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Accident leads to greater oversight of car rental industry

In 2004, two sisters were killed in California when their rental car crashed into a semi-truck. A later investigation revealed that the car that the women had rented was under a safety recall for a power steering fluid, but that the rental car company had not complied with the required repairs. That failure to repair the vehicle set off the chain of events that would result in the fatal auto accident, which began when the car's leaking power steering fluid caught fire and caused the women to lose control of the vehicle.

After learning of the rental car company's failure to comply with the recall, the mother of the two women killed in the crash launched an investigation. She ultimately learned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has authority over auto manufacturers and vehicle safety recalls, does not have jurisdiction over the rental car industry. As such, rental companies have no legal duty to make repairs as required by safety recalls.

According NHTSA data, it can take months or even years for a rental company to repair a recalled vehicle. It is unclear whether they are renting recalled vehicles during that time, but it does not seem likely that the companies would allow potentially money-making vehicles to sit dormant for a year or more. In the case of the fatal California crash, the women were the fourth people to rent the vehicle after the recall was announced.

As a result, safety advocates have pushed for greater regulation of rental car companies and their compliance with safety recalls. Recently, Hertz reached an agreement with advocacy group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, which calls for Congress to give authority over rental car repairs to the NHTSA. The agreement, which is included as an amendment to the transportation bill currently before Congress, also forbids companies from renting recalled cars before necessary repairs are made.

Source: USA Today, "Safety Advocates: Rental car recalls should be regulated," Gary Stoller, Feb. 19, 2012

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