. “AAA is also a TIA member,” he said. “One dealer had been in the AAA program for 28 years, but quit over this. AAA says it is not taking the material for marketing purposes.”
Cathy Rossi, vice president of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, confirmed the information “is only to be used in the aggregate to identify trends,” noting “there is a great demand for auto repair, and we fulfill a need.” She also affirmed that the club is “a strong supporter of consumer rights and independent repair service.”
While we'd like to take AAA at its word, we urge it to better allay the fears of AAR member shops and explain its goals. The foremost concern of all involved should be the protection of private customer information.
Independent shops should not have to provide a growing competitor like AAA and its club-owned shops with data that could help them gain a competitive advantage.
This editorial appears in the April 25 print edition of Tire Business. Have an opinion on it? Send your comments — or a letter to the editor — to [email protected]. Please include your name, title, official name of your business, the city and state in which it's located, and an email address and daytime phone number for verification purposes.