March 8, 2011— -- Three major car rental companies have sent a joint letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling into question the results of a NHTSA survey that helped lead to the recent introduction of the proposed Safe Rental Car Act.
Representatives from Enterprise, which owns National and Alamo, Hertz and Avis/Budget said in the March 3 letter, "The information... does not accurately reflect the performance of our respective companies in this area."
A day before the letter was sent to NHTSA, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said he was inspired in part by the NHTSA study when he announced the Safe Rental Car Act, which would make it illegal for rental car agencies to rent out cars that are subject to a recall notice.
Under current law, auto dealers cannot sell cars that have been recalled, but the restriction does not extend to rental car agencies. The lack of regulation, he said, "boggles the mind."
"Rental car companies should be immediately barred from renting cars that would be pulled from showrooms and car dealer lots because of safety recall concerns," Schumer, D-New York, told reporters. "It's wrong, it's dangerous and it must be stopped."
In a study of 10 General Motors and Chrysler recalls launched by NHTSA between June 2006 and July 2010, after 90 days, Enterprise had fixed an average of 65 percent of the cars subject to the recall. For Avis/Budget, 53 percent of the cars were fixed within 90 days of the recall. At Hertz, only 34 percent of the recalled cars had been fixed within 90 days.
The agencies said in the letter that the data provided to the NHTSA by auto manufacturers was not correct because the information was not up-to-date.
"The inaccuracies in the data reported by the manufacturers are, in part, a function of an inherent limitation in the timeliness of vehicle owner data reported to the manufacturer," the letter said.
CLICK HERE to read the full letter from the rental car agencies to the NHTSA.
The letter does not directly address the issue of renting out cars that are under recall, but a spokesman for Enterprise told ABC News last week that under current company policy "virtually all" cars under recall are grounded until they're fixed -- except for rare exceptions in which the company chooses not to fix certain recalled cars.
"The safety of our customers is our top priority and it is the most fundamental aspect of our commitment to do business responsibly," Enterprise spokesperson Laura Bryant said. "[The NHTSA survey] is not indicative of where the industry is today."
Bryant said rental car companies receive thousands of recalls issued every year with no differentiation for the severity of the issue. Enterprise bases the rare exceptions in which cars under recall on not grounded on information provided by the car manufacturer. After the survey, Hertz told ABC News it dramatically changed its policy to ground all cars under recall.
A NHTSA spokesperson did not dispute the claims of inaccuracy in the letter, but told ABC News, "NHTSA is concerned about rental vehicles not being repaired. Through our audit query, we hope to obtain information to better understand how widespread the problem is."
Letter: Survey Under-Reports Percentage of Fixed Cars
The letter said that manufacturers rarely have an accurate count of the particular vehicles in a rental car fleet because they are often sold quickly and the new ownership is sometimes not registered until months later. Therefore, the letter says, the total numbers of vehicles reportedly owned by the companies while under recall will always be higher -- at times significantly -- than the actual number.
The letter also noted that sometimes an inspection or repair of a vehicle under recall goes inadvertently unreported, lowering the number of fixed cars.
But to Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, any percentage of fixed cars rented out under 100 percent is unacceptable.
"They cannot pick and choose," Ditlow said. "They're gambling with your life."