AAPEX update: AMRA official calls for end to wallet flushing

AMRA’s Motorist Assurance Program provides maintenance guidelines for shops.

Wallet flushing – the practice of recommending unnecessary services in order to pad a customer’s bill – has long tarnished the reputation of the aftermarket industry. In the interest of eliminating this practice, the Automotive Maintenance & Repair Association (AMRA)’s Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) has provided business guidelines for repair shops.

To help repair shops operate in a reputable manner, MAP continually updates its guidelines. During the AAPEX show at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, Joseph Henmueller, AMRA director of administration, gave a presentation on wallet flushing. “We don’t ever want to talk about wallet flushing again,” he said at the outset of his talk.

Henmueller noted that the aftermarket industry still faces allegations of “odometer surfing,” which occurs when a shop knows nothing about a vehicle but the odometer reading, then suggests service based on no other information.

Another unfortunate practice is using accelerated service intervals, whereby the shop intentionally shortens the manufacturer’s suggested service interval to justify recommending service.

Still another unfortunate occurrence is bundling of unnecessary services. This occurs when a shop offers a package of services at a discount when the customer does not need all the services in the package.

MAP guidelines advise shops to first interview the customer the following:

  • Vehicle maintenance history
  • Driving conditions
  • Driving habits
  • Vehicle ownership plans

“If they are leasing, they may not have long-term ownership (in mind),” Henmueller said.

When inspecting a vehicle for problems, he said shops should be methodical, should document details, get the vehicle’s service history, and never condemn an automotive fluid solely based on the fluid’s color or the car’s mileage.

“The biggest complaint is condemnation of fluids based solely on color,” he said. “The bottom line is it (the recommended work) has to benefit the customer.”

Henmueller encouraged his listeners to ask themselves if the recommended work will prolong the life of the vehicle and/or maintain the vehicle’s performance.

“Will it reduce overall repair cost to keep the vehicle operable over its lifetime?” Henmueller asked.

He said shops should be aware of what auto manufacturers say in their technical service bulletins (TSBs). For instance, Honda says not to perform engine flushing on the lubricating system, while  Ford says demonstrating to a customer that specific fluids should be changed because of color is misleading.

Henmueller also advised listeners not to simply use the word “recommend.” “’Recommend’ is the wrong word,” he said. All of a shop’s service or repair offerings are recommendations. However, some recommendations are required, meaning that a part or service is necessary in order to bring that system back to its proper operating condition. Some service recommendations are only suggested. Suggested services are always optional and typically are offered to help avoid future, more costly repairs. By their nature, all maintenance recommendations are suggested.

One reason AMRA is concerned about the issue of wallet flushing is that the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), one of the most vigilant automotive regulators in the country, recently mounted a consumer protection campaign against wallet flushing. After investigation and conversations with representatives from the automotive repair trade, the BAR has determined that its current laws are sufficient in and of themselves to deter wallet flushing.

In recent statements, BAR stipulates that the OEM maintenance schedules are a starting point for maintenance services, Henmueller said.

California and other states require precisely what information shops should include on customer invoices. Henmueller said draining and refilling fluid should not be referenced as a “flush” service. “Fluid exchange” is defined as one-for-one fluid replacement, he added.

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