Senator says rental companies cars could be unsafe

by Hank Silverberg, WTOP

A U.S. senator is pushing an effort to protect unknowing consumers who rent potentially unsafe cars from rental car companies that do not follow safety recalls.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. wants to make it mandatory for car rental companies to respond to all recalls. She says most of the major car rental companies have refused to sign a pledge that they will fix cars recalled.

Hertz Rent-A-Car is the only company to sign the pledge. Hertz represents 18 percent of the $31 billion dollar rental industry.

There are about 1.6 million rental cars on the road. Half of them are sold each year to consumers as used cars.

The pledge states, "Effective immediately, our company is making a permanent commitment to not rent out of sell any vehicles under safety recall until the defect has been remedied."

Boxer says Enterprise, Avis and Dollar-Thrifty have refused to sign the pledge.

"No rental car company should allow an unsafe car to ever be rented or sold to the consumer without being fixed to the manufacturer’s specifications" she says. "We want the burden to be on the company. The company knows that the car’s under recall, that there’s a clear paper trail."

Boxer spoke about the issue at a Capitol Hill news conference, alongside Cally Houck. Houck’s two daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline, died in a crash in a rented PT Cruiser in October 2004.

Houck says the car was under a safety recall and the safety problem caused the crash.

There’s no estimate on how many defective cars there are in the rental fleet. The rental car companies say their cars are safe. But Boxer plans to push ahead with the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, making it mandatory for car rental companies to respond to all recalls.

The Houck family won a $15 million ">wrongful-death lawsuit against Enterprise in June 2010. The month before the accident, Daimler Chrysler sent out recall notices for 435,000 PT Cruisers from 2002 through 2005. The notice stated that the power steering hose could leak, resulting in a fire.