July 13, 2014
Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

After Fight, Rental Car Safety Advocates Win Industry Support

Senate Democrats expect the chamber to pass a bill that would require rental car companies to ground recalled vehicles until they are fixed, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said today.

Schumer, one of three Democratic sponsors of the legislation, said that he hopes to advance the measure by unanimous consent during the lame-duck session. He trumpeted the support of the industry's largest companies: Hertz, Avis Budget, Dollar Thrifty and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which together make up more than 90 percent of the rental car market.

"We can move full speed ahead in the Senate," Schumer said at a press conference. "We hope to pass it in the lame-duck with bipartisan support."

Under current law, rental car companies are allowed to rent and sell vehicles that manufacturers have recalled for safety concerns. Enterprise, one of the largest privately held businesses in the nation, has long opposed efforts to regulate the industry and had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the measure since it was introduced in 2011.

But the company has shifted gears in recent months in response to public outcry fueled by a heated lobbying battle and an online petition.

Today, that petition - launched by the mother of two girls who died after their recalled rental PT Cruiser caught fire due to leaking power steering fluid - has 162,000 signatures.

"We initially did not believe that federal oversight of car rental was necessary, but our customers let us know that they would be more comfortable with regulation in place and we quickly changed direction," said Laura Bryant, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings. "Some of them emailed us, some of them called. ... At some point you realize if this is what your customers want, you need to deliver."

The legislation, sponsored by Schumer, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), also has support from AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and State Farm Insurance.

In July, California Reps. Lois Capps (D) and Elton Gallegly (R) introduced companion legislation that included language that the driver advocacy group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and Hertz agreed to this spring. Hertz, Enterprise and Avis all say they do not rent recalled cars, but that is not enough for consumer advocates.

The final bill includes an exception for so-called junk vehicles that rental car companies sell for their parts. It also allows the companies to rent recalled vehicles if a temporary fix is approved by the manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Such a fix must eliminate any safety risk, not just mitigate it. For example, if a car is recalled for a defective cruise control system, the rental car company could continue to rent the vehicle as long as it disconnects the cruise control. But it could not resell the car until the cruise control system was fixed entirely.

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