WASHINGTON -- The four largest U.S. rental car companies have agreed not to rent or sell vehicles that have been recalled.
The companies – Hertz Corp., Avis Budget Group Inc., Enterprise Holdings Inc. and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. – agreed to the request from Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who are pushing legislation to prohibit companies from renting or selling cars until they repair safety defects that triggered recalls.
The companies also said they would support the legislation, which would put them under federal oversight on recalls for the first time, after Boxer and Schumer agreed to some changes.
The lawmakers announced the agreement Thursday and said they hope the Senate will pass the bill later this year.
The effort to keep recalled cars in rental car fleets off the roads came after two Santa Cruz women -- Raechel Houck, 24, and her sister Jacqueline, 20, -- died in a fiery crash in 2004 while returning from visiting their mother in Ojai.
They were driving a rented Chrysler PT Cruiser a month after a recall had been issued for the vehicle. The recall involved a power steering fluid leak that could cause a fire under the hood and the loss of steering. An Alameda County Superior Court jury last year ordered Enterprise to pay $15 million to the Houcks' parents.
"Today we sent a message that we can’t allow a tragedy like this to happen again," Boxer said in announcing the agreement. The bill is called the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2012.
Cally Houck, the mother of the two women, became an advocate for preventing rental car companies from renting or selling recalled cars until the safety defect was repaired. Federal law now prevents auto dealers from selling such cars, but does not cover rental car companies.
"I want to commend the rental car industry for their earnest and sincere effort to reach an agreement and consensus with lawmakers and the safety community in committing to this common-sense legislation that will prevent future tragedies such as my family endured," Houck said.
In May, Boxer wrote to the four top rental car companies, which combined account for about 93% of the market, asking them to voluntarily agree not to sell or rent recalled vehicles while she worked to get legislation enacted.
She asked them to sign on to a pledge stating, “Effective immediately, our company is making a permanent commitment to not rent out or sell any vehicles under safety recall until the defect has been remedied.” And Boxer promised to make public which companies agreed and which did not.
Hertz said it has had a policy since at least 1989 not to rent or sell cars facing recall until they were repaired. Enterprise also said it has a similar policy.
But Laura Bryant, an Enterprise spokeswoman, said customers told the company they would feel safer if there was federal oversight.
"At some point you realize if this is what your customers want, then you need to deliver," she said.