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California and the West

State Wants 18 Econo Lube N' Tunes Shut Over Violations

July 14, 1998|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Accusing all 18 company-owned Econo Lube N' Tune shops in California of pressuring customers into purchasing unneeded parts and service, state officials announced Monday that they are attempting to shut down the facilities permanently.

Ron Joseph, acting director of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, said he is asking an administrative law judge to invalidate the registrations under which the shops had been operating and to revoke the probation under which they earlier had been placed.

Among the shops affected are facilities in Barstow, El Cajon, Fontana, Hesperia, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Lawndale and San Diego.

An additional 110 independently owned Econo Lube N' Tune franchises throughout the state are not targeted by the action by the Bureau of Automotive Repair, which is a division of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Joseph said that in January 1996--reacting to previous instances of misleading statements and fraudulent sales by the company-owned shops--a judge placed all 18 on three years' probation.

Under a stipulated agreement in that case, the company was specifically prohibited from selling unnecessary parts and service.

Nonetheless, Joseph said, consumer complaints continued, and an undercover investigation by the bureau at a company-owned shop in Fresno confirmed that the fraudulent practices were continuing.

"The investigation also confirmed that the company was using misleading advertising to entice customers into more costly--and unnecessary--repairs," Joseph said.

He said a subsequent statewide investigation of Econo Lube N' Tune's corporate shops "confirmed continued violations, including fraud, oversell, false and misleading statements, unfair business practices and false and misleading advertising."

Six years ago, the bureau conducted a similar investigation of auto repair facilities run by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Joseph said that in that case, investigators determined that company sales quotas and incentives had led to the sales of unneeded repairs and maintenance service. He said Sears changed its practices and agreed to pay $8 million in an out-of-court settlement.

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