A Good Morning America report that aired on July 7 told how the lack of a stringent recall repair policy led to the tragic deaths of two sisters. Raechel and Jacquie Houck rented their Chrysler PT Cruiser in October 2004, one month after Enterprise received a recall notice that an underhood engine fire could result from a possible leak in the vehicle's power steering fluid.
Raechel, 24, and Jacquie, 20, died instantly after their car caught fire and hit an oncoming semi-tractor trailer on Highway 101 in northern California.
Executives from Enterprise, the country's largest car rental company, admitted during testimony for a lawsuit filed by Raechel and Jacquie's parents that recalled cars were sometimes rented without being fixed.
During the case, the Houcks' lawyers discovered that the Santa Cruz, California branch of Enterprise had rented the same PT Cruiser three other times since the recall notice.
Other Enterprise executives testified that there was no companywide policy requiring cars under recall to be held back from rental.
After Enterprise's admission of negligence, an Alameda County jury awarded the family $15 million.
At the time of the initial ABC News report, Avis and Hertz had no companywide policies regarding the repair of recalled vehicles, according to their spokespeople. Instead, the companies said they assessed safety recalls on a case-by-case basis. After the ABC News report aired, Hertz changed course and said it would no longer rent vehicles under safety recall to the public until they are repaired.
The publicity over the Houck case also led to action by the federal government. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation to determine how quickly rental companies repair vehicles that have been recalled for safety issues. NHTSA has sent letters to GM, Chrysler and Ford asking for details on the recall repair status of almost 3 million cars.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also currently considering a petition filed by the Center for Auto Safety -- and prompted by the Houck case -- that would prevent Enterprise Holdings from renting out vehicles that are still subject to a safety recall.