The Federal Trade Commission has charged three manufacturers of add-on motor vehicle braking systems with making false and unsubstantiated advertising claims that their products are anti- lock braking systems (ABS) that protect against wheel lock-up. According to the FTC, all three companies promoted their add-on braking devices as genuine ABS systems when, in reality, the companies' products are substantially different in design and operation from true factory-installed ABS equipment and do not prevent or substantially reduce wheel lock-up and the resulting skidding that can occur during emergency stops. Nor could the companies back up their claims that the devices make vehicles stop in shorter distances and make driving them safer, the FTC challenged. The add-on braking devices cost consumers between $400 and $700 or more per set, and are sold in sets of two per car.
The FTC is seeking an order that would prohibit the specific misrepresentations challenged by the FTC and would require substantiation for the performance and safety claims made by the three companies.
The companies, and their respective presidents, charged by the FTC include:
- BST Enterprises, Inc., maker of ABS BrakeSafe equipment, and Michael Woodruff;
- Brake Guard Products, Inc., maker of the Brake Guard Safety System, and Ed F. Jones; and,
- Automotive Breakthrough Sciences, Inc., and ABS Tech Sciences Inc., makers of A*B*S/Trax systems, and Richard Schops.
BST is located in Garland, Texas. Brake Guard is headquartered in Spokane, Washington. Automotive Breakthrough Sciences, Inc., and ABS Tech Sciences, Inc., are both based in Wheatley Heights, New York.
"Consumers count on advertising to provide information that is truthful and useful," Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection said. "In these cases, the Commission issued these complaints because it had reason to believe the information was both false and unsubstantiated. Whenever claims regarding safety benefits are involved in the advertising and marketing of a product, we will look at those claims with particular care and concern."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the automobile industry define ABS as a system that automatically controls the degree of rotational wheel slip during braking. Currently, manufacturer-installed ABS employ electronic sensors at the wheels that detect wheel slip, or lock-up, and automatically adjust brake pressure as needed to alleviate it. According to the FTC complaint, the add-on systems at issue do not meet the NHTSA standards.
According to the three separate complaints, each of the companies falsely represented that their products are anti-lock braking systems that perform as well as ABS during emergency stops, comply with ABS standards, and entitle a consumer to ABS insurance discounts. Among other charges, the complaints allege that:
- the add-on brake systems do not prevent or substantially reduce wheel lock-up, skidding, and loss of steering control in emergency stopping situations and do not provide benefits equivalent to those of ABS;
- installation of the add-on brake systems will not qualify a vehicle for an automobile insurance discount in a significant portion of cases; and
- the add-on systems do not comply with NHTSA or Society of Automotive Engineers standards pertaining to anti-lock braking systems.
The complaint also charges that, contrary to each company's claims, tests do not verify that their products reduce stopping distance by the percentage specified in the ads.
The FTC also alleged that the ads and promotional materials for ABS BrakeSafe and Brake Guard included testimonials from consumers that do not reflect the typical or ordinary experience of consumers who have used the products, while implying that they do.
If the FTC charges are upheld following a hearing by an administrative law judge, the FTC said it is seeking an order that would, among other things:
- prohibit the three companies from using the initials "ABS" in the name or logo, or in any advertising, promotion or marketing, of the product at issue or of a substantially similar product;
- require that they cease making several false and unsubstantiated claims, including that such devices are anti-lock braking systems and prevent or substantially reduce wheel lock- up, skidding, or loss of steering control in emergency stopping situations;
- require scientific substantiation for any claims regarding the stopping distance of any braking system and that any attribute, efficacy, performance, safety or benefit claim for any motor vehicle accessory be true and substantiated;
- prohibit them from misrepresenting the compliance of any product with any standard, the contents or conclusions of any study, or the availability of insurance benefits in connection with any product;
- prohibit deceptive testimonials; and
- require that they notify distributors and identifiable past purchasers about the FTC's action so that these consumers will be aware of the FTC's conclusions.
In addition to the specific prohibitions, the proposed FTC order also would contain various reporting and recordkeeping provisions designed to assist the FTC in monitoring the companies' compliance.
The Commission vote to issue the complaints was 5 - 0.
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 issuance of a complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has violated the law. The complaint marks the beginning of a proceeding in which the allegations will be ruled upon after a formal hearing.
Copies of the complaints and proposed notice orders are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available ont he Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC Matter No. 9423200 - BST
No. 9423201 - Brake Guard
No. 9423186 - Automotive Breakthrough)