Do you put as much thought into the vehicle that you rent for a business or pleasure trip as you would into the car you plan to purchase?  Probably, your answer is, of course, NO.  There are some facts about rental cars that you may not know, which may change your mind about considering just how safe that rental car is, such as: 

  • There is no current law that requires rental car companies to make repairs to recalled vehicles before renting or selling them to consumers.
  • Once they have been notified of a recall by the manufacturer, auto dealers have a legal obligation not to sell a new vehicle until the defect has been remedied.
  • NHTSA does not have the legal authority to require consumers, including fleet owners like rental car companies, to have recalled vehicles fixed.
  • Rental companies receive notices at the same time car owners do. 

For the past four months, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating three million rental cars that had been recalled for defects. Just recently, some automakers informed NHTSA that tens of thousands of these recalled rental cars went unrepaired for months or longer.  GM and Chrysler told NHTSA that, 30 days after a recall, 10 to 30 per cent of the recalled vehicles in rental-car fleets had been repaired.  By 90 days, the repair rate had improved to about 30 per cent, and within a year, the repair rate had increased to 50 per cent or higher.  Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) has noted that the Federal Trade Commission Act states that companies “shall not engage in unfair trade practices.  Not repairing a defective vehicle after it has been recalled, before renting it out, is an unfair trade practice, and is a violation of the act.”  He hopes that the investigation will lead to a more pointed law that specifically addresses this practice.  U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer, D-NY, has recently introduced the proposed Safe Car Rental Act, which would make it illegal for cars to be rented out if they are subject to a recall. 

Two young women were killed in a car wreck back in 2004, when the rental car they were driving was involved in a collision with a semi-trailer truck.  The car had been recalled due to a risk of under-hood fires, but the women were not informed of the risk.  While driving the car, it caught fire, causing a loss of steering power that led to the collision, killing the women instantly. It was noted that the vehicle had been rented at least four times after the agency received a recall notice.  Following five years of fighting a lawsuit, the rental agency admitted liability, and the parents of the sisters were awarded a damages only – $15 million verdict. 

USA TODAY’s analysis reveals that more than 95% of 167 different vehicles in rental fleets are rated “good” in head-on crashes – the most frequent type of fatal accidents.  However, in safety ratings, the side, rear, and roll-over crashes, have a large disparity.  Cars must have good ratings in these crashes, as well,  in order to avoid death or serious injury. 

The next time you plan to rent a car, do a little investigating about the safety ratings of the agency you plan to deal with.  Take a little time to check out the car before you leave the lot; make sure that  it has the right safety equipment, has been maintained properly, such as fluid levels checked, tires aired up well, and that wiper blades work.  You may have to pay a little more money for a bigger, heavier vehicle, but you will be safer than in a smaller, lighter one. 

Rental car companies have a responsibility to their customers to provide safe vehicles for use.