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Rental car companies can lend you an unsafe vehicle

Did you know that the federal law does not prohibit a rental car company from renting out a car that's subject to a safety recall? The Motor Vehicle Safety Act prohibits a car dealer from selling a vehicle that's part of a safety recall until any auto defects have been fixed. However, California residents might be alarmed to know that this law does not apply to rental car companies. Rental agencies can rent or sell a vehicle that has been recalled without any warning or repairs.

A spokesperson with the Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports, indicates that there have been reports of incidents where people have rented a car that's been recalled. Because these vehicles have not been fixed, this has resulted in serious car accidents.

Fortunately, a couple of legislators want to change the law. Last year, some lawmakers introduced the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, which would forbid rental car companies from renting cars that are under a safety recall until safety matters have been addressed.

The bill is named after two sisters who died in a crash in 2004. They crashed into an 18-wheeler after their Enterprise rental car caught fire. That vehicle had been formerly recalled for a possible engine fire hazard; however, it had not been repaired prior to the incident.

Subsequent to the tragedy, the sisters' mother successfully sued Enterprise and has been working to revise industry practice.

In the meantime, legislators have been encouraging rental car companies to take the following pledge: "Effective immediately, our company is making a permanent commitment to not rent or sell any vehicles under safety recall until the defect has been remedied."

Rental car companies that sign the pledge would agree not to rent or sell any recalled vehicles that are not repaired. Unfortunately, only one major rental car company, Hertz, has agreed to this exact pledge. Nevertheless, it's good to see legislators working on this issue.

Source:, "Lawmakers fight to end 'rental car roulette' danger," Herb Weisbaum, June 12, 2012

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