AOCA Takes Further Action to Ensure Victory in FTC vs. BMW

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By filing complaints against Volkswagen-Audi and DaimlerChrysler in 2003, the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA) launched what would ultimately become an industry-wide automotive aftermarket campaign to convince the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop anti-consumer automaker behavior that violated the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act (MMWA)’s prohibition against tie-in sales of proprietary products and services.

In total, AOCA pursued eight complaints with the FTC against automakers including GM, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Kia Motors and BMW. Many will recall BMW’s 2012 Mini Cooper owners manual that went so far as to state, “[o]nly Mini dealers are to perform oil changes.”

The BMW complaint may have finally pushed the FTC over the edge. In March, FTC announced a proposed settlement that would (1) bar BMW, in connection with the sale of any Mini Division good or service, from representing that, to ensure a vehicle’s safe operation or maintain its value, owners must have routine maintenance performed only by Mini dealers or Mini centers, unless the representation is true and BMW can substantiate it with reliable scientific evidence; and (2) require BMW to provide affected Mini owners with information about their right to use third-party parts and service without voiding warranty coverage, unless BMW provides such parts or services for free.

Although FTC’s proposal was a good start, AOCA submitted comments urging the Commission to go further.  Specifically, AOCA asked them to (1) extend all requirements ultimately set forth in a final consent agreement to BMW at large rather than merely the MINI Division and (2) apply additional affirmative obligations.  

Why not just go along with the Commission? After all, the proposed consent decree was its first major action against an automaker for MMWA tie-in sales violations in the 21 century. Unfortunately, their proposed letter campaign was only directed at current BMW MINI customers still under warranty today. It also wasn’t enough to make BMW agree to follow the law when they’ve always been obliged to do so.

Moreover, since AOCA and fellow aftermarket organizations Auto Care Association, Service Station Dealers of America and Tire Industry of America, filed the original complaint against BMW for its MINI division’s MMWA violations, additional violations have come to light: the 2010 BMW Series 7 has an owners manual direction for tie-in sales of branded product (engine oil), and the 2013 BMW 128i convertible has an owners manual direction for tie-in sales of branded service.

Beyond shifting the focus to the whole BMW company, AOCA also urged the Commission to “require BMW’s owners manuals and automotive warranties to include a plain English anti-tying disclosure …modeled directly upon language approved by the Commission in its Consumer Alert entitled Auto Warranties, Routine Maintenance, and Repairs: Is Using the Dealer a Must?

In other words, automakers should “fess up” instead of forcing consumers to hunt for their rights in a maze of expert ambiguity.

While the Commission decides how to handle BMW on a final basis, AOCA urges fast lube operators to contact AOCA headquarters at whenever they spot tied-in product and service requirements associated with any automaker whether it turns up in owner’s manuals, engine stickers, Technical Service Bulletins, warranty invalidations from dealerships or advertisements. Make copies and/or take pictures and send it all in—evidence from the field can make all the difference!

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