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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Congress Considers Important Measure Aimed At Securing Rental Cars

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When most people rent a car they understandably believe that it will be safe. Unfortunately, lawmakers say that as the law stands now, rental car companies are able to take chances with your safety by refusing to ensure that recalled cars are repaired before being rented out to customers.

A new bill before Congress, known as the Safe Rental Car Act of 2013, would mandate that all rental car companies would be held to the same safety standard as auto dealers. This means that the companies would not be allowed to rent a recalled vehicle to a customer until it had been fixed. The bill would also specify that the rental companies would have 24 hours from the time they receive the recall notice to get the cars off the road.

The legislation sounds like a great idea that few people could seriously object to, right? Wrong. Apparently some version of the bill has been bouncing around Congress for years, with the rental car industry killing a version of the bill only last year.

Just last week a spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group that represents nearly every major automaker in the country, testified before the Senate Commerce subcommittee regarding his group’s opposition to the bill. He explained his group has several problems with the legislation, chief among them fear of liability. The spokesperson said that the Act could encourage rental car companies to sue the auto companies for any lost revenue if their vehicles are kept tied up in the shop for a long time. The Democratic chair of the subcommittee responded by saying the worry is unfounded given that rental agencies would be unlikely to sue the very automakers they depend on to give them steep discounts for their rental fleets.

It’s amazing that, rather than support the legislation which would only require rental companies to repair known safety issues, the manufacturers of the vehicles being recalled are lining up in opposition to the bill. That means the automakers that issue the warnings are saying they are against a bill that would force the rental agencies to fix the very repairs the car companies take pains to warn the public about! It's a perplexing position and understandably has many people scratching their heads.

In a nutshell, the car companies’ argument boils down to this: "Just because we issue the recall notices telling you about the defective or dangerous condition, doesn't mean we actually want you to have to make the repairs." The manufacturers are busy lobbying Congress to vote down the measure, claiming that because consumers will want their cars repaired quickly, rental agencies should not be required to fix the problems in their fleet. It makes no sense whatsoever and gives a free pass to industries that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also come out strongly in favor of the proposal, saying that the mandate is needed to ensure repairs are made. As it stands now, the NHTSA says that rental companies only repair about 50 percent of their cars within the first four months after a recall has been issued. A full year after the recall notices are released, only 60 percent of all cars are ever repaired, a shocking and potentially dangerous figure.

To give the bill a human face, one woman recently contacted our firm after her rental vehicle accelerated suddenly. The woman was forced to jump from the moving vehicle and was hurt in the process. The vehicle, which at that point had taken on a mind of its own, raced off and slammed into a relative’s home. The woman did some looking around on her own after the scary episode and discovered that the rental car was subject to a recall notice addressing that exact problem. The company knew all along about the serious safety issue but never bothered to have the vehicle repaired. The case raises the understandable question, if they hadn’t repaired the car yet, would they ever?

For reasons unrelated to the recall issue we were unable to move forward with the case, but the recent legislation is aimed at preventing exactly this problem from happening again in the future. The chief sponsor of the bill says the measure is one way to protect unsuspecting families from the potential danger of a defective rental car. Given the life or death importance of the measure, and the hundreds if not thousands of people already impacted by unrepaired recalls, it’s critical that members of Congress support the legislation and push it forward through the House and Senate so families can rest easy knowing the vehicles they rent will be as safe as practically possible.