Finger Wag

In a previous AutoSlash blog post, we spoke about the Do Not Rent lists maintained by the rental car companies. Getting on a rental car company's Do Not Rent list ordinarily takes effort and involves doing something bad with a rental car. However, a renter may also be precluded from renting a car based upon driver history in other cars, and that exclusion may be permanent or temporary. While we can joke about the Violent Femmes, every driver indeed has a permanent (or semi-permanent) record. The request to see a driver's license at the start of the rental is primarily for identity verification and ensuring the license is active. And at many rental car companies, the rental car company may also run a driver record check.

AutoSlash Team and Driver Record Checks

One member of the AutoSlash team (name withheld) once went to pick up a rental and met an irate Willy Wonka:

It's not a good day when a rental car company says "no".

You see, a parking ticket had a rescheduled court date, the license was suspended without the driver receiving notification, and the rental car company ran a driver record check and saw "suspended". Our team member was able to resolve this issue quickly with a trip to settle the ticket and a jaunt to the motor vehicle division; however, our colleague was lucky to be renting from a local site, near the facilities needed to fix the problem! Imagine flying across the country, arriving at an airport in the late evening, and having no ability to rent a car; the "worst vacation ever" would be brought up at family dinners in perpetuity! 

Are Rental Car Companies Required to Conduct Driver Record Checks?

The answer here is "no". The rental car companies are going to verify ID to ensure that the car's going to be returned but there's no legal requirement for a rental car company to conduct a driver record check! We're not going to get into the legal history here (fascinating to us, deathly boring to many) but there are two primary schools of thought:

  • School A is the proactive school, where companies and rental locations realize driver record checks could be a benefit, by blocking rentals to those most likely to cause damage (thus decreasing their insurance premiums and decreasing the time vehicles are in the shop). 
  • School B is what's largely the "California/Enterprise" school. If a driver presents a legal license that is facially valid (name, address, and not expired), any disqualifying actions by the driver would constitute fraud by the renter, absolving the rental car company from responsibility. 

Passing the Driver Record Check

The Good News? The vast majority of drivers will always pass the driver record check! It wasn't always that way -- before the concept of vicarious liability was settled in the courts (when rental car companies had to worry about lawsuits that bankrupted at least one firm), as many as 10% of drivers were failing driver record checks. 

Repeat -- unless a driver has an accidentally suspended license, the driver would already know about the prospect of failing a driver record check. High insurance premiums and a lawyer on retainer to handle traffic infractions would be the first clues. As we'll detail below, the drivers who have to worry are ordinarily picking up so many points that the license is close to being revoked.

There are two issues that will immediately cause a driver to be rejected at every rental car company (without fail):

  1. A printed requirement on the license for an ignition interlock device (breathalyzer). These restrictions are usually reserved for repeat DUI offenders and every rental car company bans these drivers, even companies without policies to conduct driver record checks.
  2. A fake ID, which also will put the driver on the permanent Do Not Rent list

Aside from those actions, a driver record check is easy to pass and some activities that can cause a fail (like our team member's suspended license) can be resolved in minutes. Other disqualifying factors -- like excessive accidents and citations -- will no longer show up when the rental car company's timeline has passed. So what are the other red flags that might cause the rental car company to channel Dikembe Mutombo?

"Not today. Maybe a few months/years from now, but not today."

Policies of the Rental Car Companies

All three of the AvisBudget Group companies (Avis, Budget, and Payless) have policies about driver record checks. Avis may choose to run a driver record check or have the renter sign a document attesting Avis' driver criteria are met.

At the time of rental, the renter or authorized driver may be subject to an electronic DMV check from the state that issued the driver's license, or may be asked to sign a declaration attesting to specific criteria:
* The renter/authorized driver has a valid license that is not currently suspended, expired, revoked, canceled or surrendered.
* The renter/authorized driver has not, within the last 36 months, had 1 or more convictions for reckless driving.
* The renter/authorized driver has not, within the last 48 months, had 1 or more convictions for driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), or driving while alcohol impaired (DWAI).
* The renter/authorized driver has not, within the last 36 months, failed to report or leave the scene of an accident.
* The renter/authorized driver has never been in possession of a stolen vehicle or used a vehicle in a crime.
* The renter/authorized driver has not, within the last 24 months, had 3 or more convictions for moving violations (including seat belt violations).
* The renter/authorized driver has not, within the last 36 months, had 3 or more accidents.

Budget has a bit of trouble staying on message, alternately stating that they may or will run a driver record check with similar disqualifying activities.

In any case, Budget can say "no" if a driver has a poor prior history.

Payless being Payless, may run a driver record check and "may deny a rental car based on a negative driving record" without providing the level of detail of the parent company.

The other rental car companies aren't as detailed as Avis and Budget. The three Hertz Global Holdings companies (Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty) have policies allowing driver record checks but do not provide detail about the disqualifying factors. However, past implementations of driver record checks by Hertz closely mirrors Avis' policy -- invalid licenses (for any reason), vehicular crimes, high numbers of accidents, or extensive tickets are the common "no-go" factors. 

And the three Enterprise Holdings companies (Alamo, Enterprise, and National)? Aside from the breathalyzer restrictions, they don't note explicit corporate policies

So a driver with a high number of incidents and accidents, hints and allegations is probably best served by avoiding the AvisBudget Group completely and patronizing the Enterprise companies. And if the driver's managed enough driving infractions to be ineligible at Avis or Budget, those renters may indeed want to buy the expensive insurance products offered by the rental car companies -- adverse selection is already included in those high insurance costs!  

Our Take

Many rental car companies reserve the right to run a driver record check before releasing a car but for almost every driver, it's nothing to worry about. The only drivers who have to worry are those with excessive citations, accidents, major driving crimes, or invalid licenses -- close to losing a license or already lost a license. Or any renter who chose Payless. Driver record checks are the policies of specific rental companies; much like the Do Not Rent list, the only way to address a failed driver record check is through the rental car provider. The rental car companies want you and other motorists/pedestrians to be safe, and those same companies want their vehicles back in one piece.


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