Updated on: 11/19/2019
There's a myth that millennials don't buy cars. But most millennials in Seattle don't own cars (as the old joke goes, there's too much traffic). Which means that for weekend-long hikes and other activities, they often rent cars.
While rental car companies have done pretty much everything in their power to make the process of reserving and paying for a rental car as easy as possible for consumers, research suggests that many consumers have unknowingly rented a recalled vehicle that may not be safe to drive.
A recent study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that rental car companies only repair or decommission a fraction of all their vehicles that are recalled.
Rental Car Safety Issues
The study looked at vehicle recalls involving General Motors and Chrysler cars that had been announced between June 2006 and July 2010 in the United States. Researchers analyzed the actions of three major U.S. rental car companies – Enterprise Rent-a-Car (which also owns the National and Alamo rental car brands), Avis Rent-A-Car and Hertz.
Statistically, the study found that Enterprise branded car rental companies only fixed approximately 65 percent of all recalled cars before renting them out. That means 35 percent of the company’s vehicles that were recalled continued to be rented out to customers, likely without their knowledge.
The Avis and Budget brands repaired just 53 percent of recalled vehicles before renting them out to consumers, and Hertz only repaired a shocking 32 percent of recalled cars, trucks, SUVs and vans – that means 68 percent of the company’s recalled vehicles were continually rented to and driven by consumers who probably had no idea the vehicle they were driving had been recalled.
The average consumer likely is not tuned into the traffic safety realm as much as a rental car company or the NHTSA, and would likely have no way of knowing about a vehicle recall without checking the exact model of the vehicle that was being rented to them. And it’s understandable that the average consumer would find that unnecessary, because a reasonable person would think the rental car agency would only be renting out vehicles that are safe to be driven.
$15 Million Award in Rental Car Accident Lawsuit
In 2004, a couple of sisters had rented a Chrysler PT Cruiser from Enterprise Rent-a-Car while they were traveling in California. Unbeknownst to the two sisters, that exact vehicle had previously been recalled by Chrysler at least one year prior to them renting it from Enterprise.
Chrysler recalled this particular model of PT Cruiser because of an apparent problem with the steering system that could potentially pose a fire hazard. And while the car manufacturer did its duty by recalling the affected vehicles, Enterprise either failed to address the vehicle or neglected it altogether. The two sisters were involved in a collision with a tractor trailer, which caused the Chrysler to explode into flames.
The two sisters were killed in the crash, and the family subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-a-Car on their behalf. After a long and complicated trial, a jury awarded the family $15 million in damages for the death of the two sisters.
You may not think that checking rental cars for potential vehicle recalls would be necessary – and I certainly wouldn’t have either. But after looking at the data, it would seem that the old adage of “there’s no such thing as being too careful” applies here as well.