Recall Notice

Own enough vehicles over time and you've likely been subjected to one or more recalls. In the late 1990s, one of the vehicles I drove was even nicknamed the Ford Recall after the first five recalls in the first 4 years of service (type "1994 Ford Taurus" in the NHTSA form and you'll see why). In the 21st Century, I've only been subjected to three recalls -- the most recent is the still-pending Takata airbag fix almost a year after the problem was first announced in my primary vehicle. 

Watching the national news, it's very clear more vehicles are being recalled each year. Calendar year 2015 was the record holder in the number of vehicles recalled until 2016 set the new record for vehicles recalled at 53.2 million. Rental car companies take recalled vehicles off the road almost immediately but that quick action wasn't always the case. Why? It took a horrific accident in a recalled rental car in 2004 -- and a major financial settlement in 2010 -- for the rental car companies to consider what should be done if a vehicle in the rental fleet was recalled.   

What Does a Recall Mean?

A recall issued through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) means that there's a safety-related defect that's present in multiple vehicles:

Generally, a safety defect is defined as a problem that exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment that:

* Poses a risk to motor vehicle safety, and

* May exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacture, or items of equipment of the same type and manufacture.

Both parts of the federal government's definition are critical -- many vehicles susceptible to the same safety issue. If a rental car company learns of a risk to motor vehicle safety and doesn't fix the issue, there is massive potential for financial liability across the rental fleet. Today, rental car companies are smart enough to handle recalls as quickly as possible. Yet in the not-so-distant past, rental car companies didn't even contemplate whether recalled vehicles should be pulled off the road. The rental car companies only learned about proactively handling recalls after the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck in a recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser in 2004.

The deaths of the Houck sisters led to a large financial judgment against Enterprise -- the sisters had been placed in an "upgraded" car with a known fire risk. Multiple Congressional bills were introduced in an attempt to take rental vehicles off the road but the major rental car companies had -- by then -- elected to handle recalls on their own. The three major companies representing over 90% of the U.S. market implemented policies to remove rental cars with active recalls from their rental fleets, then supported the federal requirement that was incorporated in the 2015 Transportation Bill. 

Given it's now a legal requirement to pull recalled vehicles out of rental fleets, there are a whole lot of law firms who are willing to file a lawsuit if a rental car subject to a recall is in an accident (see example, example, example, and example). The big rental car companies -- the ones you see in AutoSlash quotes -- ardently support getting recalled vehicles off the road. Some smaller rental car agencies initially opposed the law, as there's not much flexibility if multiple cars at small agencies were subject to a recall.

Rental Car Policies

The three major rental car companies have policies of varying strength. 

Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, and National) has the weakest of the three policies. Recalled vehicles are flagged and can't be rented until the recall (or interim repair) is completed.

After receiving the safety recall notice, Enterprise Holdings identifies affected vehicles by VIN and then places a “mandatory hold” on them in our rental management system. This “hold” directs the recall work be completed before renting the vehicle. Sometimes manufacturers advise that certain recalled vehicles can be safely operated once an authorized interim repair has been completed. In such cases, Enterprise Holdings may rent vehicles after the interim repair has been completed – but only until the final remedy is available.

AvisBudget Group (Avis, Budget, and Payless) promises not to rent vehicles until repaired and will contact customers who are currently driving a recalled rental within 24 hours.

In the United States, when we receive a safety recall notice from a vehicle manufacturer under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, we identify the affected vehicles in our fleet and place them on a “hard hold” in our reservations system, which prevents them from being rented. We then do not rent these a vehicle until we are able to implement a remedy that has been approved by the manufacturer and the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In addition, when our vehicles become subject to a safety recall, we use a third-party vendor that automatically calls customers within 24 hours when we have confirmed that the vehicle they have out on rent has been recalled.  This process is used to contact all customers who have provided a telephone number and/or email address during the reservation or check-in process through which the customer can be reached.  Each customer who has rented a vehicle that is subsequently subject to a recall will receive a message providing specific instructions as to how, where and when the vehicle may be returned for an exchange.  If no valid telephone number has been provided, a written notice will be sent to the renter’s residential address.

Hertz Global Holdings (Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty) describes setting aside cars within 24 to 48 hours and won't rent or sell the recalled vehicle until a repair is completed. Hertz is the only company addressing the elephant in the room -- holding onto cars indefinitely when the repair timeline is unknown (like my personal car). 

It is the policy of The Hertz Corporation to not rent or sell vehicles to consumers for which we have received owner-of-record Safety Recall Notices. Within 24 hours of receipt of this notice which contains the Vehicle Identification Number – 48 hours in the event of a safety recall involving more than 5,000 vehicles - Hertz puts such vehicles on Vehicle Safety Holds and doesn’t return the vehicles to service until the safety defect which is the subject of the Safety Recall Notice has been addressed. Recalled vehicles, on which an interim repair as authorized by the vehicle manufacturer has been completed, may be rented but may not be sold. Once Hertz receives notification from the vehicle manufacturer regarding final repairs for the safety defect, Hertz will put the interim repaired vehicles on Vehicle Safety Holds and the now required final repairs will be completed promptly.

Not renting recalled vehicles is a longstanding Hertz policy. Safety is our paramount concern at Hertz and we review our safety processes on a regular and ongoing basis.

Hertz's statement of not selling recalled vehicles is actually quite telling in the rental car industry. In a major firm like Avis, Enterprise, or Hertz, most vehicles are already removed from the fleet and sold before the timeline of most recalls. The likelihood of a recall in a rental is exceptionally low because the lifespan of a vehicle as a rental (before resale) is short! The current issue in my personal car? I bought the car new in January 2011 and the recall was declared in May 2016, with no fix issued as of May 2017. None of the major rental car companies is going to have a vehicle more than five years old in the rental car fleet but smaller rental car companies (and companies purchasing used vehicles from the major rental car firms) are more likely to still be operating vehicles when a recall is declared. 

While Hertz doesn't address how customers are contacted when a vehicle's recalled, I do get asked for a phone number when booking a Hertz award day at a neighborhood (non-airport) site:

Hertz needs my phone number for recalls but won't use it to let me know when the lot's sold out before I arrive ... 

Rest assured that the personnel at the major rental car companies aren't going to give you a vehicle that's subject to an active safety recall; the staff who service vehicles also conduct routine safety inspections between rentals. While a rental might be driven like ... well, a rental .. it probably has more frequent condition inspections than a personal car!

Speaking of the personal car, I would really like to get that airbag fixed so passengers don't have to sit in the back seat  ... 

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