Proposed Legislation Would Close Safety Recall Loophole for Car Rental Companies and Used Car Dealers

In 2004, sisters Raechel and Jacqueline Houck were killed when their rented Chrysler PT Cruiser unexpectedly veered across a highway median and into oncoming traffic.  Six years later, their family was awarded $15 million when it was determined that the fatal accident was caused by a known safety defect that had prompted a safety recall.  Enterprise Holdings, the company that rented the PT Cruiser to Raechel and Jacqueline, had not had the problem repaired.

Despite attempts to change current laws, car rental companies and used car dealers are not required to make repairs to recalled vehicles – but that could change soon.

The Department of Transportation is hoping to include mandatory repairs by used and rental car companies as part of its Grow America Act, and legislation named after the Houck sisters is awaiting passage by U.S.  In a recent interview, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acting administrator J. Friedman said, “To me it is hard to oppose ensuring that people who buy a car, whether it is new or used, or whether you are renting a vehicle, can have the confidence that it is safe.”

Initially opposed to the legislation, the nation’s leading rental car firms, Enterprise Holdings, U-Save Auto Rental of America, Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, and Avis Budget Group now support the law which would ensure that recalled vehicles have been repaired before entering their respective fleets.

The National Automobile Dealers Association, however, has objected to the legislation on the grounds that tracking the recall and repair history of every used car sold by their members would be extremely difficult.  Moreover, the majority of used vehicles are sold by private parties who would not be required to provide recall and repair data under the proposed legislation.

According to General Motors spokesman Greg Martin, less than one quarter of all vehicles subject to safety recalls ever receive the manufacturers’ prescribed repairs.

For the time being, consumers can check to see if a particular model was included in a safety recall through the NHTSA’s website.  The website also provides information about investigations, complaints and service bulletins.

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