Congress Considering Legislation to Stop Car Rental Companies from Renting Recalled Vehicles

When you rent a car from a major rental agency, you assume that it has been inspected and is safe to drive. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both D-Calif., are leading the fight in Congress to require rental agencies to repair vehicles that are under manufacturer’s recall before renting or selling them. Hertz has agreed to this policy, but other large companies, such as Enterprise, Avis and Dollar Thrifty, are resisting.
“Our families deserve a permanent commitment to safety,” said Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Until they sign the pledge, tell your families not to go to those companies.”

As reported in USA Today, the proposed legislation stems from a 2004 accident in which Cally Houk’s two daughters were killed when the Chrysler PT Cruised they rented from Enterprise crashed into a tractor-trailer. About a month earlier, Enterprise had received a recall notice warning that a fault with the power steering hose could cause a fire, and that it would be repaired by Chrysler free of charge. Despite the notice, Enterprise did not get the vehicle repaired and rented it out to three other customers before the Houk sisters. “My daughters died instantly in a fireball,” said Houk. “We’re going to keep fighting.”

Enterprise controls more than half the rental market in the U.S., with $14 billion in revenue last year.The dissenting car rental companies claim that any legislation affecting rental cars should apply to all vehicles-for-hire and used-car dealers. Boxer and Feinstein contend that those changes would unnecessarily complicate and delay a simple bill. New-car dealerships are already required to fix all cars under recall before selling them.

Sean Kane, president of the consumer safety group Safety, Research and Strategies of Rehoboth, Mass., praised Boxer’s efforts, saying that customers have the right to expect rental companies to properly maintain their cars. “The idea that a recall hasn’t been performed on a vehicle when you rent it is incredibly disturbing because by their nature, recalls are safety related,” said Kane.

The legislation is supported by Hertz, AAA, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Trauma Foundation.