Law Requiring Car Rental Agencies to Repair Defects before Leasing Vehicles


August 05, 2016

Raechel Houck and her sister Jacqueline, who were both in their early twenties, rented a PT Cruiser from Enterprise and headed off on a five-hour trek to their mother's home. Midway through their journey, smoke flooded the passenger compartment, and Rachel Houck lost control of the car. The PT Cruiser crossed over a median and collided head-on into a tractor-trailer. Tragically, the sisters both died in the horrific crash caused by a defective power steering hose that had not been repaired before the vehicle was rented to them.  This blog article discusses a new federal law which is designed to prevent such tragedies in the future.

The new regulation makes it mandatory that car rental agencies take care of any safety defects subject to recall before providing a vehicle to an unsuspecting customer. Before enactment of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) in 2015, car rental agencies could legally rent vehicles subject to recalls related to serious safety issues. Because the law did not require car rental companies to take vehicles out of service and affect repairs, the companies did not necessarily check their fleet for safety problems. Although the law was passed in 2015, it did not become effective until June 1, 2016, because rental companies needed time to makes changes to comply with the law. While the Houck tragedy was the most widely publicized incident, Congress acted to change the law because of multiple incidents where vehicle occupants suffered injuries or lost loved ones because of crashes involving defective rental cars.

With the enactment of this new law, car rental agencies are subject to stricter rules that should deter the practice of renting vehicles with known defects that are prone to causing collisions and traffic-related fatalities. Any car rental company with at least 35 vehicles in its rental fleet must take vehicles subject to recall out of service until the safety issue has been repaired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has indicated that it is seeking a one hundred percent remediation rate for open recalls on vehicles. The new regulation should promote compliance by car rental agencies.

If you have been involved in a collision while driving a rental car because of a mechanical problem that might be related to a safety recall, multiple parties might bear financial responsibility for your injuries. If the rental company leases the car to you without implementing repairs as indicated under the recall, non-compliance with this new law can constitute a basis for imposing liability. The automaker also can be liable for defects in the design or manufacturing process, which can be a substantial factor in causing an injury accident. If a company other than the maker of the vehicle manufactured the defective part or component, the company that designed or manufactured the defective part also can held be liable if the defect resulted in injuries. For example, a customer injured in a rental car with a defective exploding Takata airbag might have a legal claim against the car rental agency, vehicle manufacturer, and Takata.

This new law should have a far-reaching impact given the enormous number of vehicles subject to safety recalls during the last several years. For example, approximately 51.26 million vehicles were recalled in 2015 according to a Wall Street Journal Report. If you have been injured in a crash caused by a defective rental car, our personal injury lawyers at Montlick & Associates can examine the facts and circumstances of what happened and advise you on what steps are necessary to protect your rights to compensation.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.