Auto Service Centers To Reform Oil Change Advertising

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a series of settlements with some of the nation's largest auto service companies for misleading advertisements that understated the price of their oil change services. The companies advertised one price in large bold print but tacked on an additional fee that was inadequately disclosed to consumers.

"It is misleading to advertise low prices and then increase the overall cost to consumers by tacking on inadequately disclosed fees," Spitzer said. "It is important that companies be held to the prices for which they advertise their goods and services."

Buffalo Lube Associates, L.P., which operates 16 Valvoline Instant Oil Change shops in Western New York; Firestone MasterCare & Tire Services, which operates 61 auto shops throughout New York State; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which operates 50 auto shops in New York State; and Monro Muffler Brake, Inc., which operates 143 auto shops throughout the state have entered into settlement agreements with the Attorney General.

Spitzer's investigation revealed that the auto service companies advertised a set price for vehicle oil changes but routinely charged additional fees - such as environmental fees, oil filter disposal fees or storage and disposal fees - to the advertised price.

Spitzer's office raised the concern that, because these "unbundled" and undisclosed fees were inadequately disclosed, consumers were misled by the advertising.

Spitzer expressed satisfaction that since his office commenced the investigation, Buffalo Lube, Firestone, Goodyear and Monro all voluntarily agreed to cease charging the fees.

In settling the investigation, the four auto service companies agreed to pay collectively over $140,000 as civil penalties and costs to the state.

In a related matter, Spitzer's office settled a 2003 lawsuit against Mr. Oil Change, a Western New York auto service center, accused of falsely advertising its environmental fee and of falsely representing to consumers that it exclusively used Castrol bulk oil for its oil changes when, in fact, it was using a significantly less expensive brand.

In settling that case, Mr. Oil Change was required to change its business practices, including a prohibition against using signs that would have the capacity to mislead consumers about the brand of oil being used. Mr. Oil Change agreed to pay over $20,000 in civil penalties and costs.

These cases are being handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey of the Buffalo Regional Office.

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