Good news for consumers who use rental cars. The four largest rental car companies just announced they will no longer rent vehicles that are part of a safety recall. They also affirmed their support for proposed federal legislation that will make it illegal for rental car companies to rent recalled vehicles. Under current federal law, car dealerships cannot sell or lease recalled vehicles but no such restriction applies to rental car companies.

Hertz, Avis/Budget, Enterprise (including National and Alamo), and Dollar Thrifty pledged to no longer rent recalled vehicles following introduction of a Senate bill making it illegal for rental car companies to rent or sell recalled vehicles until the safety defect is repaired.

The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2012, proposed by Senator Charles Schumer (D – NY) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D – CA), followed the horrific motor vehicle deaths of these two young sisters whose rented vehicle was the subject of a safety recall. Enterprise rented to the Houck sisters a 2004 PT Cruiser that had been recalled because of a potential fire hazard a month prior to the accident. The sisters were killed when their vehicle crashed head-on into a semi-trailer after a sudden engine fire ignited by leaking steering fluid.

After a protracted legal battle, Enterprise finally ended up paying $15 million in damages to the Houck family. “Had these car rental companies been more proactive in their responsibilities to the consumer perhaps these tragic deaths could have been avoided. Time and again it takes a lawsuit to slap large corporations into reality to do the right thing,” laments Greg Bubalo, Managing Partner of the Becker Law Office.

The pledge is certainly welcome news but a little surprising. Just this summer, rental car companies at first refused to sign the pledge and would not give specifics about how quickly vehicle safety recalls are repaired. Enterprise and Avis claim it is their company policy not to rent or sell recalled vehicles until they are repaired, although this policy apparently was not in place at Enterprise when the Houck sisters rented their ill-fated PT Cruiser. Hertz contends it has had a company policy since 1989 to repair recalled vehicles before selling or renting them to consumers.

We think this pledge is definitely a step in the right direction toward protecting consumers who use rental cars. With the great number of vehicles owned by rental car companies it is certainly not a surprise that within such large fleets there are recalled vehicles that are unsafe and potentially dangerous. The Becker Law Office applauds the four major rental car companies for doing the right thing and pledging not to rent or sell recalled vehicles until safety recalls are repaired, despite there currently being no federal law in place to prevent them from doing so, and we further commend Senators Schumer and Boxer for introducing legislation to address this loophole in the law.