U.S. Using ‘Bully Pulpit’ to Urge Rental Car Repairs

The top U.S. auto-safety regulator said he is “working through the bully pulpit” to make sure rental-car companies such as Avis Budget Group Inc. and Hertz Global Holdings Inc. complete repairs on recalled vehicles.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland said he’s working to publicize the investigation he opened last week into the repair history of 29 U.S. models in rental-car fleets. Thirty percent of recalled vehicles in the U.S. aren’t repaired, according to agency data.

“Our interest and our conversations with rental-car companies are to make sure every driver, every customer is in a vehicle that is safe,” Strickland told reporters today in Washington.

The recall process treats rental-car companies the same way as retail customers, who must be notified about defects and aren’t required to fix them. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, said rental-car companies should be held to the same standard as auto dealers, who can’t sell a car if the repairs aren’t complete.

“If there’s a safety recall, there’s a safety recall,” Ditlow said. “When rental cars are subject to a recall, the car should be repaired before the consumer uses it.”

Enterprise, Hertz, Avis

Carmakers issue hundreds of recalls a year, affecting thousands of Enterprise Holdings Inc.’s cars and trucks, said Laura Bryant, a spokeswoman for the largest U.S. rental-car company. Enterprise parks its vehicles when recommended by the manufacturer, she said.

“Our practice frequently goes above and beyond what is required -- in most cases, we place a ‘hold’ on recalled vehicles so they are not rented until the recall work is completed,” Bryant said in an e-mail.

The Center for Auto Safety petitioned the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in August to look into whether Enterprise rents to its customers before recall repairs have been completed.

The company would cooperate with the FTC and the NHTSA in any inquiry into its current practices, Bryant said.

Paula Rivera, a spokeswoman for Hertz, and John Barrows, a spokesman for Avis, didn’t respond to an e-mail and a phone message seeking comment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration works with automakers such as Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. to issue recalls for safety-related defects. Automakers, in turn, notify customers about the repairs, which are done at no charge to vehicle owners.

There can be months of delay between the time a manufacturer notifies NHTSA about a defect and when vehicle owners are informed of a recall, Ditlow said. NHTSA could require carmakers to notify rental companies sooner, he said.

NHTSA on Nov. 22 said on its website it had been informed of “incidents involving allegations of personal injury and death” caused by defects in rental cars and failure to conform to federal safety standards.

To contact the reporters on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net; Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.