FTC Charges Firm With Slippery Claims

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The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Motor Up Corp., Philadelphia, April 14 charging that claims made in the company's infomercial for its Motor Up Engine Treatment were unsubstantiated. The infomercial was voluntarily taken off the air when the FTC began its investigation last year.


"Essentially, throughout this whole process we were never able to get a response to what additional testing the FTC would like us to do," said Jay Devine, a spokesman for Motor Up. "We were never able to get an answer to that question from them. We pulled the infomercial as an act of good faith."


"When Motor Up acquired the additive, a bench test had already been done on the product to provide data about what claims could be made in the infomercial," said Edward F. Glynn Jr., attorney for Motor Up. "National Media [Motor Up's media agency] insisted the company verify the results with five experts. Motor Up had the results analyzed and based their claims on the result of the experts' findings."


Glynn added that after the infomercial was produced, the FTC said an expensive motor test, called L38, had to be performed. This test is approved by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is the test that determines the viscosity of motor oil.


"In 20-20 hindsight, the FTC said that everybody knows that this test has to be performed," he said. "In our view this dispute is about what a company can consider a valid test, when a bunch of PhDs analyze data and give their opinions."


The infomercial included several demonstrations intended to support product claims, including one designed to show how Motor Up's additives reduce engine corrosion. It showed a metal plate in the bottom of a transparent pail of water. Motor Up was poured into the pail and when the plate was removed, the oil additive had adhered to it.


Another demonstration showed a car on a lift in an auto shop. With its motor oil drained and oil pan removed, water was sprayed on the exposed engine from underneath the vehicle while the engine was running. The purpose of this demonstration was to show that the additive cannot be washed away and that Motor Up protects the engine from breakdowns, even when there is no oil.


As a result of these demonstrations, Motor Up Corp. claimed that its product reduced engine wear by 50 percent and adhesive engine wear by 90 percent compared with motor oil alone, even when the engine was started in cold temperatures. The company also claimed the product prevents breakdowns and extends the life of a car's engine.


The FTC charged that the company did not support claims that Motor Up prevents corrosion and will not drain when the oil is changed; and that it can protect an engine for up to 50,000 miles.


"They don't show what they purport to show," said Robert Frisky, spokesman for the FTC. "In terms of the FTC, we don't specify what tests be performed in this type of case. The tests were inadequate."


Although he would not comment on what additional testing should have been done, Frisky said the demonstrations used in the infomercial did not support the claims being made. The FTC said that at the time Motor Up Corp. made these representations, "the company did not possess and rely on a reasonable basis that substantiated these representations."


"In truth, and in fact, tests do not prove that compared to motor oil alone, Motor Up reduces engine wear by 50 percent, and therefore the representation was, and is false and misleading," the FTC said in the complaint.


Although the infomercial has been pulled off the air, the claims are still being made on the company's Web site and on the label of the product, which is sold in retail outlets.


The case will be decided in front of an administrative judge this fall. At that time, Motor Up has the option to settle or continue to defend itself against the allegations made by the FTC.


"We will continue with the process, and hopefully get the answers to what tests the FTC wants," Devine said.


The complaint against Motor Up marks the fourth time since 1995 the FTC has filed suit against a manufacturer of a motor oil additive. Other cases were bought against STP, Valvoline and Slick 50. Both STP and Slick 50 settled with the FTC and a decision in the matter of Slick 50 is pending.
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