The current government legislation forces car dealers to ground vehicles under recall until they are fixed – all dealers except for rental car companies, which happen to be the largest purchasers of new cars. Legislation allows these companies to recall and fix their vehicles without supervision of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act (Bill: S. 1445 .IS), a bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), is trying to change that.
The bill is named after Carol Houck’s two deceased daughters, who were killed in a fiery crash in 2004. The 20- and 24-year-old were rented a Chrysler PT Cruiser by Enterprise, the nation’s largest rental car company, despite the vehicle having been under recall by Chrysler for a month.
The tragedy sparked a movement that has raised awareness across the nation about the issue of risks and management of recalled rental cars.
The bill has continued to receive support from various advocacy groups including Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), Consumers Council of Missouri (CCM) and Consumers Union. Hertz, the nation’s second largest rental car company, is the only rental car company to support and agree to government oversight for recalls of rental vehicles.
Enterprise formally announced its support on Feb. 23 for federal oversight on the way rental car companies manage the safety recall process for their vehicles. But it is not supporting the S. 1445 .IS bill.
“The agreement we’ve reached is consistent with our historical recall policy of always making customer safety the top priority,” said Paula Rivera, Hertz Public Affairs Manager. “A federal recall law ensures consistent implementation and enforcement nationwide, and, most importantly, the law should create universal consumer confidence that the car they rent is safe to drive.”
The support from Hertz has helped the cause and put pressure on other rental car company representatives who are hesitant to agree to the oversight.
“It’s huge,” said Rosemary Shahan, founder of CARS. “It shows how reasonable the position would be. A company’s standards would be upheld against government scrutiny. It’s a big step in policy and politics. We got a healthy part of the industry agreeing.”
Shahan said the negotiations between CARS and Hertz didn’t take more than a few weeks.
No other rental car company, however, has agreed to the legislation policies, including Enterprise, which has repeated its stance that its in-house recall system is good enough.
“I expect Enterprise to fight until someone gets it,” Shahan said. “How long will it take for them to realize their standards aren’t good enough? It’s the most unsafe consumer product when it comes to recalls and fatalities. They’re not used to the idea of people telling them what to do.”
Enterprise has been in numerous talks with Houck about efforts to improve rental car safety, even after settling a $15 million lawsuit, but have stopped short of supporting the bill.
“We believe there is much in our current approach that can be part of an effective solution,” Enterprise said in their press release, “and we pledge to work collaboratively with those individuals and organizations who today are committed to legislative oversight of the recall process. We share the Houck family’s goal of preventing anything like this from happening again.”
But Houck said she sees Enterprise’s statements as a way to mislead the media and a cynical PR ploy.
Houck created a petition on Change.org and wrote a letter to Enterprise CEO, Andrew Taylor, asking again for the rental car chain to support the bill. The letter was delivered to the company headquarters by CCM on Feb. 29 and the petition was signed by more than 147,000 people.
“Until you change your position and join Hertz in supporting the legislation named in the memory of my precious daughters,” Houck wrote, “your words to the media are nothing more than empty promises.”
So far, Enterprise has not moved on their stance, and Shahan said she wonders why Enterprise, of all the rental car companies, hasn’t supported the bill.
“A lot of times it takes a catalyst to make a change,” she said. “This is so foreseeable. Just stop before it gets to that point.”
During the lawsuit settlement, Enterprise admitted to being at fault for the death of Houck’s two daughters, and claims it has since raised its standards for auto recall safety. But for Houck, Shahan, and at least 147,000 others, those standards are not raised high enough.
Rivera said Hertz considered the efforts of Houck to pursue federal regulation the “pivotal event” for its decision.
“We do not know why the other companies have a different position on this matter,” Rivera said. “The benefits of the agreement we’ve reached are universal confidence that recalls will be handled appropriately, and a law that allows the companies to continue handling the recall process in an efficient manner.”
The S. 1445 .IS Bill is currently before Congress.
-Dustin Bass, @dbass_cmn
After CMN writer, Dustin Bass, contacted Enterprise in regards to this article, the company deferred its comments to the Feb. 23 press release.