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Industry Associations Request FTC Intervention On Kia ‘Aftermarket Oil Filters’ Bulletin

Four industry associations have written the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking it to require Kia Motors to withdraw a February 2012 technical service bulletin on aftermarket oil filters and to issue a correction stating that the use of non-Kia oil filters is permissible and that it would be the automaker’s burden to prove that a non-Kia part caused any alleged damage before denying warranty coverage.

The groups — AAIA, the Automotive Oil Change Association, the Service Station Dealers of America & Allied Trades, and the Tire Industry Association — argue that the FTC’s lack of action on previous Magnuson Moss Warranty Act (MMWA) complaints is leading to more car companies misleading consumers regarding the use of non-OE parts. Additionally, they argue that the absence of action on the part of the FTC has led automakers to ratchet up “unlawful rhetoric and service directives.”

“Immediate action is needed to both protect consumers from Kia in the short term, and to stop other automakers from jumping on this anti-consumer bandwagon,” the May 7 letter reads.

This latest missive follows previous complaints filed with the FTC regarding …
• A 2010 announcement from Honda that stated “only by purchasing Honda Genuine parts through an authorized U.S. Honda dealer can you be assured of the replacement part’s authenticity, reliability and compatibility.”
• A 2011 complaint over a Mazda notice recommending that all maintenance and collision repairs be performed using Genuine Mazda Parts and stating that only Genuine Mazda Parts purchased from an authorized Mazda dealer are specifically covered by the Mazda warranty.

A number of aftermarket groups wrote to the FTC pointing out that the MMWA makes it illegal for vehicle makers or dealers to claim that a consumer’s warranty is void or to deny warranty coverage simply because someone other than the dealer provided service.

The FTC responded to the Honda complaint by issuing an alert letting consumers know their right to choose and indicating that an independent technician, a retail chain shop or even the car owner could do routine maintenance and repairs on their vehicles without jeopardizing the new car warranty.

The FTC has yet to respond to complaints about the Mazda bulletin, and now it has another automaker’s actions to consider.

The groups point out in their letter of May 7, 2012, that Kia — in Technical Service Bulletin #114 dated February 2012 with the subject heading “AFTERMARKET OIL FILTERS” — states the following:

Kia does not test or approve any aftermarket filters and only recommends the use of Kia genuine parts that are designed to operate at the specifications set forth during engine lubrication design and testing. If the engine oil has been changed recently and a noise condition has developed, perform an inspection of the oil filter and or Customer oil change maintenance records to help you in determining if an aftermarket filter or the wrong oil viscosity was used. If the vehicle is equipped with an aftermarket oil filter, perform an oil change and filter using the correct oil grade / viscosity and a replacement genuine Kia oil filter at the customer’s expense.

The aftermarket groups take issue with three things. First, the specification of “an aftermarket oil filter” as reason alone to replace the filter at the customer’s expense. They say this means that simply using an aftermarket part can void the warranty on a 2012 Kia. Secondly, they point out that Kia’s bulletin doesn’t contemplate diagnostic work to determine the source of any “noise condition,” but rather directs technicians to assume an aftermarket oil filter is to blame.

Additionally, they take issue with Kia’s directive that technicians automatically charge customers to replace aftermarket oil filters with Kia oil filters regardless of whether the aftermarket filter actually caused a problem. “This sounds remarkably similar to a warranty-voiding clause combined with a directive to ignore the manufacturer’s burden of proof under MMWA,” the aftermarket groups wrote in their letter. “To be perfectly clear that this is the case, Kia goes on to state the following: ‘Note: Customer concerns as a result of incorrect oil viscosity or use of aftermarket oil filter should not be treated as a warranty repair and any related damage is not warrantable, nor is changing the engine oil and filter to isolate this condition.’

They contend that, if a technician changes the aftermarket filter and the problem turns out to be caused by something else, warranty coverage for the service is nevertheless denied. “Every Kia customer using an aftermarket oil filter will lose warranty coverage for at least the parts and services associated with the Kia-directed automatic oil and filter change, as well as damages for other engine problems Kia alleges to be ‘related’ to oil filter function,” the group’s letter claims. “The MMWA manufacturer’s burden of proof is not that it need merely show an aftermarket part ‘relates’ to damage, but that it ‘caused’ any alleged damage.”

[Editor’s Note: Click here to see a copy of the aforementioned letter.]

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