Rental Car Roulette: Will Car Rental Companies Stop Renting Recalled Vehicles?
Brett EmisonFebruary 21, 2012 9:18 AM
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Under current law, rental car companies like Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, Budget, etc. can rent you a vehicle that has been recalled for a safety defect... and you might never even know it. A NHTSA study last year showed that Enterprise repaired only 65% of recalled vehicles within 90 days. Avis/Budget repaired only 53% of recalled vehicles within 90 days. Hertz was even worse, with only 34% of recalled vehicles repaired within 90 days.
"The rental car companies have been hiding a dirty little secret -- they wait until it's convenient to do safety recall repairs."
- Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety
Rental car companies have been fighting to keep renting defective vehicles to their customers. Finally, however, safety group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Hertz have reached an agreement calling on Congress to give NHTSA authority to prohibit rental car companies from renting, leasing, or selling recalled vehicles until the vehicles are repaired.
Though mostly unknown to rental car customers, this problem is massive. Just two rental car companies - Hertz and Enterprise - had nearly 184,000 vehicles recalled last year. In 2010, those same companies had 350,000 vehicles under recall (many of them subject to Toyota's sudden acceleration recall).
The public outcry over the practice of renting vehicles under a safety recall stems from a tragic crash in 2004 that killed two sisters, Rachel and Jacquie Houck, on Highway 101 in California. I featured the Houck family as part of my Faces of Lawsuit Abuse series detailing the despicable lengths Enterprise Rent-A-Car went in defending an indefensible case.
See the Houck family's story here.
Rachel and Jacquie were rented a defective PT Cruiser by Enterprise. Enterprise knew about the defect, but chose to rent the vehicle out at least 3 times without repairing the defect. As Rachel and Jacquie drove down Highway 101, the defective PT Cruiser caught fire in the engine compartment. The vehicle filled with smoke. The girls could not see. They could not steer the vehicle. The car swerved across the median strip and the car was hit by an oncoming truck. Both girls were killed.
This would seem to be an "open and shut" case. The PT Cruiser was defective -- it had been recalled because of a safety defect that could cause engine fires. Enterprise knew about the defect, but rented the car to the unsuspecting girls. The defect caused the car to catch fire and the girls tragically died. In depositions, an Enterprise manager admitted even admitted he never considered the possibility that Enterprise should not rent defective vehicles to the public even after Enterprise had received recall notices.
Instead of accepting responsibility for this tragedy, Enterprise tried to blame the girls. Enterprise went to far as to tell Rachel and Jacquie's parents that the girls were "suicidal or on drugs."
"[Enterprise] spent five years pounding these parents," said the Houck's lawyer.... "'Your daughter was negligent in the manner in which she drove the car, and she killed herself and her younger sister.' And they continued to maintain that position until two weeks before the trial, at which time they finally admitted that they were the only cause of the deaths of Rachel and Jacquie," said [the Houck's attorney].
Source: ABC News
A jury ultimately agreed and ordered Enterprise to pay $15 million in damages. Nevertheless, Enterprise and other rental car companies continued to rent defective and recalled vehicles to the unsuspecting public and continued to lobby against legislation that would prohibit rental car companies from renting unrepaired recalled vehicles.
Let's hope rental car companies like Hertz and Enterprise have truly seen the light. These were needless deaths that would have been avoided if only Enterprise had done the right thing and fixed the defective recall before renting it to these unsuspecting girls.
Despite this tragedy and despite Hertz's agreement with Consumers for Auto Reliability, the industry group American Car Rental Association (representing 105 car rental companies, including Hertz), is still lobbying against this common sense rule. The American Car Rental Association said its members will not rent recalled vehicles unless the company makes an exception when the rental company believes the vehicle is safe to operate.
What is the car rental association really saying: it wants car rental companies to be able to rent you a defective vehicle without you knowing it. The car rental association doesn't want NHTSA to say car rental companies can't rent you a defective vehicle, so that the car rental companies can and will rent you defective vehicles if they want to.
According to USA Today, safety advocates aren't convinced that rental car companies are so conscientious about fixing their vehicles. Frankly, neither am I. If NHTSA or a manufacturer has issued a recall, that means - by definition - that there is an unreasonable safety risk. Car rental companies should not be permitted to simply disregard such recalls and send these defective vehicles out onto the streets with unsuspecting drivers.
"The rental car companies have been playing rental car roulette with their customers' lives," [says Consumers for Auto Safety president Rosemary Shahan]. "When they run out of safe vehicles, they want to be able to rent ones that are unsafe."
Source: USA Today
Not only may rental car companies rent defective vehicles to customers, but many of them eliminate critical safety equipment that is standard on vehicles sold to the general public in order to save costs. Such moves blatantly put profits over the safety of rental car customers. USA Today referred to a 2009 Kansas City Star investigation that found Enterprise Rent-A-Car saved millions of dollars by deleting a standard safety feature - side curtain air bags - from 2006-08 Chevy Impalas purchased from General Motors.
Want to know which car rental companies are fighting in order to rent you a recalled vehicle? I suggest you contact them to let them know you don't think they should be renting defective, recalled vehicles to unsuspecting customers:
Senators Charles Schumer and Barbara Boxer intend to include the rental car amendment in the surface transportation bill after the Senate reconvenes on February 27. Let's hope all members of Congress stand behind this commonsense requirement that rental car companies must not send defective vehicles out on our roads and highways.
[More Faces of Lawsuit Abuse]
[More on Rental Car Defects]
(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison
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, Faces of Lawsuit Abuse