Consumerists talks break down on rental cars

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Enterprise rent-a-car is one of the main players in the rental car regulation talks. Image: Flickr/CC BY-SA

Consumer advocacy groups have been spearheading negotiations to impose regulations on the nation’s auto rental companies, preventing them from renting or selling recalled cars that have not been repaired. Those negotiations have broken down.

Some firms renting recalled cars

The group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) and its subsequent internet campaign were organized by Carol Houck, whose two daughters were killed eight years ago in a rented PT Cruiser that had been recalled for a power steering fluid leak.

CARS and other consumer advocacy groups say that Enterprise Holding Group — which also owns Alamo and National Rent-a-Car — wants to retain loopholes that allow renting and selling unfixed cars that are subject to recall.

NHTSA has no authority over rentals

Car rental agencies, like any other auto consumer, can have recalled vehicles repaired by their manufacturers at no cost.
But the absence of vehicles from their fleets and the logistics of getting the repairs coordinated do cost
rental companies. The Federal safety watchdogs at this time have no authority to dictate how a rental outlet deals with its recalled vehicles.

Car rental firms support weaker bill

Enterprise, however, has joined with other rental firms to support a weaker version of the proposed regulation that it says is
“pretty similar” to what Houck’s group wants. That version will allow recalled cars to be rented or sold under restricted circumstances.

The company said, in a statement:

“[Enterprise seeks] a responsible and practical approach that reinforces the policies and practices that rental car companies already use to ensure that our customers rent cars that are safe to drive.”

Initially, Enterprise balked at any form of regulation involving recalled cars in its fleet. After pressure from consumer groups, it relented in February, giving its support to the regulatory bill facing Congress.

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When renting recalls is acceptable

The company maintains that it should be allowed to rent or sell some recalled cars if the issue is not a grave safety risk
and the customer is informed of the recall ahead of time. The company said:

Distributing these vehicles is acceptable “to avoid turning away customers who show up at their locations when their desired vehicle is subject to a recall which the manufacturer deems appropriate for disclosure rather than grounding.”

An example cited by an Enterprise spokesperson was in the case of a defective seat-belt chime, when the belts themselves
were sound. In cases like these, the spokesperson said, disclosure “served the same purpose” as getting the issue fixed.

Herz stands alone

Herz, on the other hand, has not joined with the other rental firms. It embraces the stricter version of the regulation
that consumer groups are advocating. The company’s senior vice president for corporate affairs, Richard Broome, said:

“We were very happy to be on board. We think consumers should know they aren’t driving a car that has been recalled or, if it has, that it has been repaired.”

Hertz says it has removed more than 100,000 recalled vehicles from its fleets over the past three years.

An uphill battle

Pamela Gilbert, a former executive director of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and negotiator for the consumer groups, says the next move is to take the argument to Congress. However, given the polarized nature of recent election-year politics, she expects it to be an uphill battle.

She said:

“The point is to get a remedy, a replacement or a repair. … If recalled cars don’t get fixed by the rental companies, they probably don’t get fixed.”


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