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Used and rented cars on Florida roads may pose safety issues

Many Floridians assume that if they purchase or rent a vehicle that was part of a recall due to a defect, that problem has been fixed. However, that is not always the case. In fact, rental car companies and car dealers are not required to have the the vehicle fixed or even to disclose to customers that a vehicle was recalled.

The idea that recall repairs of defective products should be mandated for used and rental cars “should be a slam dunk,” according to the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, it is the subject of contention between regulators and many in the auto industry.

The country’s major rental companies agreed two years ago to make these repairs on their vehicles — largely spurred on by consumer advocates. However, they are not required to do so by law. Dealers have been less amenable to the idea, arguing that not all recalls are for serious safety issues. Meanwhile, automakers fear that if rental car companies are required to repair recalled cars, they could sue the manufacturer for the time they are off the lots being fixed.

A couple of pieces of proposed legislation are in Congress now. A Senate bill that deals only with rental cars has gone nowhere in three years. It’s possible that it could be merged into a larger bill.

Auto industry and rental car interests will likely lobby lawmakers to take their various concerns into consideration while working out a final draft of any legislation. However, as one lawyer for a car safety group noted, “In the middle of the G.M. fiasco, I can’t imagine that Congress is going to buy the argument that keeping recalled cars off the road is too expensive….”

In the meantime, consumers need to take matters into their own hands when renting or buying a car. You can get recall information on vehicles by year, make and model on the NHTSA’s website Safercar.gov. If you choose to buy or rent a recalled vehicle, ask what kind of guarantee the company or dealer will provide that all recall repairs have been made. Lastly, if you or a family member are injured in one of these vehicles, even if no guarantees of repairs were made, it’s wise to find out what your legal options are.

Source: The New York Times, “Recalled Used Cars Roam the Roads as Federal Legislation Stalls” Rachel Abrams and Christopher Jensen, May. 08, 2014

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