Cally Houck got the phone call that every parent dreads one October day in 2004 — and it was a double blow. Both her daughters had been killed when a car they had rented caught fire and crashed at high speed on a California freeway.
Raechel, 20, and Jacqueline, 24, had leased a Chrysler PT Cruiser sedan from Enterprise Rent-A-Car for the five-hour drive home. “When they went to pick it up, it was the only car left on the lot,” Houck says.
That stroke of good luck quickly soured. The young women didn’t know that the car was under recall for a serious safety defect: A high-pressure hose was known to spring leaks that could spray flammable power steering fluid onto the red-hot catalytic converter. The sisters never had a chance when flames consumed their car, which slammed into a tractor-trailer.
After learning that the PT Cruiser was under active recall, Houck says she and her husband discovered Enterprise never heeded the notice to make critical repairs and, in fact, had rented the same vehicle to three other customers during the three weeks after the recall.
“We just couldn’t believe there wasn’t a law about this already,” Houck says.
Eight years later, there is still no such law, but there has been considerable progress. And supporters are optimistic that legislation by Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Charles E. Schumer of New York to ban rental companies from renting or selling recalled vehicles could pass before the end of the year.
Already, the push by Boxer and Schumer produced a major victory in September, when the largest U.S. rental car companies — including Hertz, Dollar Thrifty, Avis Budget and Enterprise — agreed to stop renting and selling cars under active recall. Together, those companies account for about 93 percent of all U.S. auto rentals. The rental industry’s trade group also endorsed the ban.
Despite the agreement, Boxer and Schumer continue to press for their bill. Consumer advocates say legislation is necessary to ensure compliance by independent rental agencies and a growing number of foreign companies operating out of international airports that have not signed on to the deal.
“We want them to be a part of the regulatory structure,” says Rosemary Shahan, president of Sacramento, Calif.-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.