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AAA -- Driving the Little Man Into The Ground?

Posted by: Annika Darling @ Oct. 13, 2014, 4:50 p.m.

This is a story about double standards. This is a story about power. And this is a story about competition in the auto industry. But is this also be a story about survival for AAA?

AAA has been stirring up major controversy as of late, by the opening of their own auto repair shops – known as AAA Car Care, or CCIT shops. This action puts them in direct competition with their own AAA approved repair shops and does so at a great disadvantage to these shops.

A handful of said shops have reached out and are voicing their concerns with how this will fair for them down the road. Some of the major concerns are: AAA has recently began requiring that these repair shops turn over their customers' information; they have raised membership fees; and they are rerouting vehicles in need of assistance to their new repair shops rather than to the AAR (Approved Auto Repair) shops that have been supportive of AAA for many years.

There is fear that many of these smaller shops will not just lose business because of this new escapade AAA has embarked on, but that they will go out of business altogether.

Brian England, president of British American Auto Care Inc., along with other area businesses, has been opposed to what he refers to as a "flagrant violation of the covenants" in his community, and has been actively challenging AAA in court in order to "preserve the integrity and spirit that makes Columbia the wonderful community that it is today."

England says that "the industry is fractured, and we simply can’t devote the time it takes to fight back against this.”

England further writes:

This stinks of unfair competition and unfair trade practices for the following reasons:

  1. The AAA shops in many towns, like Towson and Frederick, MD have supported and promoted the AAA brand for many years. They have welcomed AAA staff into their facilities to evaluate them and to make sure they are following AAA approved standards. AAA has had insight into how the garages are run and what the industry best practices are. AAA is now using that same information to compete against the shops that gave them access to their information and their facilities.

  2. AAA can't be an independent spokesperson for an industry when they are now players in the very industry they may be commenting on. There is a very clear conflict of interest.

  3. Some AAA shops have run free auto clinics for AAA members. Now AAA is paying these shops back by going into direct competition with them. AAA approved shops pay AAA each year to be in a program that is now coming back to bite them.

  4. AAA can promote their own shops above the approved shops. Already they have their shops are listed before the AAA approved shops. They have one set of criteria for their own shops, and another set of criteria for independent shops. How is that trustworthy?

This is ethically wrong. AAA should be stopped from opening any more shops until these issues are resolved.

England maintains a blog on his site which is rich with more information: READ MORE ON HIS BLOG HERE.

AAA started their AAR program in 1975. Since, it has grown and grown and grown...and now, some would say, it's somewhat of a monster that has started to eat its own face off. Some argue this is simply bad business, others see it as morally wrong, still some see it as a brilliant business move. Is this how business should be done?

In its formative years, AAR was about guiding consumers to upstanding auto repair services. Today, it has turned into an advertising business -- one which exploits the dedicated mechanic shops that have been supporting them for years.

"It's about survival for AAA," says England. Maybe so, but it's definitely a way to continue to grow their monopoly.

What AAR shops are seeing is preferential treatment of AAA’s own auto repair facility. More and more tow trucks are routed to these facilities. To make matters worse, AAA has now began flooding areas with battery replacement trucks. A policy that aims to sell as many batteries as possible, under the justification that their mission is purely to get the car back on the road as fast as possible. The problem: many of these car’s batteries are good and simply need a jump.

Kenneth Quasney, president of Auto Sense, thinks this whole thing stinks.

"After years of providing excellent services to AAA, they have decided to build and manage their own service centers," says Quasney. "For the last 3 years (maybe longer), they have assured their approved service centers they would NOT route vehicles to their managed (AAA) repair centers. This in our opinion is not what's happening. They have built a business off of the backs of our members and now wish to end run them. I am not an approved service center myself. I saw this coming years ago and refused to participate. However, many of our members are refusing to renew their membership with AAA. They feel that AAA is after their Data Base (the approved service center)."

The drive for AAA to consume all of this business is ultimately going to drive smaller auto repair shops out of business. Maybe it already has. Maybe this is just the beginning -- the beginning of the auto industry's version of a zombie apocalypse! Way to go AAA.

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