Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-California) today joined the mother of two daughters who died in a rental car crash to ask why three of the nation's four major rental car companies had declined to sign a pledge promising not to rent or sell cars under safety recall until those cars are fixed.
Boxer said that only Hertz had agreed to the pledge, but that Enterprise, Avis and Dollar Thrifty had not. "I want to say to America's families: You demand that all these companies sign this simple pledge. . . Tell your families that Hertz is the only one that signed this pledge."
Cally Houck, whose daughters Jacqui and Raechel died in the fiery crash of an Enterprise rental car, added that the law that Sen. Boxer and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-New York) are proposing that would ban the rental of recalled cars is necessary because "we cannot depend on the industry to do the right thing."
"You don't rent or sell a car under safety recall," said Houck. "That's all Sen. Boxer and Sen. Schumer are asking for."
Representatives of Enterprise, Avis and Dollar Thrifty all responded to Boxer's press conference by saying their companies address safety recalls in a timely fashion. An Enterprise spokesperson said categorically that the company "does NOT rent any vehicles under recall that have not been repaired first." An Avis spokesperson said the company "[does] not and will not rent a vehicle" under recall, while Dollar Thrifty released a June 5 letter to Boxer in which the company asserted that "Dollar Thrifty has an outstanding safety record . . . specifically with respect to the timely repair of safety recalls."
Boxer charged that the companies still sought "loopholes." Said Boxer, "I know when people are using words they can walk away from."
In a letter to Boxer's office, Enterprise noted that it wanted to continue renting cars in some instances when customers could be notified of any risk, as in the case of minivans with stickers showing inaccurate weight limits. The company did not want to sideline the cars while waiting for accurate stickers.
Boxer's office also said that Avis "makes exceptions for the sale of salvage vehicles on the wholesale market," and that Dollar Thrifty "gives no clarity at all on their rental policies." A June 11 letter from Avis to Boxer says "our longstanding general practice is to not dispose of vehicles in retail or wholesale markets without having the recalled item repaired or taking the steps necessary aimed at keeping the car out of the stream of commerce as a driveable car until the repair is completed."
All three companies, however, say they support federal legislation to ensure rental car safety. "We have advised Senator Boxer that we support appropriate legislation on fleet safety," said Anna Bootenhoff of Dollar Thrifty. "We do not think pledges are a substitute for legislation."
The companies believe that any legislation should also cover other business that transport passengers, like limousine and taxi companies. In a letter to Sen. Boxer, John Barrows of Avis Budget wrote, "We strongly urge you to make similar inquiry and pledge request from other for-hire transportation companies, passenger vehicle fleet operators and passenger car fleet owners, as safety must apply equally to all."
At the press conference, Boxer said she thought those points could be dealt with eventually, but said she was working on a bill that could be ready "in three weeks."
Cally Houck's daughters Raechel and Jacqui died in 2004 when the Chrysler PT Cruiser they rented from Enterprise apparently began leaking steering fluid and caught fire before crashing into a truck. As detailed in a 2010 ABC News report, the car had been under safety recall for the potential fire hazard, but had still been rented to the sisters.
The Houck family sued Enterprise, and after a lengthy legal fight, the company admitted negligence and was required to pay $15 million in damages to the family. After the ABC News report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation to see how quickly rental car companies repair vehicles that have been recalled.
The nation's rental car companies together own more than 1.5 million vehicles, with hundreds of thousands subject to recall in any given year. Hertz, Avis Budget, Enterprise and Dollar Thrifty together account for more than 90 percent of the U.S. rental market.