Trivia: Your average rental car agency has between 100 and 150 cars in its fleet at any time. Airport-based agencies have many, many times more.
Yet, when you get to the lot, you’re usually stuck picking between some lowly optioned economy car or something that could have come straight out of a warzone. It’s because rental car agencies have plenty more customers than you’ll ever see, and they’re in a constant juggling act—sometimes with a half-hour window or less—to get one set of customers out of a car and another into that very same vehicle.
Unfortunately, because of it, sometimes safety doesn’t come standard. Recalls get shelved from time to time when they aren’t imperative to a car’s operation. And, understandably, customers can get miffed when they see a car with a glowing warning light, whether it’s something that can wait like a small sensor or something much more critical.
“The rental car industry is the single largest purchaser of new cars, and the single largest source of used cars in North America, yet they have escaped all regulation and oversight from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” says Cally Houck, the mother of two daughters who died in an accident that could have been avoided because of a safety recall. In her daughters’ case, they lost control of a Chrysler PT Cruiser after a recall notice had been ignored by Enterprise Rent-a-Car, causing the car’s power steering fluid to catch fire. The vehicle then crashed into the back of a semi-truck.
Last year, Hertz and Enterprise, the two largest rental companies in the U.S., had 184,000 vehicles recalled, and there were 15.5 million vehicles recalled across all model years in total throughout 2011. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) are planning on introducing an amendment to a pending transportation bill that would allow the NHTSA to more closely monitor how quickly rental agencies fix such recalls.
That isn’t to say rental car agencies turn a blind eye to recalls. In 2009 when Toyota’s gas pedal fiasco was at its peak, Enterprise removed all floor mats from its Toyota products, grounded much of its Toyota fleet, and took them for repairs by the dozen.
It’s a tricky business to manage with keeping fleets on the road while balancing out essential versus nonessential repairs to maximize revenue. But with legislators now getting involved, there’s a strong chance it’ll no longer be up to the individual rental car agencies to decide.
Source: USA Today