Finally! US House Passes Car Rental Recall Bill

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Lawmakers in the US might finally after years of back and forth, pass legislation requiring car rental companies to repair cars subject to a safety recall before they rent them out.

Numerous attempts to pass laws about this have failed previously. 

The first was named the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2011. It failed to make the cut in a massive transportation bill that was approved in 2012 before it was re-introduced in May of 2013. It came about following the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck in a 2004 wreck.

The PT Cruiser that they were driving was rented to them by Enterprise. At the time, it was under an active safety recall for a defective power steering hose that Enterprise had not repaired. 

The women lost control of the car after the hose leaked fluid and caught fire. The vehicle crossed the median on Highway 101 in California and collided head-on with a tractor-trailer, bursting into flames.

In 2010, the parents of the girls were awarded $15 million by a jury in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Enterprise.

In 2013, the women's mother Cally Houck testified to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the United States Senate:

The promise of life my talented daughters held was snuffed out in a matter of seconds. Why didn’t the rental car company fix this defect before renting out a vehicle that was a ticking time bomb?

Previous versions have failed to pass into law due to objections and lobbying by car rental companies and car manufacturers.

Car rental companies don't like the idea of losing inventory (and therefore rentals) nor dealing with the logistics of getting cars under recall to manufacturers for repair the moment they've been recalled. 

Car manufacturers are worried that they will have to push cars from rental companies to the front of the repair line or face lawsuits from those companies over lost revenue.

Earlier versions have also failed as a result of other provisions that faced strong objections. One that would have required used car dealers to repair recalled vehicles before they could be sold is a good example. This was also included in the current version passed by the Senate but has been cut in the House version.

A previous failed version relating to car rental companies would not have required cars to be repaired but would have required them to disclose to customers that the car they were renting was currently subject to a safety recall.

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The bill that passed in Congress on Thursday (the Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act of 2015) is a watered down version that had passed in the Senate previously.

The good news is that the House bill includes the provision that would require car rental companies to repair recalled cars before renting them out to consumers. 

The bad news; a number of provisions have been cut from the Senate version. Here's a breakdown of what's still in and what's out:

Provisions Passed In The House Bill

  • A requirement that rental car companies fix recalled vehicles before renting them to the public.
  • A requirement that automakers repair recalled vehicles up to 15 years from the date of manufacture.
  • A requirement that automakers maintain safety records for ten years instead of the current five.
  • Six years of transportation funding at a cost of $325 billion - much more than the last time a transport bill was passed.
  • Funds to encourage states and municipalities to roll out vehicle-to-infrastructure technology. This will allow cars and trucks to communicate with traffic lights and railroad crossings for example, reducing the risk of accidents.
  • A waiver that would allow U.S. automakers to test prototypes on public roads without having to get permits car by car.

Provisions Missing From the Senate Version

  • Additional authority for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) so that the agency can force recalls and speed up the recall process as a whole.
  • Any requirement for used car dealers to fix recalled vehicles before selling them as mentioned previously.
  • Any requirement for new car dealers to repair recalled vehicles before loaning them to customers while their own cars are being fixed.
  • A prohibition on regional recalls. These are often used for corrosion related problems but caused mayhem during the Takata recalls.
  • An increase in the federal gas tax. This would have been the first increase since 1993.
  • Increased fines that the NHTSA can levy against automakers and other companies. The limit is currently set at $35 million but the senate version proposed raising that to $105 million.

Of course this is not a done deal yet. Now the House and Senate have to meet to resolve the differences. The bill could get stronger or weaker but at least, for now, the rental car recall provision is included in both versions.

To find out if your rental car is one on which there is a recall, you can check at www.safercar.gov.

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