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NHTSA Calls on Congress to Require Rental and Used Car Recall Repairs

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You may have already taken your car in for air bag repairs, but what about your rental car? Or that “new” used car you just bought?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and elected officials want to be sure rental cars and used cars that are named in product recalls are repaired before being sold or rented out to consumers. Currently, there is no law that requires used car dealers or rental care agencies to make these repairs, leaving many at risk for potential accidents and injuries related to defective auto parts.

NHTSA Compels Congress to Pass New Legislation Protecting Consumers

According to Consumer Reports, new legislation is needed to make sure that more people don’t suffer the fate of sisters Raechel and Jacqueline Houck of Santa Cruz, California. They were both killed when the car they had rented from Enterprise caught fire and then was involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer. The car was under recall for a leak in the power steering hose—which increased risk of fire—but had not been repaired by the rental car agency.

The girls’ parents sued Enterprise and were awarded $15 million in 2010, but of course that didn’t replace their daughters.

Because of stories like this, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked Congress to pass legislation that would require rental car companies and used-car dealerships to address any recalls immediately, and to refrain from selling or renting the vehicles until they are repaired. The proposal is part of the Grow America Act, first released by the Obama Administration last year, which would make investments in infrastructure and increase the NHTSA’s budget.

Previous Bills to Protect Consumers Haven’t Passed

This isn’t a new issue. Other members of Congress have been trying to improve rental and used car recall requirements for years, now. Charles “Chuck” Shumer (Dem-New York) introduced the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act in July 2013. The bill would have prohibited the rental of motor vehicles that contained a defect related to motor vehicle safety.

Rental car companies have actually joined together with other auto safety organizations to support this bill, but it remains in committee. Major auto manufacturers have opposed it, reportedly because it would slow down sales, according to Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

Another report by The American Prospect states that auto manufacturers are concerned about how the bill would increase rental costs for consumers—and perhaps about how it may expose them to more lawsuits filed by the rental car companies in an effort to recover losses caused by required recall repairs.

Previous proposals have also attempted to require used car dealerships to make repairs. A bill in California, for example, failed in 2013 after facing fierce opposition from CarMax and the California New Car Dealers Association.

Thousands of Vehicles Remain Without Repairs

Meanwhile, thousands of vehicles under recall notices have not been repaired. Part of the issue is a shortage of repair parts. Another problem is a shortage of qualified mechanics that can make the necessary repairs. The Auto Care Association notes that current demand for these professionals outstrips supply.

Still, with the millions of cars affected by the defective GM ignition switch and the exploding Takata air bags, this issue is likely to continue to gain steam until something is done. This latest move by the NHTSA creates new momentum for auto safety reform.