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Recalled rental and used cars should be repaired before you get the keys

Transportation Secretary calls on Congress to close a dangerous safety gap

Published: February 20, 2015 05:15 PM

The Houck sisters died in this 2010 accident. Their recalled rental car hadn't been fixed.
Photo: Joe Johnston/The Tribune

If a new car is recalled for a safety problem, it’s illegal for a dealer to sell you that car until the issue has been fixed. However, no similar protection exists for a person who buys a recalled used car or rents a recalled car. Under current federal law, rental-car companies and used-car dealers are not required to fix a defect—or even tell you about a problem—before you drive the vehicle off the lot.

This gap in safety law puts millions of Americans at risk, and it has had tragic consequences. In 2004 sisters Raechel and Jacqueline Houck of Santa Cruz, Calif., were killed when the 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser they had rented from Enterprise caught fire and crashed into an oncoming tractor-trailer. The car had been recalled the previous month because of the risk of fire from a leak in the power steering hose. But it was not repaired, and Enterprise kept renting it out. The defect led to the fatal crash.

To address this serious problem, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is calling on Congress to pass legislation that would prohibit rental-car companies and used-car dealers from renting or selling vehicles subject to a recall without first making the necessary fix.

Check our recalls page for information on any car you're considering renting or buying.

This proposal is part of the Grow America Act, a bill championed by Foxx to improve highways and bridges and address other transportation priorities, as well as address safety concerns such as the recall issue. (Last year, a separate bill in Congress to require rental recalls was nearly approved;  a new bill is expected to be introduced this year).

“Every vehicle under an open safety recall should be repaired as soon as possible,” Secretary Foxx said at an event in Richmond, Va., to rally support for this initiative. “Requiring rental-car agencies and used-car dealers to fix defective vehicles before renting is a commonsense solution that would make our roads safer. Safety advocates and the rental car industry have taken a stand for safety, and we need Congress to do so as well.”

At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we strongly agree. All cars under a safety recall—whether new, used, or rented—should be repaired before the customer is handed the keys.

At the event in Richmond, major rental-car companies said they are making it a policy to fix vehicles that are subject to a recall before renting them out. Secretary Foxx commended them for that, but he also said, "We need to make sure every rental-car agency and every used-car dealer follows their lead."   

We hope Secretary Foxx’s call to action will help provide the push we need to advance this issue and get a law passed once and for all. We will keep fighting to make sure the car you drive is safe, no matter where you buy or rent it.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm 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 articles in our Policy & Action series.

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