When Raechel and Jacqueline Houck decided to rent a PT Cruiser for vacation, they couldn’t have known it would be the last car they’d ever drive.
Raechal was driving with her sister in the passenger seat when she lost the ability to steer and hit a truck on the highway, causing the car to catch fire. Both girls were killed in the accident.
Following this 2004 incident, the women’s parents filed a lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the company that had rented them the vehicle, on the grounds that the PT Cruiser model in question had actually been part of a large recall the month before. Sure enough, the parents won the lawsuit and the company had to pay them $15 million.
Yet six years later, there are still no rules in place to stop rental services from keeping recalled cars on the lot and renting them out to customers. As Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, pointed out recently in an interview with the New York Times, federal law does prohibit car dealerships from selling “new vehicles” that have been recalled, but those rules do not apply for companies that just rent out those defective cars.
Instead, it simply falls upon the company to exercise its own best practices, and as Enterprise demonstrated during the trial over the Houck accident, those practices leave much to be desired.
According to testimony from a manager at Enterprise, “You've got to keep booking, because you don't know when you are going to get a car back. But then of course, you run short on vehicles, and if all you have are recalled vehicles on the lot, you rent them out. It was a given. The whole company did it."
Now, the Center for Auto Safety and another advocacy group, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, have filed a joint petition urging the Federal Trade Commission to take an important early step in regulating Enterprise and its partner companies, Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental. Together, these three companies are responsible for about a third of all car rentals nationwide.