For three years, car rental company Enterprise Holdings Inc. had ordered new vehicles, mostly Impalas, without side curtain airbags that otherwise came standard, saving about $175 per car, according to McClatchy Newspapers.
The vehicles have now left Enterprise Rent-A-Car's hands, and Enterprise is now sending settlement proposals to more than 100,000 owners of certain Chevrolet and Buick models. As part of a $14 million class-action settlement, everyone who owns one of the vehicles can receive a $100 voucher that can be used for renting or buying something else from Enterprise.
Also as part of the settlement, the company proposes mailing out yellow stickers that warn "NO SIDE CURTAIN AIRBAGS," which owners can place on cars when selling them.
A year ago, McClatchy Newspapers revealed that General Motors Co. allowed Enterprise and other large fleet buyers to "delete" side airbags on the factory floor. Enterprise acknowledged taking advantage of the $175 discount on more than 60,000 Impalas over a three-year period, but not on all Impalas it ordered.
But the affected cars - model years 2006-08 Impalas and some Chevrolet Cobalts, HHRs and Buick LaCrosses once belonging to Enterprise's fleet - are being misrepresented in some cases. One vehicle, for example, was advertised on Enterprise's Web site as having side front and rear airbags. Enterprise blamed that misrepresentation on an online software glitch and corrected.
Many dealers, however, are continuing to make the same mistake in online ads for the used vehicles, acquired in auctions or as trade-ins, because many of their ads automatically list standard features.
Erroneous information stated the vehicles had "side head air bags" or "5 Star Driver-Side Crash Rating" when they don't appears on dealers' Web sites and sites such as AutoTrader.com and Cars.com.
GM has since stopped the practice that enabled Enterprise to delete the airbags and still provide rental cars that complied with federal safety mandates.
About 130,000 people are eligible to receive the $100 vouchers and yellow stickers - whether they bought directly from Enterprise or from a dealer who acquired the cars at auction.