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Rental-car roulette

Some companies don't respond fast enough to recall notices

Published: November 2012

Photo: Joe Johnston/The Tribune

When you rent a car, you expect it to be ready for the road.  

If that rental-car was recalled for a safety problem, you’d expect it to be fixed before the agent hands you the keys, right?

Amazingly, that isn’t always the case.

Some rental car companies have been slow to respond to recall notices. You may have driven a rental car off the lot without even knowing that it was under a safety recall.

This problem became tragically apparent in 2010. That’s when a rental-car company admitted that its failure to fix a recalled vehicle was responsible for the deaths of two California sisters after the car caught fire and crashed. (See photo, above.) The rental company had been notified a month earlier that the vehicle was under recall for a steering-fluid leak that could lead to an engine fire.

To prevent tragedies like this, Consumers Union and other safety advocates have pressed the government to require companies to not rent out vehicles that have been recalled for safety defects before they are fixed.

Today, members of Congress are proposing remedies to address this problem. While some rental companies initially resisted the idea of regulation, most of them have come around to supporting the effort. 

Lawmakers are slated to return to Washington this month to finish their business for the year. We urge Congress to take action to keep rented vehicles in park until recall repairs are made.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the public-policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.

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