Consumers Union Letter on California Rental Car Bill June 21, 2011

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

June 21, 2011

Senator Noreen Evans, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair
State Capitol–10th & L Street
Sacramento, CA  95814

Dear Senator Evans,

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, supports AB 753 (Monning), which would prohibit rental car companies from renting vehicles that are subject to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)-approved safety recalls if the problems are not fixed by the manufacturers. Cars are subject to federal recalls if they pose an “unreasonable risk” to the public or if they fail to abide by federal standards. Car dealers are prohibited from selling new cars that are under safety recalls.  But rental car companies are allowed to rent such vehicles.  

We strongly oppose the rental car industry’s proposed amendment that would allow car manufacturers to decide which rental car defect outlined in a NHTSA safety recall is necessary to repair and which is not, or to provide any sort of “interim measure” in lieu of a full repair. All rental cars subject to NHTSA-approved safety recalls should be repaired to ensure the safety of its occupants before being rented out to consumers. When a safety recall is issued, car manufacturers must notify car owners, including rental car companies, of the known defect and provide a free remedy to the problem. Allowing the car manufacturers to determine which defects are worth repairing sets up a serious conflict of interest (especially since the rental car industry represents car manufacturers’ largest customers) and undermines the entire purpose of the NHTSA recall system as well as the safety of consumers. 

AB 753 was introduced following the tragic deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, two sisters who were killed while driving a recalled PT Cruiser rented from Enterprise. The rented vehicle had been recalled one month before the incident because of a defective steering component that made it prone to catching on fire. Nonetheless, Enterprise rented out the vehicle to three customers before renting it to the Houck sisters when the fatal accident occurred.    

Every day, consumers rent cars with the expectation that the vehicles have been fully inspected for safety. It is unconscionable that some rental car companies knowingly put individuals and families at potentially lethal risk by renting cars subject to safety recalls. Rental car companies should not have the ability to play Russian Roulette with consumers’ lives.  We urge your support of AB 753.

Elisa Odabashian, Director
Consumers Union’s West Coast Office

Cc:     Assembly Member Monning
    Senate Judiciary Committee Members