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Auto Club sold batteries needlessly, lawsuit alleges

September 24, 2008|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

Members of the Automobile Club of Southern California who call for roadside help when they have a dead battery are often sold new batteries when only a jump-start is needed, a lawsuit filed Tuesday contends.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that the Auto Club imposes a quota system regarding battery sales on the tow truck operators who answer roadside assistance calls placed by club members.

Auto Club tow-truck drivers who fail to meet their quota risk losing "valuable future customers," the suit contends, and operators who exceed their quotas are paid unspecified incentives.

The suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of L.A.-area resident Paul Martin Davis-Miller.

According to the suit, Miller called the Auto Club this year when his car wouldn't start. The tow truck operator who answered the call sold him a new battery that cost him about $125.

"However, subsequent tests of the purportedly 'dead' battery have established that the replaced battery was fully functional and able to hold a full charge," according to the suit.

A spokesman for the Auto Club, which has more than 6 million members, said he hadn't seen the suit and couldn't comment on the allegations.

In 2001, the Auto Club launched a program in which tow truck operators could replace batteries at the scene of a breakdown rather than simply tow the vehicle to a repair facility. The service has been popular with members, said David Lang, the Auto Club's vice president of automotive services.

"We're not towing the member somewhere else; we're able to offer more immediate mobility," Lang said.

The Auto Club gets about 4 million calls a year for roadside assistance, including for dead batteries, lockouts and motorists who run out of gas.

San Francisco attorney William Audet, who filed the lawsuit, said the number of victims could run into the thousands. The suit seeks repayment for replaced batteries as well as unspecified punitive damages.

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martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

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