Surprisingly, there is no law that requires rental companies to have fleet vehicles fixed when an automaker issues a recall (Joe Raedle, Getty Images).

    by: Kevin Ransom | AOL Autos

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into how rental car companies deal with manufacturer recalls. It is specifically looking into whether or not rental car companies are properly fixing vehicles that have been recalled before renting or selling them and whether those repairs are being done promptly. Currently, there is no law in place that requires rental agencies to perform recall repairs before renting vehicles to customers. But the head of one consumer advocacy group is hoping that changes.

    As surprising as it is, but no law currently exists that specifically prevents such a practice, according to the president of the American Car Rental Association. However, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) says that the Federal Trade Commission Act states that companies “shall not engage in unfair trade practices. And, not repairing a defective vehicle after it has been recalled, before renting it out, is an unfair trade practice, and is a violation of the act.”

    The NHTSA probe will look at almost 3 million General Motors, Ford and Chrysler vehicles -- covering 29 different models, and spanning model years 2001 through 2010 -- that were sold to rental car companies, and were subsequently recalled. Why just the Detroit Three? The American carmakers are the top providers of vehicles to rental car companies.

    Ditlow says he would like to see the investigation lead to a more detailed law that specifically addresses this practice.

    Enterprise Rent-A-Car At Fault For Deaths

    In a statement, NHTSA declared that “particularly in recent months, (NHTSA) has been informed of incidents involving allegations of personal injury and death claimed to have been caused by safety defects and failures to conform to minimum Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) on rental car vehicles for which a safety recall to remedy the safety defect or noncompliance had allegedly not been performed prior to the rental car company's lease of the vehicle.”

    In the statement, NHTSA also noted, “there is presently a petition before the Federal Trade Commission seeking to prohibit at least one rental car company from renting vehicles on which safety recall campaign remedies remain outstanding.”

    That rental car company would be Enterprise Holdings, which is presently the largest provider of rental cars in North America, via its three car-rental brands: Alamo, Enterprise and National.

    The FTC petition was filed in August by CAS and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) after Enterprise admitted liability at the end of a five-year lawsuit that stemmed from the 2004 deaths of two young women in a car wreck. According to the petition, the women, Rachel and Jacqueline Houck, were killed in a collision that was indirectly caused by a defect in a Chrysler PT Cruiser that had been recalled.

    That defect was not fixed before it was rented to the women by Enterprise, according to the petition, which said the PT Cruiser had been recalled due to a risk of under-hood fires. The women were not informed of the risk and while driving in California, the car caught fire, causing a loss of steering power that led to a head-on collision with a semi-trailer truck. The women were killed instantly, according to the document.

    Further, the petition said that at least four individuals had rented the vehicle after Enterprise received a recall notice.

    After five years of fighting the suit, Enterprise admitted liability, and the parents of the Houck women were awarded a damages-only verdict of $15 million.

    Compliance Required By Rental Companies and Manufacturers

    NHTSA stated that the purpose of the probe is to “investigate recall remedy completion by rental car companies on (the above-mentioned) safety recall campaigns. These campaigns were chosen due to their inclusion of vehicles used in the rental market. This information is expected to provide the agency an indication of how completely and how quickly rental car fleets, in general or individually, perform necessary recall-related repairs or other remedies on the vehicles owned and then leased for use on the roadways.”

    Laura Bryant, spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings, said that the company is “willing to cooperate with the Federal Trade Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in any inquiry they wish to make concerning our current practices. We are confident those practices and procedures are fully consistent with our commitment to provide customers vehicles that are safe to drive... In most cases, we place a ‘hold’ on recalled vehicles so they are not rented until the recall work is completed.”

    Ditlow strongly supports the NHTSA investigation, “because we need to find out how widespread this practice is in the rental-car industry -- either not fixing the vehicles before they are rented, or not fixing them soon enough -- or selling recalled vehicles to consumers without fixing the defect or informing them of the recall.”

    Ditlow said that CAS knows of two specific instances of the latter practice.

    NHTSA and the auto safety groups are also concerned about how promptly the recall notices are sent to the car-rental companies. “We would like to see NHTSA require the automakers to do a direct and early notification of the defect to the car-rental companies -- instead of waiting for the general recall letter to go out to car owners,” said Ditlow. “If the NHTSA investigation concludes that this is a widespread problem, and it gets the attention of the public, and consumers are constantly going up to rental-car counters and saying, ‘Please check to see if there is an outstanding recall on this vehicle,’ then I think this practice would change.”

    In a statement, Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association, said that most recalls issued by manufacturers “do not require the owner of the vehicle (whether it be a rental company, leasing company or a private individual) to ground a vehicle and cease operation.”

    Although the Association does not maintain an industry standard, Barton explained, each car-rental company follows its own pre-established operating guidelines. He said that in most cases, the rental-car companies do not rent the vehicle until the recall work is completed, and that the practices of many companies “exceed what is required.”

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    1 - 20 of 30 Comments
    freeeedommm Dec 07, 2010 8:06 PM
    I allways rent chrysler town and country and the brakes were no good also, my daughter school is on a very hilly part of bethlehem and when i drive up the hills when it rains the van actually slides back down the hill.
    Report This
    samik13 Dec 07, 2010 7:59 PM
    Rented a car from Hertz in October 2010. The front tires were bald. It was a Toyota Camry.
    Report This
    linsuba Dec 07, 2010 7:23 PM
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    eyeforeye42 Dec 07, 2010 7:22 PM
    Wouldn't surprise me. I had a car with a broken door lock on the drivers side. The agents at the rental place chuckled and said so you got the blue capris this time. 3 weeks later a peer of mine was scratching his chin and queried why, he said he had a car where the driver door lock didn't work. I calmly said, so you got the blue capris. (and it was the same car)
    Report This
    jl14621 Dec 07, 2010 7:19 PM
    We live in NY. We currently have a Toyota from Enterprise. The tires on the car are bald! There is no way this car would pass inspection!
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    jl14621 Dec 07, 2010 7:18 PM
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    johnmeltorment Dec 07, 2010 6:56 PM
    I worked the front counter for major car rental companys for 20 years & the most recent company featured american made cars (although they have so many problems the owners were forced to purchase problem free imports) & my boss (the general manager) neglected basic maintenance (oil changes) on high end luxury cars & ended up having to eat 3 vehicles in 1 year. The owner (his brother) was furious, but kept him on because he is family. I was let go because of no good reason.
    Report This
    aaabarley Dec 07, 2010 6:49 PM
    American carmakers are no longer the main supplier of rental cars, I have been using National for years and it is Nissan all the way with them.
    Report This
    unclogum Dec 07, 2010 6:32 PM
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    hmattfrmchatt Dec 07, 2010 6:29 PM
    When I got our of college I worked for enterprise rent a car. Only a fool would buy a car that has been a rental. They DO NOT keep up with scheduled maintenance. And everytime someone rents a car like that they do not treat them well. They are nasty and not kept clean. When cars are returned they are logged into the computer system. When a car needs to have the oil changed the letters LOFR would come up. (Lube Oil changeFilter Rotate tires). These cars arent making money if in service so that could be over rided. I knew of one car that had 22000 miles on it and had NEVER ONCE had its oil changed! NOT ONE TIME! They dont keep these cars serviced. They just keep them on the road as much as possible and sell them. Think about it. They are treated like crap all the time with cheap gas. Id NEVER own one!
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    toots6021 Dec 07, 2010 5:37 PM
    This isn't the only issue with rentals. After they are involved in an accident they go to body shops for repairs. And I know first hand some are being repaired by persons of questionable citizenship. Especially in AZ. Then the cars are auctioned off to the public. They pay less than half the wage rate. And who do we know that works for wages way below the norm. Using illegals, cheating workers, supressing the wage rate, and selling inferior cars. Sounds like a hugh investigation needs to be done. Sheriff Joe where are you???
    Report This
    daldog25 Dec 07, 2010 5:30 PM
    I once had to use a rental from Enterpise, What a piece of junk you could not hear yourself think, the transmission was so badit whinned loud. There Excuse was It,s a New vehicle and why should they check it for safety problems before renting it. The car was a Japan made model. I think these companies should do a basic safety check before every rental, but they check for scratches, who cares if the wheels fall off.
    Report This
    ashburnstadium Dec 07, 2010 5:24 PM
    Perhaps there are too many states that don't require that cars pass safety inspection. New Jersey just eliminated that requirement, as they became the 30th state that does not require a safety inspection. On the other hand, Pennsylvania has one of the most-stringent inspection programs in North America. For an idea of how to keep any car in top shape, the PA inspection procedure is a great guideline. You can view it here: http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/067/chapter175/s175.80.html
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    whiskey357 Dec 07, 2010 5:21 PM
    Took a flight to CA in 2004 got a P T Crusier....Only problem with it was it had no speed...Realy dog of a car.......Took it back got a flight home and then read in the paper about the 2 women that got killed in one....Never again thats for sure ....Rented it from Enterprise car rental..last for theat one....
    Report This
    rdavehall Dec 07, 2010 5:17 PM
    Rental car companies appear to have NO liability for allowing the rental of cars from their fleet that are unsafe to drive. States have no jurisdiction to require rental cars be in safe running order. Further, if rented and driven by customer, he therefore assumes ALL liability for the performance of that vehicle. Found that out, personally, renting an unsafe vehicle while on vacation. I warned the rental company and Colorado State vehicle officials of problem. State official came back: said he had same exact problem himself with a rental car company and state has no jurisdiction, or laws requiring rental car safety. What a country, what a lobby!
    Report This
    factscheck Dec 07, 2010 4:26 PM
    Another rush to press. How long does it take you to get your private car in for a recall between your schedule and the dealers? Except for true safety critical items, a reasonable time must be allowed, or a lot of people will be taking cabs from the airports. And if an item is so safety critical that it must be fixed before renting, should police be pulling over motorists in their private cars to see if it was fixed to prevent you from hurting other people if your vehicle fails? Granted a rental company has a higher responsibility when presenting their merchandise as usable, but a blanket requirement that does not distinguish between risk levels may not be fair. Mr. Ransom gives a slight nod to this concern, but the article in general cites the relatively rare tragic outcomes. The underlying (extreme) question is this: Should ANYONE be allowed to continue to drive a recalled car, rented or privately owned, before it is towed to the dealer and fixed? For most recalls, of course not. But the answer to this should set the tone of the regulations that should be imposed on rental companies (and private owners.) And maybe states should not allow cars to be transferred to new owners or renew a registration if there are outstanding recalls for non-cosmetic defects. That will make both companies and private owners pay attention.
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    snakes134 Dec 07, 2010 4:22 PM
    Avis dose the the same thing and I worked there.
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    arterrainc Dec 07, 2010 4:17 PM
    Here is another issue to worry about with rental cars - BED BUGS! Bed bugs are now found consistently in all forms of publicly used transportation! Before you get in a rental car, use Greenbug for People on yourself and your belongings to repel bed bugs! Greenbug for People is 100% effective, it is completely safe, and it kills and repels bed bugs so you don't bring them home with you. Get it online at http://www.greenbugallnatural.com
    Report This
    tropescape Dec 07, 2010 4:02 PM
    Great...you click on one of the recalled cars and it goes to prices of new cars......DON'T GIVE ANY INFO ON THE RECALLS DIP SH_ _ _
    Report This
    saltyanc Dec 07, 2010 4:02 PM
    Rented a Chevy Malibu from Enterprize, there was a known recall for popping out of park and rolling away. Guess what, store parking lot "will the owner of grey Malibu come to the service desk" Sure enough it rolled accross lot and hit a Jeep Commander. Did damage to bumper, backup sensors and hood and fender damage to the rental car. Took vehicle to local repair shop and mechanic said there was definately something wrong with the vehicle. Returned it to rental agency next day and explained what happen. They gave us a Ford Fussion and took Jeep owners insurance and information. Apperantly they took care of the incident because we never heard anything about it again. I was lucky in that respect.
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    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into how rental car companies deal with manufacturer recalls.


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