New Law Would Forbid Rental Car Companies From Renting Recalled Cars

For years, consumer advocates have been calling for legislation that would make it illegal for rental car companies to rent out or sell vehicles that are currently under a safety recall. That notion is inching closer to becoming a reality with the introduction of the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act.

The bill, introduced by California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein is named after the two sisters who were killed in 2004 while driving a Chrysler PT Cruiser rented from Enterprise.

Enterprise had received the recall notice on the vehicles, warning that a fault with the power steering hose could lead to a fire. The sisters’ vehicle did not get serviced and caught fire, causing a head-on crash with a tractor-trailer.

Since that tragic incident, Cally Houck, the girls’ mother, has been an outspoken advocate for closing the loophole that holds car rental companies to different standards than automobile dealerships, which must take any recalled vehicles out of circulation until they are repaired.

Though all four major U.S. rental companies — Hertz, Enterprise, Avis/Budget, and Dollar/Thrifty — claim that they don’t allow recalled vehicles on the road until repairs have been performed, when Senator Boxer asked each of them to pledge to make a written, permanent commitment to such policies, only Hertz agreed in full.

“We cannot allow another family to go through the pain and loss that Cally and her family have gone through,” Senator Boxer said in a statement to Consumerist. “We will not rest until Congress has passed legislation that protects American consumers from these unsafe vehicles, and we urge all the rental car companies to join Hertz in committing to the safety of their customers.”

The Senate bill is the companion legislation to a bill introduced last month by California Congresswoman Lois Capps, New York Congressman Eliot Engel, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

The new House and Senate legislation is supported by Hertz, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the Trauma Foundation.


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  1. Bort says:

    But i thought the free market would take care of this, thats what everyone tells me

    • HomerSimpson says:

      “Damn meddling government getting in the middle of me and my rental car company!!!! GOD GIVEN RIGHT to rent a car that’ll fall apart and blow up while I’m driving it, people!!!!”

      Next thing they’ll be telling me not to feed my kid paint chips!

      • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

        You actually feed them to him? Christ, I just let kids gnaw directly on the windowsills.

  2. scoosdad says:

    Something so common sense as this, and yet we have to make laws to make it so.

    Thank you Cally Houck for turning your family’s personal tragedy an important fight for consumers. I hope the family received a big settlement from Enterprise over this too. Enterprise can rot in hell the way I’ve been treated by them the few times I’ve been stuck without a car and had to rent from them.

    • Cerealmom says:

      Never had a good experience with Enterprise,got wise and now rent cars when I need to from my local car dealership.Our local GM dealer offers rentals priced very competitively with franchises,which is convenient as we live in a rural area at least 30 miles from the nearest national rental car company.

  3. AtlantaCPA says:

    This is one of those times when you say “What, I would think this is already illegal!” Sometimes I just have to shake my head…

  4. Proselytic says:

    What’s sad, is that laws have to be passed for things like this to begin with. No *supposedly ‘free market’ will compensate for greed, or its many incarnations…

    Capitalism died, twice already and headed for a 3rd, or maybe 4th time depending on how you measure it. Deal with it and let’s move on…

    * No such thing exists.

    • Bort says:

      you would be amazed how many people don’t know this yet, or refuse to believe it, maybe enough to elect a different president

      • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

        Yeah, it’s all Obammers fault.

        • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

          How I long for the halcyon days before he came along, when companies were still honest.

  5. necrosis says:

    This is another thing that makes me go:

    How the hell is this not a law already?!?

    • zombie_batch says:

      Because laws aren’t normally passed to make people and businesses do the right thing. Only when they refuse to do the right thing when they absolutely must, like when you rent a car but are instead knowingly and purposely given a death trap.

      Although since, thanks to SCOTUS, corporations are people now, I really think that since that ruling gets used against the citizens of America to our detriment constantly and without respite, it should also work in our favor. In this case, I think Enterprise should be put on trial for unintentional but still responsible-for murder. Because they even publicly refused to commit to not rent out death traps, they are not simply idle bystanders, but willing participants, all for the worship of money. So, the CEOs, other C’s followed by initials, any boards, any investors with a large stake in the company, and every person at the location the death trap was rented who was related to the renting of the said death trap to the unsuspecting innocents who now are dead for no good reason, should be tried for some degree of murder and potentially jailed for their efforts. They were willing to risk their customers lives to save money, and their gambit failed pretty darn spectacularly, so they should very much be held responsible for their actions and in-actions.

  6. Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

    I don’t get it. If your vehicle gets recalled, they either repair or (in extreme cases) replace it for free. There is no cost to you and you might end up with something upgraded or a whole new car if it’s a serious enough issue. Why in God’s name would they balk at doing something that may (incidentally) save a few lives but above all benefits them?

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      probably the time it would be unavailable to rent, preventing immediate profit

    • shepd says:

      I wonder if the rental companies are asked for maintenance records to verify warranty coverage?

      There’s plenty of rental companies out there that figure 1 oil change a year does the job.

    • legwork says:

      The simplest explanation is it’s difficult to track each vehicle against the thousands of annual service bulletins and recalls. Also, rental companies don’t want to take a producing asset out of action. Lastly, these companies purchase their cars at a discount through manufacturer fleet channels which may not include the same coverage consumers are accustomed to.

      Short answer “It costs money to do the right thing.”

    • jvanbrecht says:

      It is also not just one car.. if the Mazda 3 gets recalled, and 50% of the vehicles sitting on the rental lot are Mazda 3’s, well, they cannot rent them out, that is a significant loss in revenue.

      I however do not agree with them renting anything that has a major recall, sure if there is a recall because the radio stops working, or the paint fades, or some other non critical function, then repair on an as permisable basis.. but anything involving firey death… those should be immediately repaired prior to renting.

  7. shepd says:

    We can keep regulating, and keep failing.

    Or we can lift all the regulations and make those involved with the company pay the price when something happens. If a recalled car loses a wheel, the CEO whose decision that was to make loses their head (Well, I’m not that bloodthirsty, instead they rot in prison. For life. At the company’s expense.)

    Companies would self-regulate if their owners (and, where appropriate, employees) were to risk criminal charges where appropriate. And those that don’t would serve as a great wake-up call to the rest of the industry.

    • legwork says:

      Keep working on that. When I see the first CEO behind bars for willful negligence or similar I’ll agree to lift all “regulations”.

      Everyone’s played monopoly, right? What would the game be like without a box cover of rules? Those are the regulations that keep players inside the bounds of acceptable behavior.*

      * oh, except many suggest the majority of regulations in existence are proposed by players to raise barriers to competition, not to protect the consumers.

      • shepd says:

        Actually, most people don’t play by the official monopoly rules, they ignore almost all of them, in my experience.

        And obviously you can’t have no regulation without proper punishment for actions that harm others. And no, regulations don’t actually protect people from harm, they just look like they do. I could give even more examples of that then I could give examples of how people play monopoly “wrong” (hey, house rules make it more fun, but it’s still “wrong”).

        And yes, most regulations, even ones that look insidiously good, are there to raise the barrier to entry in the field. My favourite example: Ever wondered why there only seems to be one bus that goes direct from your city to another, yet there’s buses that make stops along the way? There are regulations that only allow one company for each route. This was done because “otherwise smaller cities would never get covered”. Of course, they still don’t get covered, because the bus companies doing these stops choose a field in nowhereseville to do the pickup/dropoff to a portable construction trailer.

        • MarkFL says:

          Then you’re playing with the wrong people. Unfortunately, in real life you can’t just opt not to play because someone else cheats. And in real life, when people cheat, people die, or lose their life savings, or suffer in some other way.

          The regulations that are there to raise barriers to entry in the field are those that are initiated by those already in the field — IOW, they are the results of self-regulation. Regulations put in place by government (without goading by industry lobbyists) are generally there to protect the public. Unfortunately it usually takes a catastrophe or years of abuse to get those regulations enacted.

    • HomerSimpson says:

      Does the Easter Bunny live in your world? Santa Claus?

    • MarkFL says:

      Except that, in many cases, the cost of a lawsuit isn’t big enough to be a deterrent. If it were, the company would risk going out of business, and then the people who work there would be punished by losing their jobs — all while the top dogs who made the immoral decision in the first place get their golden parachutes.

      • MarkFL says:

        Let me add to that:

        This won’t change until we re-introduce the concept of personal responsibilty. The people who make these decisions need to be held PERSONALLY accountable, through fines and imprisonment. If the company is held responsible and not the individuals who run those companies, then those guys just go to another company and do it again.

    • Bort says:

      Its not the CEO’s decision, someone below him runs the day to day operations.
      I’m not saying heads of companies should not be held responsible for what they company does, but you have to blame the right person for the right crime, and in a case like this most companies go by probability, the likelihood of something like this happening within a few weeks of a recall is slim so therefore we can keep renting the cars out. That probability assessment is correct, but many in society are apparently more interested in profit then lives.

  8. SerenityDan says:

    They call it the “No @&^% Sherlock” law