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Tighter controls urged on rental car companies in Ohio, nationwide

Ohio, as a state with a comparatively high population, busy transportation corridors and multiple urban centers such as Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and many others, is awash in rental cars.

Nationwide, the number of vehicles in the fleets of rental companies is estimated at more than 1.6 million.

That vast number — the rental industry buys more new cars than any other industry and is the predominant provider of used vehicles — has drawn attention and comments from many safety experts, who contend that the industry is insufficiently regulated and has many fleet vehicles that present undue car accident risks.

Criticisms of the industry are mounting and backed by strong arguments. Critics contend, first of all, that there is no effective oversight authority at all over rental companies.

They point to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to buttress that claim. Although the agency has plenary authority over car manufacturers and vehicle safety recalls, its mandate does not extend to rental car companies.

A growing number of people argue forcefully that it should. Documents submitted recently to the NHTSA by Chrysler and General Motors indicate that rental companies — including, centrally, Hertz, Avis and Enterprise — are routinely tardy on submitting recalled vehicles for fixes. Concerning one recent safety recall, for example, Hertz had fixed only about half of the affected vehicles within a year, with the other half continuing to be driven by consumers.

“The rental car companies have been playing rental car roulette with their customers’ lives,” says one safety advocate, citing the increased likelihood of a car crash for any vehicle subject to recall that continues to be rented out unfixed.

Such concerns are firmly on the radar of Capitol Hill legislators, with lawmakers slated to soon consider a transportation bill that includes an amendment calling for NHTSA authority over rental companies’ recall practices.

Source: USA TODAY, “Safety advocates: Rental car recalls should be regulated,” Gary Stoller, Feb. 20, 2012