The American Car Rental Association wants the government to adopt a new system that would designate some recalls as so serious that a vehicle should no longer be driven while others would allow cars to be driven and repaired later. Such a two-tier system would be a huge change in the safety agency’s position, which has been that all recalls are important and should be carried out immediately. Several consumer groups said the proposal would be a safety setback.
The car rental association represents 94 rental-car companies, including all the major operators except Hertz, said Sharon Faulkner, its executive director. Bob Barton, the association president, said the word “recall” covered a wide range of problems. Rental car companies – as well as all other fleet operators and even consumers – need more information from the manufacturers about how quickly a recall should be conducted, he said.
“We can’t determine the significance of a recall and whether a vehicle is no longer safe to operate or whether it can continue to operate and then should simply be brought in for service at some point in time,” he said. “We simply want the manufacturers to instruct us when a vehicle needs to be grounded and we will absolutely comply.”
Asked how recalls are handled now, Mr. Barton said: “If we get a notice that says the vehicle needs to be grounded, every company will set their own policy. But as a general rule I would suggest everybody would ground that vehicle.”
Asked about recalls for which the automaker does not say the vehicle should be parked until fixed? “Every company will set their own policy, but ultimately that repair will get done, but maybe not immediately,” he said.
Karen Aldana, a spokeswoman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency had no comment other than its position that “recalls are a serious safety matter that should not be ignored.” Several consumer organizations said the association’s proposal would be bad for renters.
Ami Gadhia, policy counsel with Consumers Union, said a consumer whose vehicle was recalled could — and should – take the vehicle in quickly to have it fixed. But, she said, people renting vehicles should be assured that all recalls have been carried out without delay. “There is a tremendous amount of trust that consumers put in that transaction,” she said.
Rosemary Shahan, the president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety of Sacramento, said in an e-mail that the proposal would “perpetuate rental-car roulette and allow rental car companies to get away with renting out vehicles that are so unsafe they are being recalled.” The idea of a two-tier system amounts to a license to rent cars with “with unrepaired safety defects,” Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, wrote in an e-mail.
Currently the federal safety agency cannot force rental-car companies — or consumers — to carry out recalls. But the rental car companies are under scrutiny from the agency, which is interested in how quickly repairs are done. Mr. Barton said he wished the government was as concerned about recall repair rates for other fleets, like taxis and shuttle buses.
The rental car companies insist they do a good job of fixing recalled vehicles and are concerned about the safety of their customers. But they are facing increasing pressure from the federal government over the issue.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to explain why rental car companies are allowed to rent out vehicles that have not been repaired even though auto dealers may not sell a new vehicle if a recall is pending. He has also said he plans to introduce a bill this year that would put rental-car companies under the same restriction as new-car dealers.
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