A deadly loophole

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The next time you rent a car, it may have a dangerous defect that you know nothing about. 

A loophole in existing law allows car rental companies to rent you a vehicle that has been recalled for safety reasons. The rental agency doesn’t have to tell you about the recall, and they don’t have to fix the problem before renting the vehicle to you. 

The results of this loophole can be deadly. 

Two sisters, Jacqueline, 20, and Raechel Houck, 24, were killed in 2004 in a fiery crash near Santa Cruz, Calif., after renting a recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser. The vehicle had been recalled because power steering fluid could leak and ignite under the hood. The rental agency, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, had received notice from Chrysler about the defect a month before renting the car to the Houck sisters, but did nothing to rectify the problem. 

Enterprise was eventually ordered by a court to pay the sister’s parents $15 million. But the loophole remains. And that prompted the girls’ mother, Cally Houck, to fight for a law in California that would prohibit companies in that state from renting out vehicles under safety recall until the problem is fixed. The California bill was introduced by Assemblyman Bill Monning.

Of course, the problem goes beyond California. Which is why Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, is introducing a similar measure at the federal level.  Consumers Union will continue to work at both the state and national levels to pass this important safety legislation.

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