Are Some Vehicle Recalls More Important than Others?

In a debate over whether some vehicle recalls are more important than others, several major rental car companies say they rent recalled vehicles if they believe the problem is not serious, according to a Wheels blog by Christopher Jensen at

The companies said they faced so many recalls that determining what a Hertz executive called "a true safety recall" was difficult. But a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) spokeswoman says no recalls are unimportant. All recalled vehicles should be fixed promptly, she said.

NHTSA, however, lacks the authority to force rental companies to act, just as it cannot force consumers to have their recalled vehicles repaired.

Rental companies have urged NHTSA to adopt a labeling system for recalls that would indicate whether a recall was so serious that the affected vehicles should immediately be parked. They also say the focus on rental companies is unfair when other fleet operators or even individual consumers are not required to carry out recall repairs.

NHTSA in March asked Dollar Thrifty, Enterprise Holdings, the Hertz Corp. and the Avis Budget Group to provide details about how they respond to recalls. All but Dollar Thrifty responded, and their letters were recently posted on the agency's Web site. Dollar Thrifty was granted an extension.

Enterprise Holdings stated that when it received a recall notice from a manufacturer, it did not rent that vehicle again "until all repairs are completed." But Enterprise added it "may rent the vehicle prior to the recall work being completed" if the recall was determined by Enterprise to not pose an immediate risk to public safety.

A Hertz committee reviews recalls. If the committee determines a recall does not "represent an imminent or potentially serious risk," the affected vehicles may still be rented out.

Avis Budget commonly contacts automakers to inquire "whether the conditions involved in the recall notice render the vehicle inoperable or unsafe to drive, or if the vehicle can be driven safely until the repairs are made."


  1. Mark Rush [ April 20, 2011 @ 12:29PM ]

    All recalls are serious or they wouldn't be recalls. There is no need for NHTSA to even try to make any distinctions. Likewise, there is no need for a new law to force rental companies to complete recalls before they rent. Let them make a business decision and weigh the costs vs benefits. I would imagine it's far cheaper to ground a unit for a day and get the recall completed than to be exposed to litigtion risk from the renter (or the renter's estate). Ask Enterprise Rent A Car how much money they "saved" keeping at 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser in service instead of getting the unit repaired. (Answer: a couple of hundred buck vs a $15 Million wrongful death jury award).

  2. SC [ April 24, 2011 @ 06:16AM ]

    I run a rental car company. I have six VW Jettas that are subject to the current recall issue they're having. When I first heard about it, I called the VW dealer - they won't have the parts for another 2-3 weeks to complete the recalls. What should we do? If VW tells me the vehicle is unsafe, and wants to cut me a check to ground the cars for 3 weeks because of their issues, I'll do it. The comment above on "ground a unit for a day" is uninformed.

    I haven't even received notice from VW that there is an issue with my vehicles - just what I've read in the paper. These notices often come months after the recalls are reported. And I've received notices from Ford on recalled Windstars in the last few months...that I haven't owned in 5+ years!

    The recall system is broken and needs to be fixed, a lot more than making rental car companies the whipping boys.

  3. Sharon Faulkner [ April 25, 2011 @ 09:00AM ]

    I sold my rental car franchises in 2010. I received a recall notice in March 2011 that my 2008 Toyota Corollas needed work. I haven't owned a 2008 Toyota Corolla since 2008. So who now owns all these 2008 Corollas I turned back to the manufacturer and how will these owners be informed of the recall on their cars? The system is broken and devising laws aimed at only rental car companies is not going to fix the problem. If safety is the main concern, then everyone who has a car that is under a recall must be governed to have it repaired. The manufacturers made a mistake and they are recalling their product. They need to have the parts available and they need a system where the current owners are informed. Then the Motor Vehicle Safety Act can be introduced in the legislature not the Rental Car Safety Act.

  4. Ben Kelley [ April 27, 2011 @ 01:20PM ]

    The commenters demonstrate how seriously this issue is misunderstood. There is an urgent need for a new law, such as the one proposed in California, AB753, to require rental companies to fix recalled vehicles before putting them into consumers' hands. Unfortunately, Mr. Rush, rental companies cannot be relied on to make a "business decision" that accomplishes this, for whatever reason, so the law must do it on behalf of their customers. The recall system isn't broken; SC answers his/her own question - "I haven't even received a notice from VW that there's an issue..." And until you do, your six Jettas have not been recalled! (They may not even be part of the recall.) As for "Sharon Faulkner," no car is recalled until parts are available to fix it, no matter what you read in the newspapers. By the way, if a rental company thinks a recall is costing it money, it should consider asking the auto manufacturer to reimburse it - or better yet, it should make "reimbursement for costs due to defect recall" a condition of purchase in advance. The companies have huge buying power. They should use it to leverage car companies to reimburse any costs incurred in grounding recalled vehicles, instead of laying it off on the poor customer by putting his/her life at risk. Now the rental companies are doing so "infrequently," they claim. We need laws to make sure they don't do it at all.

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