Enterprise's rental car fleet

It might surprise most American drivers to know that there is no law preventing car rental companies from keeping recalled vehicles on the road, as Paul A. Eisenstein writes for NBC News. Car rental companies are not required to have the vehicles repaired before renting them out and, he adds, used car dealers are not required to let customers know that used vehicles they are selling have been recalled but not repaired. “Used-car dealers and rental car companies are allowed to fix problems when — and if — they see fit,” write Rachel Abrams and Christopher Jensen for The New York Times.

People have been injured and killed in accidents resulting from the lack of such laws, as Eisenstein writes. A 2004 accident in which two young women, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, were killed in a rental car when it veered out of control, was ruled to have been caused by a known safety defect. The car had been recalled but was never repaired by Enterprise, Eisenstein notes.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, has tried to get a law passed to force rental companies to remove recalled vehicles from their fleets until they are repaired, but the bill has not made it through Congress, Eisenstein writes. Also unsuccessful were recent efforts to prevent used car dealers from selling recalled cars that have not been repaired, although California is considering such legislation.

Eisenstein quotes David J. Friedman, acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

‘It should be a slam dunk…. To me it is hard to oppose ensuring that people who buy a car, whether it is new or used, or whether you are renting a vehicle, can have the confidence that it is safe.’

As The New York Times notes, 11.3 million vehicles were recalled in the U.S. in the first four months of this year alone. And it is not known how many of the two million rental vehicles on the road have been recalled.

Even as Congress investigates GM for its long delay in recalling 2.6 million vehicles for a faulty ignition, The National Automobile Dealers Association, which represents 16,000 dealers of new cars, says that not all recalled cars need to be fixed immediately, the Times writes. But Friedman told the Times that every recall is about a safety problem and needs to be fixed.

The Times writes that Carol Houck, the mother of the two young women killed in the rental car in 2004, was relieved to hear that rental car companies (pressured by consumer groups) agreed in 2012 to support a bill requiring them to have recalled cars repaired before renting them out. But until there is a law, consumers would have to take a car rental or used car dealer’s word that the repairs were made, the Times writes.

There are two ways that changes might be made, the Times writes. One is part of the Transportation Department’s “Grow America Act,” a 350-page, four-year budget plan including a requirement that car dealers and rental agencies have recalled cars repaired before selling them or renting them, respectively. The other is a Senate bill applying only to rental cars, which was introduced in 2011. “It is not seen as having enough support to pass as a stand-alone bill, but it could become part of a bigger piece of legislation,” the Times writes.

Image by Atomic Taco

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