Federal bill addresses defective rental cars

Wrongful Death LawCurrent law prevents car dealerships from selling a vehicle with a safety recall until the issue is corrected. That same vehicle may still be on the road if a rental car company owns it, though. For more than a decade, attempts have been made to pass a bill that would mandate rental car companies to pull and fix any vehicle with a safety recall immediately in order to prevent car accidents, serious injuries and wrongful death. Rental car companies resisted at first fearing they would lose significant business while waiting for a portion of their fleets to be repaired.

Resistance by the automobile industry

In 2012, the bill did not pass, but now a new version is under debate. Automobile manufacturers contend that the bill may force automakers to put priority status on rental vehicles to the detriment of individual owners and corporations, or that it might encourage lawsuits for lost revenue if rental companies are not able to put their vehicles back on the road in a timely manner. Another argument is that not all defective auto parts carry the same risk. For example, an airbag notice on a sun visor that becomes unstuck is not as hazardous as a faulty ignition switch and should not be treated with the same level of caution.

Support for mandated safety recalls

Much of the bill’s impetus has come from pressure and publicity garnered by Cally Houck, whose two daughters died in a rental car that had a safety recall due to a power steering fluid leak in 2004. The PT Cruiser that they rented caught fire, causing them to hit an oncoming truck. Enterprise, the company who owned and rented the vehicle, eventually admitted negligence and paid $15 million in damages for the wrongful deaths of the two girls. The bill is named for Houck’s daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck.

The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013

The new version of this bi-partisan bill has many supporters, including David Strickland, Administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. The bill would impose safety requirements on rental car companies, including the following:

  • Rental car companies would have to pull all cars with a safety recall until the issues are fixed.
  • Small rental fleets would have 24 hours to pull their cars, while larger fleets would have 48 hours.
  • The authority to enforce the new safety rules would rest with the NHTSA.
  • The NHTSA would have the authority to conduct safety inspections on rental car fleets. 

Although many car rental companies opposed the 2012 version of the bill, the major car rental companies, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Dollar, Hertz, National and Thrifty now support the legislation and say that they have already voluntarily begun following the mandates it outlines.

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