Win! Rental Car Companies Can No Longer Give You Recalled Cars That Could Burst Into Flames
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Furthermore, Enterprise has a long history of safety problems, beyond the recalled car issue. Most notably, it came out in 2009 that the company had sold 66,000 Chevy Impalas without side airbags, which were standard, but which the company had requested be “deleted” from the cars when it originally purchased them to save money. What’s more, Enterprise incorrectly noted that some of the used cars contained side airbags when they did not.
One of the most cited accidents to stem from the deleted airbag move involved an Iraq war veteran named Bryson Casey who in 2008 was driving an Impala he had rented from Enterprise when the car hydroplaned into oncoming traffic. Casey was struck by another car and rendered quadriplegic. “He survives Iraq and comes back to being maimed in a car wreck,” Casey’s lawyer, Chad Lucas, said. “The claim ends up being that there is no side airbag in this car, and if there had been, our experts said he would not have sustained the neck injury that he did and he would have walked away from the crash.” (Casey sued both GM of Canada and Enterprise, and reached a confidential settlement.)
Activists and Advocates Keep Pushing
Groups like the auto club and car safety lobbying group AAA and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) have long supported laws that would keep car rental companies from renting recalled vehicles, and their efforts only intensified in the wake of the Houck tragedy.
In February of this year, there was finally some good news on that front: Hertz, one of the largest rental car companies in the country, struck an agreement with CARS to stop renting potentially unsafe vehicles until they’ve been fixed.
At that point, the advocacy and activism around the issue kicked into high gear. Cally Houck started a Change.org petition urging Enterprise to “stop opposing a law prohibiting companies from renting out recalled cars.” Addressed to Enterprise CEO Andrew Taylor, the petition letter states:
We are gravely concerned about the safety of the vehicles that Enterprise is renting. Enterprise has a history of renting out dangerous, recalled vehicles and has opposed legislation that would prohibit this practice. To ensure the safety and lives of your customers and the general public, we ask you to drop your opposition to legislation that would require all rental car companies to fix any recalled vehicles before renting them out again.
Currently, manufacturers and new car dealers are prohibited from selling new cars that are under safety recalls. All we ask is that rental car companies, such as Enterprise, are held to this same, common-sense safety standard.
Meanwhile, several members of Congress -- Lois Capps (D-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Jan Shakowsky (D-IL), and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) -- used the momentum of the Hertz agreement to start pushing for a law that would make it illegal for all car companies to rent recalled vehicles.
A Win for Consumers
Houck’s Change.org petition garnered some 162,000 signatures, and the issue picked up steam throughout the summer. On September 27 there was big news: Enterprise, Hertz, Avis, Dollar Thrifty, and National, agreed to cease the practice of renting out recalled cars.
The bill that would make all of this law, H.R. 6094, is expected to pass during the next congressional session.
This case gives us an important look into how activists, lobbyists and ordinary citizens can work together to protect consumers. It’s also a lesson in how much foot-dragging companies will do to avoid having to do the right thing. The rental car companies surely would’ve kept cutting corners to pad their bottom lines if the Houcks and all the other players in this story hadn’t pressured them, hard. The most basic rights -- like the right to know the car you rent won’t burst into flames -- are often hard won.