AOCA: OEM Maintenance Language Violates Warranty Act

Sept. 23, 2019

Onboard diagnostics systems, such as oil life monitors, are directing drivers to go to the dealership for service. The Automotive Oil Change Association argues that it's worded as a demand rather than a recommendation.

September 23, 2019—The more widespread use of oil life monitor systems in vehicles can be helpful to shops, particularly if it alerts customers who drive under severe conditions that their oil change interval is up sooner than expected.

But the Automotive Oil Change Association is alerting federal authorities to the language in the alerts, saying that they appear to be closer to demands than recommendations. Similar language was found in owner's manuals. Furthermore, the AOCA says that the intent of that language is to depict dealerships as the only option for the same service that could be performed at any independent shop.

Government Testimony

The AOCA, along with other organizations and individuals, submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission after an event called "Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions." The workshop was meant to discuss whether independent shops (and other repair businesses) are being illegally blocked restricted from doing their work by the manufacturers.

As part of its submitted research, the AOCA commented on how telematics systems like oil life monitors can be used to alert customers to needed service and divert them to dealers before an independent shop has the chance at that business. The organization says that it's one of many lines of communication between OEMs and customers, from advertisements and owner's manuals and now to the vehicle's dash display.

"No other automotive services subsector competitor comes close to matching that level of heretofore unthinkable consumer access," states the AOCA document, which was shared by Policy Director Joanna Johnson.

Legal Issues

One example from a Toyota Rav 4's dash display simply says "visit your dealer." Another, from a 2019 Mazda 3, says "have the vehicle serviced by your dealer." The AOCA noted that neither example came from a vehicle under a dealer's free maintenance plan.

"Both use imperative tone, aka command form, which is an order, not a suggestion or recommendation, and therefore unacceptable," the AOCA says.

The AOCA argues that this violates the "tie-in sales" provision of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The law says that manufacturers can't require the use of their branded parts at the customer's expense in order to keep a warranty. The AOCA presented similar examples from various owner's manuals.

The idea is that drivers might think that their only option is to visit the dealership for something like an oil change. The issue ties into a lot of other legislative topics, including the Right to Repair movement. The Auto Care Association weighed in with a submission of its own on the topic.

That organization said more broadly that all shops should have the same access to diagnostics data, particularly when the software is getting better at predicting oil life for preventative maintenance or even predicting parts failure for early replacement.

"We are not stating that the use of data for these purposes is not beneficial, but the fact that only the manufacturer can have access to this data clearly will provide the manufacturer and their authorized repair facilities with a substantial competitive advantage in fighting for the $327 billion that consumers spend every year on repair and maintenance of their vehicles," the ACA states.

Image: AOCA