Recalled rental cars go unrepaired, auto officials sayff

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.

February 25, 2011   

Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – Tens of thousands of recalled rental cars go unrepaired for months or longer, two U.S. automakers told federal regulators this week.

In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was looking at nearly 3 million recalled vehicles from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC that were sold to rental car companies to see how quickly they are repaired.

GM and Chrysler told NHTSA this week that 30 days after a recall — 10 to 30 percent of vehicles sold to rental car companies had been repaired.

By 90 days, it had improved to about 30 percent and within a year, the number had improved to 50 percent or higher.

Ford did not make its data public, citing the fact that the release of the information could damage it is relationship with rental car companies and result in “decreased sales of motor vehicles to rental car fleets.”

Rental car companies are not legally required to complete recalls before they rent the cars to customers.

Some safety advocates have raised alarms that some consumers are unknowingly driving vehicles that were recalled and not repaired.

Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association noted, that hundreds of recalls and service bulletins affecting millions of vehicles in North America are issued annually.

“In most cases, members place a ‘hold’ on recalled vehicles so they are not rented until the recall work is completed,” he said.

Because rental cars move around so much it can take weeks or months for the company to find out a model has been recalled, thus taking much longer for repairs to be done, advocates said.

Rental car companies generally have better repair rates than consumers, who often fail to get recalled vehicles fixed.

NHTSA said in a statement that its investigation was continuing. The agency noted that dealers have a legal obligation not to sell a new vehicle that’s been recalled before it is fixed.

The government’s review covers 29 models — from sedans to minivans to sport utility vehicles — built from 2000-2010.

But NHTSA does not have “the legal authority to require consumers, including fleet owners like rental car companies, to have recalled vehicles fixed.”

The Center for Auto Safety, a group founded by Ralph Nader and Carol S. Houck, has filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission urging Enterprise Holdings Inc. to repair vehicles before they rent them.

A suit Houck and her husband filed against Enterprise Rent-A-Car stems from the 2004 deaths of their two daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline, ages 24 and 20.The sisters rented a PT Cruiser from Enterprise that, unknown to them, had been recalled for risk of under-hood fires. While traveling through Monterey County in California, the car caught fire, causing it to collide with a semi-trailer truck, instantly killing the women, the petition said. After five years of fighting, Enterprise admitted liability in the deaths. Trial was held on the issue of damages only and a couple won a $15 million verdict in June. The petition said at least four people had rented the vehicle after Enterprise received a recall notice. Privately held Enterprise has a third of all airport business in the United States and Canada through its three major brands: Enterprise, Alamo and National brands. Worldwide, it has 7,600 locations and operates a fleet of 1.1 million vehicles. Enterprise said previously the company is cooperating with the investigation.”If and when manufacturers recommend that vehicle owners park or ground their vehicles, Enterprise promptly does so,” the company said last year The U.S. vehicles, which are a disproportionate share of rental car fleets, “were chosen due to their inclusion of vehicles used in the rental market,” NHTSA said.