AAA signs are now displayed by some 2,000 automobile service facilities in the United States and 1,100 in Canada.
Like American Automobile Association approval for restaurants and lodging, this sign signifies that an inspection team has visited the dealership, service station, or independent garage, and has found that it meets the high AAA standards.
So far, only about half of all AAA members are benefiting from the program.
Since 1975, when a pilot program was begun in Washington, D.C., and Florida, the AAA has gradually added cities and entire states to the program. Because the Approved Auto Repair Service (AARS) program is so thorough, it has taken time to bring 34 clubs in 26 states into it, according to Charles Johnston, AARS staff chief.
Before Chicago was added last May, a team of inspectors began in early January to check with the state offices of the Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau to ask about problem facilities. The group also checked with municipal consumer-affairs departments before inspecting facilities.
Visits to dealers, service stations, and independent garages include a spot check of customers who are sent inquiries about the car service they have received. Each approved facility must have state-of-the-art equipment; neat waiting rooms, lavatories, and other areas; and have a mechanic who has been certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
The AAA team continues to check a certified repair facility every month.
Approved service facilities must guarantee the effectiveness of repair, parts , and components for 4,000 miles, or 90 days, to all members of the AAA. Non-members also benefit, because everyone can see the AAA sign on the shop and know it meets specific standards.
Members, however, get added benefits, because the AARS staff will mediate any dispute between a member and a participating facility.
The AAA started the approval program when several surveys showed that 80 percent of some 300,000 AAA members felt a need for approved service facilities. The clubs where the program already is in place report a 95 percent member-satisfaction rate.
When he announced the program here in Chicago, Nels L. Pierson, president of the AAA-Chicago Motor Club, said: ''We're attacking the nation's No. 1 consumer complaint head on.''