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January 13, 2016

Volume 17 Issue 52

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Parts Stores Accused of Unfair Pricing

New Jersey authorities filed a civil suit Dec. 21 accusing several Pep Boys and Advance Auto Parts stores in the state of unlawful pricing practices.

Two offices in New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs said several stores in both chains failed to adequately disclose prices for automotive lubes and other products. Pep Boys said it has cooperated to address the complaints but claimed that the government tried to force the company to adopt impractical business practices and that it blindsided the company with its lawsuit.

Photo: Pep Boys

New Jersey accused several Pep Boys and Advance Auto Parts stores of unlawful pricing practices.

The complaints were filed through a joint initiative of the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection and its Office of Weights and Measures, which inspected seven Advance Auto Parts stores and five stores operated by Pep Boys in New Jersey, according to a Jan. 8 press release by New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General.

The purpose of the inspections was “to ensure that automotive parts stores comply with consumer laws regarding price scanning, disclosure of merchandise pricing, and notices as to the right to a written estimate for automotive repairs,” the press release stated.

The division conducted inspections at Advance Auto stores in East Orange, Newark, Linden, East Brunswick, Bloomfield, Avenel and Fanwood between January and February 2015, according to court documents of the complaint. The inspections found that all of these stores sold merchandise, such as Castrol automatic transmission fluid, Pennzoil marine engine oil and Advance Auto Parts brand marine grease, which scanned at higher prices than those listed at the point of display.

In addition, six stores offered merchandise without the total selling price attached to the product or at the point of display, including Shell’s Rotella brand synthetic, motor and engine oils.

Advance said it took corrective measures after learning of the allegations. “Advance is fully committed to providing accurate pricing in all of our stores. We are in the process of attempting to resolve this matter with the state of New Jersey in a constructive manner.”

The division said it inspected Pep Boys stores from January through March and found that merchandise at five stores in East Brunswick, Union, Roselle, Caldwell and Verona scanned at higher prices than those listed at the point of display. These included Pennzoil automatic transmission fluid; various Lucas Oil products like oil additive and lubricant; and Castrol GTX conventional motor oil in its synthetic blend and motor oil.

In four of the stores, inspectors found that items such as Proline brand motor oil were offered without a marked selling price. Furthermore, three stores failed to post a consumer notice about consumers’ right to a written estimate for motor vehicle repairs, as required by state law.

Pep Boys said the Attorney General’s press release about the case “fails to acknowledge the history of this matter and Pep Boys’ timely and cooperative responses to the allegations.”

The company said its executives met with Consumer Affairs and Weights and Measures officials in June and held subsequent conversations explaining their business practices. During those communications, it complained, authorities never provided notice of its consumer complaint.

“Several months after the executive meeting, the Attorney General proposed fines more than the applicable statutes maximum penalties and demanded that Pep Boys agree to institute onerous, and in some cases impossible, business procedures,” the company said. “Pep Boys was surprised with such a position as well as the filing of the recent complaint.” Pep Boys added that it will continue to work with officials from both offices to resolve the civil complaint’s allegations.

The civil complaint said the division is seeking civil penalties allowed by state statutes from both companies, plus attorneys’ fees and investigative costs. An official in the attorney general’s office could not provide those amounts by deadline.