Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld. In addition, one issue was resolved informally after the advertiser agreed to amend or withdraw their advertising.
Claims on a Facebook post by Terraclean, a vehicle decarbonising service, seen on 14 November 2017. The post stated, "... Our network of 500+ emissions specialists can provide a unique annual/periodic preventative maintenance service, to keep your engine, fuel system and associated components running efficiently by the removal of the harmful build-up of carbon from combustion chambers, turbochargers, catalytic converters and lambda sensors along with removing gums tars and varnishes from your injection system which fuel impurities leave behind. We use a patented, unique, highly refined fuel specifically developed by Canadian Engineers to achieve these objectives on both petrol and Diesel engines ... We have had our claims validated by the relevant advertising standards and continue to this day to promote our capabilities across social media, and national television ...”.
1. Carbon Cleaning International challenged whether the claimed effects of the product were misleading and could be substantiated.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied endorsement of the advertiser's product by the ASA.
1. Randstad Ltd t/a TerraClean said the ad did not mention a specific product. TerraClean was a brand and behind that brand were several patented ‘tools’ that they said helped to remove carbon build-up in engines as well as other preventative measures to help look after cars. They provided the patent documents for their tools which explained how they worked and what they did, as well as several emissions test results.
They said carbon build-up within an engine would cause the engine not to run effectively. They believed the complaint referred to a TerraClean service which removed carbon build-up by using highly refined fuel that burned at a higher temperature than cars would normally run on. By burning at a higher temperature, carbon was removed, taking advantage of a car’s combustion process. They said the patents gave a full explanation of the process.
TerraClean explained how the process worked. The engine was disconnected from the fuel tank, and the TerraClean machine was connected to the engine, which they ran on their TerraClean fluid, consisting of highly refined fuels that were very rich in additives. They cleaned both pre- and post-combustion, removing gums, varnishes and carbon deposits from the injectors, which they said restored the spray pattern and allowed the fuel to atomise better. Once the fuel had burned, the additives turned into gases that oxygenated the carbon, which allowed the carbon to burn at much lower temperatures and exit the exhaust as carbon dioxide. They said the end result was improved engine efficiency, which led to improvements in performance, mpg and emissions.
TerraClean provided a number of before and after images of various makes, models, and ages, of key components before and after they had been treated. They said those images clearly showed the removal of carbon, which in turn would mean the engine ran more efficiently, leading to increased mpg, lower CO2, and improved engine performance. They said some of those parts would normally have to be replaced so it was also a preventative maintenance. They also provided rolling road data, comparing before and after data of engine power which they said showed increased engine performance. TerraClean said they were also in the process of arranging tests with an educational facility.
2. TerraClean said it was not their intention to imply ASA endorsement of the product, but said they would remove the claim from the post. The reference to their claims being validated was in relation to their TV ads having been approved by Clearcast.
The ASA noted that the ad stated “to keep your engine, fuel system and associated components running efficiently by the removal of the harmful build-up of carbon from combustion chambers, turbochargers, catalytic converters and lambda sensors along with removing gums tars and varnishes from your injection system which fuel impurities leave behind”. We considered that consumers were likely to interpret the claims to mean the product would have a noticeable benefit on engines in all the ways described in the ad and on most, if not all, types of vehicle. Therefore, we considered that, in order to substantiate the claims, TerraClean needed to provide evidence that showed the claimed benefits of the product were applicable to all or most vehicles. We considered that the claims were objective claims that required robust substantiation based on independent testing.
We assessed the evidence provided. TerraClean provided a list of registered trademarks and patent information, and a number of before and after photos, which we did not consider was evidence of the efficacy of a product. They also provided a number of documents relating to US patents for their products. Although those documents gave detailed explanations of how the products worked, and some examples were given within the documents showing some basic test results, for example on a 1982 Toyota, we did not consider that to be of the type of evidence required. The documents were therefore not sufficient as evidence to substantiate the efficacy of the products. TerraClean also provided emissions test results from several cars in 2012 and 2013, and the rolling road tests, which were five graphs showing Power and Torque, but again we did not consider that those constituted the level of evidence required.
We considered that the evidence was not adequate to demonstrate that the product would have a noticeable benefit on engines in the ways described in the ad and on most, if not all, types of vehicle, and concluded that the ad was misleading.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), and 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration).
The CAP Code stated that marketers must not imply endorsement by the ASA or CAP. We noted that TerraClean intended to make a reference to a TV ad having been approved by Clearcast. However, we considered that the claim “We have had our claims validated by the relevant advertising standards” implied endorsement by the ASA, and therefore concluded that it breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.49 3.49 Marketers must not refer in a marketing communication to advice received from CAP or imply endorsement by the ASA or CAP. (Endorsements and testimonials).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Randstad Ltd not to make objective claims about their service – such as, that it could keep engines, fuel systems and associated components running efficiently – unless they held adequate evidence to substantiate those claims. We also told them not to imply endorsement by the ASA or CAP.