Are You Playing Rental Car Roulette?

Federal Study: Major Rental Agencies Rent Out Cars That Have Been Recalled for Defects

By Brian Ross and Joseph Rhee, ABC News
Feb. 25, 2011

Editor's Note: This is an updated version of an
earlier story, also reported on "Good Morning
America," to correct a calculation error. See details of
the correction below. A survey of the major rental car
companies by federal safety officials found that in a
significant number of cases the companies have
rented cars under safety recall without first fixing the
defects.

According to the survey, commissioned by the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA), the big three in the rental car business --
Hertz, Enterprise which owns National and Alamo,
and Avis/Budget – since 2006 have let tens of
thousands of drivers go on the road without
repairing defects. Due to a calculation error by ABC
News, an earlier version of this story, also reported
on "Good Morning America," misinterpreted the data
on the percentage of repairs and did not give the
rental car companies all the credit they were due.
Even so, safety advocates say anything short of a 100
percent repair rate is unacceptable. "The bottom line
shows that none of the rental car companies are
doing a good job," Clarence Ditlow, executive
director of the Center for Auto Safety, told ABC News.
Last November, NTSHA had asked the domestic car
manufacturers to provide recall repair information
from the car rental companies because of "incidents
involving allegations of personal injury and death"
allegedly caused by "safety defects" on rental vehicles.
The best overall performance came from Enterprise. In
a study of 10 General Motors and Chrysler recalls
between 2006 and 2010, after 90 days, Enterprise
had fixed an average of 65 percent of the cars subject
to the recall. For Avis/Budget, 53 percent of the cars
were fixed . At Hertz, only 34 percent of the cars
rented 90 days after a recall had been fixed.

The NHTSA study came after ABC News reported on
"Good Morning America" last July on the deaths of the
Houck sisters of California, 24-year old Raechel and
20-year old Jacquie, who were killed in an accident
involving their Enterprise rental car. The car they
were driving was a Chrysler PT Cruiser, one that a
month earlier had been recalled because a possible
leak in the power steering fluid could "result in an
under hood fire."

The Houck's car was never fixed. Raechel and Jacquie
died instantly after the PT Cruiser caught fire and hit
an oncoming semi-tractor trailer on Highway 101 in
Northern California. The sisters had rented the car in
Santa Cruz, Calif., to visit their parents in Ventura
County.

"We found out that they had rented this same car three
times in that month period before they rented it to
Raechel and Jacquie," Houck's family lawyer, Larry
Grassini, said.

The Houcks sued Enterprise, and after a lengthy legal
fight, the company admitted negligence and was
required to pay $15 million in damages to the family.
Now, the girls' mother Cally Houck is pushing the
California legislature to pass a law requiring rental
car companies to ground all recalled vehicles until
they are fixed. Citing the Houck case, the Center for
Auto Safety has also petitioned the Federal Trade
Commission to require Enterprise to fix vehicles
under recall before renting them out.

"I do not want another family to have to go through
this type of ordeal," Cally Houck said.