Car rental firms in U.S. safety probe

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether rental car companies have been quick enough to repair recalled vehicles and careful enough about not renting them out to customers.

The agency says it has recently been informed about deaths and injuries allegedly stemming from rental car companies allowing customers to drive vehicles on which required recall work had not yet been performed.

In August, the Center for Auto Safety filed a formal petition with the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to require Enterprise Holdings Inc., the company that operates the Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental brands, to remove recalled vehicles from service until they have been repaired.

The petition stemmed from an accident in October 2004 which killed two women who were driving a recalled PT cruiser they rented from Enterprise. The car had been recalled because of an underhood fire risk. According to the suit, the vehicle caught fire and crashed into an oncoming truck.

Earlier this year, according to the petition, Enterprise settled a lawsuit stemming from that crash. As part of the settlement, Enterprise paid $15 million and admitted liability in the case.

"Once Enterprise receives the official notice of the recall, the affected vehicles should be immediately parked until fixed," the Center for Auto Safety said in its petition.

Enterprise ordinarly places a "hold" on recalled vehicles until the required work is completed, the rental car company said in a statement, even in cases in which the automaker itself does not recommend the vehicles be parked and not driven.

For example, in January, Enterprise Holdings announced it was pulling a number of recalled Toyota cars from its rental fleets until required recall work was completed.

"We, of course, are willing to cooperate with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Trade Commission in any inquiry they wish to make concerning our current practices," Enterprise said in its statement.

The NHTSA investigation focuses on a number of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler models that have been recalled and that are also commonly found in rental car company fleets. Those models include the 2009 Buick Enclave SUV, the 2005-2006 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, the 2010 Ford Explorer and many others.

In January, Enterprise Holdings announced it was pulling a number of recalled Toyota cars from its rental fleets and would not return the cars to service until they had been repaired. To top of page

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