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Should rental car companies be required to repair recalled vehicles before loaning or selling them to the public? That may seem like a no-brainer, but according to Detroit News, three of America's biggest rental firms have balked at the idea, with Hertz the lone voice of support.
Back in February, we told you about a piece of legislation working its way through Congress called the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2011. It was named for two sisters who were killed when a car they had rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car caught fire, causing them to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a big rig.
The problem? The car had been recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but Enterprise hadn't fixed it. Ultimately, Enterprise accepted responsibility for the accident.
The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act would curtail such accidents by requiring rental companies to repair vehicles as soon as a recall is issued. The legislation is part of a sprawling surface transportation bill that's currently being considered by Congress, so it's not been made law yet -- and if Avis Budget Group Inc., Enterprise Holdings Inc., and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. have their way, it never will be.
In the meantime, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has asked America's major auto rental companies to sign a pledge, saying that they will not rent any recalled vehicle until it is fully repaired. So far, Hertz is the only company to sign the pledge.
Avis has said that it repairs recalled vehicles as soon as "practically possible". Enterprise has pledged to stop renting recalled cars for the moment, but Enterprise wants an exception in the Safe Rental Car Act to allow it to rent some recalled vehicles, provided that customers are notified of any recalls. There's no word on Dollar Thrifty's response.
None of those three responses live up to Senator Boxer's expectations, or to the language of the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act.
On the one hand, we can see the rental companies' points. Taxis, for examples, aren't included in this bill. Shouldn't they be subject to mandatory recalls, too?
And unlike recalls involving brake or fuel lines, some recalls -- like those involving improper labels or other "minor" issues -- may not pose immediate threats to renters' lives. It would seem logical to create exceptions in those cases, right?
However, when you begin creating loopholes and exceptions, you open the door to all sorts of transgressions. Recalls are rarely cut and dry; there's naturally a lot of gray area between urgent and not-so-urgent recalls. And when a recall falls into that gray area, what are rental companies likely to prioritize: customers or the bottom line? (No points for guessing correctly.)
And as for the taxi problem, Senator Boxer rightly admits that one piece of legislation can't cover every issue. Perhaps they can tackle taxis next year.
All we know is that until this issue gets resolved, you might want to consider renting and buying from Hertz.