The rental companies dispute the survey findings, saying they pick and choose which recalls are most important, and have a high rate of fix for the most serious problems. Both Avis and Enterprise noted that after a 2010 recall of Pontiac vehicles over sticking accelerator pedals, they grounded and repaired the vehicles in question before renting them out.
However, the NHTSA survey found that in the 2007 recall of a series of Chrysler vehicles with a brake problem "that could cause a crash without warning," Enterprise/National fixed 65 percent within 90 days, according to the survey, and Avis/Budget fixed 61 percent. Hertz fixed only 46 percent within 90 days.
"They cannot pick and choose," Ditlow said. "They're gambling with your life."
Hertz said it has dramatically changed its policy and told ABC News that as of last summer, it now grounds all cars recalled for any reason, and will not rent them until they are fixed -- a change of policy that grew out of the public attention drawn to the tragic case of the two sisters.
Enterprise also said the government's recall figures are historical and do not reflect their performance in the most recent recalls in which they said repairs were virtually 100 percent complete within 90 days.
It is a position safety advocates said they hope the other rental car companies will follow. In the meantime, Ditlow said the best recourse for consumers is to simply ask rental car agents if their vehicle is subject to an outstanding safety recall.
"If they don't tell you, they're deceiving you and if they won't tell you, just go to another company, go to another counter," said Ditlow. "They're all right there in the airport, this is a free market, pick somebody who's more responsible."
Editor's Note - Correction:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Enterprise had repaired 30 percent of the recalled cars. The correct number is 65 percent. The number previously reported for Avis, (26 percent) was actually 53 percent. The number previously reported for Hertz (21 percent) was actually 34 percent. The originally reported percentages for the brake re-call were also incorrect.
The misinterpretation was the result of the different ways in which the auto manufacturers reported their results. It was brought to ABC's attention by Enterprise.