About a year ago, the Today Show ran a piece about the filthy interiors of rental cars and ever since, I’ve been carrying around Wet Wipes. I tend to rent cars a lot. Now I realize that rather than Wet Wipes, I should be carrying around an auto mechanic.
At the New York Times automobile blog, Wheels, Christopher Jenson has been doing some great reporting about how rental car companies sometimes don’t comply with safety recalls – or at least, they think it’s OK to decide on their own whether a recall is important enough to respect.
Yesterday, the blog discussed actual letters from the major rental car companies, who have “told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that in some cases they continue to rent vehicles that have been recalled if they believe the problem is not serious,” or “what a Hertz executive called ‘a true safety recall.’”
Of course, there is no such thing. A safety recall is a safety recall. NHTSA spokesperson Karen Aldana says, “All safety recalls resulting from defects present an unreasonable risk to safety and we believe it is inappropriate to suggest that some defects are not risky enough to require repair. For the safety of the motoring public, all recalled vehicles should be fixed promptly.”
The safety agency began its investigation last year, shortly after the Federal Trade Commission was asked by two consumer groups, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and the Center for Auto Safety, to order Enterprise Rent-A-Car to fix recalled vehicles before renting them. Enterprise has admitted in a California court that its failure to fix a Chrysler PT Cruiser was responsible for the deaths of two California women when their car caught fire and crashed. The F.T.C. has yet to act on that request.
Earlier, Jenson reported,
The American Car Rental Association wants the government to adopt a new system that would designate some recalls as so serious that a vehicle should no longer be driven while others would allow cars to be driven and repaired later. …
Rosemary Shahan, the president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety of Sacramento, said in an e-mail that the proposal would “perpetuate rental-car roulette and allow rental car companies to get away with renting out vehicles that are so unsafe they are being recalled.”
The idea of a two-tier system amounts to a license to rent cars with “with unrepaired safety defects,” Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, wrote in an e-mail.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to explain why rental car companies are allowed to rent out vehicles that have not been repaired even though auto dealers may not sell a new vehicle if a recall is pending. He has also said he plans to introduce a bill this year that would put rental-car companies under the same restriction as new-car dealers.
In California, a bill is moving through the legislature that would make California "the first state to require car rental companies to pull vehicles out of service when they receive notice of a safety recall.” The rental car companies believe this “unfairly targets them” arguing “the matter should be handled at the federal level so they do not have to deal with a patchwork of rules.”
How fortunate for them that currently, the federal agency, NHTSA, “lacks the authority to force rental companies" to recall cars. Where's the Today Show when you need them?