Beware: Rental Companies Can Still Rent Recalled Cars -- For Now

May 10, 2013

Nearly ten years ago, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck were killed in a horrific accident when the Chrysler PT Cruiser they'd rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car caught fire, causing the sisters to lose control of the vehicle and collide with an 18-wheeler.

Later, the Houck's family and friends learned that the PT Cruiser had been under recall for a power steering fluid leak. Analysis revealed that this very same leak caused the fire -- and ultimately the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline.

The Houcks' mother, Cally, lobbied for legislation to help prevent such tragedies from happening again. Dubbed the "Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2011", it had a number of legislative sponsors and was included in the massive surface transportation bill that Congress approved last summer

When that bill passed, though, we couldn't find any mention of the Safe Rental Car act, and now we know why: because it had been removed. According to Detroit News, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators including Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) Lisa Murkowski, (R-AR), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) has now teamed up to present the Safe Rental Car Act again. 

The new bill requires that rental car companies ground any recalled vehicles within 24 hours of receiving a recall notice from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The time limit is extended to 48 hours if a rental company has more than 5,000 of the affected vehicles in its fleet.

Sometimes, recalls provide a list of temporary measures that can be taken until a complete fix is available. Should that occur, the bill allows rental companies to roll out those measures and continue renting the vehicles until replacement parts for the problem are distributed. 

Also, the bill gives NHTSA the authority to investigate rental car companies' compliance with the law.


Most rental car companies were opposed to the Houck Safe Rental Car Act -- Hertz being the lone exception. Enterprise emailed us last year to say that it supports federal legislation governing the way that rental companies handle recalls, but stopped well short of saying that Enterprise supported the Safe Rental Car Act in particular. 

The arguments against such legislation have typically fallen into one of three categories:

It's too hard: Depending on the vehicle that's recalled, rental companies might be forced to ground thousands of vehicles. That could leave customers up a creek: inventory would be reduced, and any recalled vehicles already on loan would have to be replaced lickety-split.

It's often unnecessary: Some recalls are more dire than others. Recalling a vehicle for a label that offers improper guidance on tire pressure seems slightly less urgent than one involving brake failures or, in the Houcks' instance, fluid leaks in the engine compartment.

Why us?: Rental companies point out that there's no legislation for taxis, which also serve the purpose of getting non-vehicle-owners from Point A to Point B. Why shouldn't taxi drivers and cab companies have to comply with this law?

Proponents counter with four arguments of their own:

It's the price of doing business: If you've chosen to rent cars to the public, you know that those cars might have flaws that need to be repaired in the interest of public safety. It's simply one of the business risks that you have to manage. If you don't like that, perhaps you should consider another line of work.

If NHTSA sends out a notice, it's important: Some recalls may seem insignificant, but if NHTSA goes to the trouble of investigating a problem, evaluating the results, and issuing a recall, it's a matter of importance.

No law is perfect: There are loopholes in every law. If we were to hold all bills until they were airtight, no laws would ever be passed. It's true that taxis aren't included in this bill, but that can be handled with a separate bill in the future.

If it saves a life, it's worth it: That may sound trite, but to the Houcks' family and friends, it rings very, very true.

According to Detroit News, the new bill has been drafted in consultation with most of the major U.S. rental car firms and stands a better chance of passing than its previous iteration. We'll keep you posted. 


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