In the latest law enforcement initiative targeting ads that use deceptive performance claims to tout motor oil additives, the Federal Trade Commission has charged the marketers of Dura Lube Super Engine Treatment and Dura Lube Advanced Engine Treatment with making false and unsubstantiated advertising claims, in violation of federal law. Herman S. Howard, Scott Howard and six corporations they control that manufacture and market Dura Lube face administrative trial.
Dura Lube is one of the largest engine treatment companies in the country and the fifth to be charged by the FTC with making false or unsubstantiated claims. The FTC has previously halted allegedly deceptive ads for Valvoline Engine Treatment, Slick 50 Engine Treatment and STP Engine Treatment. Motor Up Corporation, which was sued by the FTC on April 14, 1999, is awaiting administrative trial on charges that its ads were unsubstantiated.
The FTC alleges that packaging, labeling, print ads and infomercials for Dura Lube claim that compared to motor oil alone, or motor oil treated with any other product, using Dura Lube:
The FTC alleges Dura Lube did not have a reasonable basis to substantiate these claims.
The FTC also alleges that the advertising represents that tests establish that compared to motor oil alone, using Dura Lube:
However, tests do not prove that Dura Lube provides these benefits and therefore the representation that tests prove that consumers will realize these benefits is false and misleading. In addition, Dura Lube ads claimed that its product does not contain chlorinated compounds and that it has been tested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the FTC, these claims are false because Dura Lube contains chlorinated paraffin, a chlorinated compound, and Dura Lube has not been tested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Dura Lube infomercials featured a demonstration of an automobile engine running after the oil treated with Dura Lube had been drained out to prove Dura Lube reduces the risk of serious engine damage when oil pressure is lost. Another demonstration showed the response of untreated oil to heat compared to the response of oil with Dura Lube to prove that without Dura Lube, motor oil fails to protect automobile engines under hot running conditions. In fact, the FTC alleges, the demonstrations don't prove the claims made.
Finally, infomercial and print ads with a former NASA astronaut represent that he has expertise in the evaluation and testing of automobile engine lubrication and endorses Dura Lube on the basis of an independent, objective and valid evaluation or generally accepted tests. In fact, the FTC alleges, the former astronaut does not have expertise in evaluation and testing of auto engine lubrication and hasn't endorsed Dura Lube based on an independent, objective or valid evaluation or testing.
In addition to Herman Howard and Scott Howard, of Stamford, Connecticut, the FTC complaint names Stamford-based Dura Lube Corporation, which coordinates all of Dura Lube's business; Howe Laboratories, Inc., distributor of Dura Lube; The Media Group and National Communications Corporation, which provide advertising services. Also named are American Direct Marketing, Inc., based in Nashville, Tennessee, which directs marketing for the product and Crescent Manufacturing, Inc., headquartered in Eden, New York, which manufactures and packages Dura Lube.
The Commission vote to file the complaint was 4-0.
In an administrative trial, the FTC will seek to bar unsubstantiated performance claims about Dura Lube or any other product used in a motor vehicle. It will also seek to prohibit misrepresentations about tests or studies; deceptive demonstrations; misleading endorsements; and misrepresentations about whether a product contains a chlorinated compound or has been tested by EPA or meets the standards of any standard-setting organization.
NOTE: The Commission issues a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondents have actually violated the law. The case will be decided by an administrative law judge.
Copies of the complaint are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. Consent agreements subject to public comment also are available by calling 202-326-3627. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. 962 3136)