New law bans rental companies from using recalled cars

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Rental car companies are prohibited from distributing vehicles that have been recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under a new federal law that took effect Wednesday.

The new law requires rental companies with fleets of more than 35 vehicles to pull recalled cars from their rotations until they are repaired.

The prohibition was included in a $305 billion highway bill that was approved by Congress last year. It was originally introduced as a bill that was named after Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, sisters who were killed in a 2004 crash in California that involved a rental car that had been recalled. Their mother, Cally Houck, lobbied Congress for years to approve the change.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he is happy to enforce the ban now that has Congress has codified the prohibition in federal law.

“When a family picks up a rental car on vacation, they should be able to expect it is free of any known safety defect,” Foxx said in a statement. “I thank Congress and the safety advocates who helped turn this common-sense idea into law.”

The ban on recalled cars does not apply to used car dealerships, despite a push from safety advocates to also apply the prohibition to them.

Backers of the ban on rental companies distributing recalled cars said it is a major victory that the ban is taking effect today, even as they vowed to continue pushing for a wider prohibitions including the sale of recalled used cars by dealers.

“I’m thrilled that the Safe Rental Car Act named for my beautiful, treasured daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline, is now the law of the land. But I’m worried about the loaner-car loophole for car dealers and remain committed to closing that dangerous safety gap,” Cally Houck said in a statement distributed on Wednesday by the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety group.

“If this law was in existence when my cherished, beautiful daughter Jewel rented a car, she would still be alive today,” added Alexander Brangman, whose 26-year-old daughter Jewel died in a 2014 crash while she was driving a rented 2001 Honda Civic.

Lawmakers in Washington who pushed for the inclusion of the recalled rental ban in the massive highway funding law that was approved last year also touted the implementation of the prohibition on Wednesday.

“I am so proud that the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act takes effect today so that the public can be assured that when they rent a car, it cannot be under recall,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who introduced multiple bills contain the ban before it was added to the 2015 highway bill.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., added: “This law is going to save lives, period. Families heading out for vacation or businesspeople on travel should never have to wonder if their rental car is under recall when they drive it off the lot. Thanks to this bill, the millions of people who rent cars every year will have peace of mind that rental companies can’t rent or sell cars that they know are unsafe.”

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind agreed, saying the recalled rental ban gives his agency “one more tool to protect the safety of U.S. motorists,” although he lamented the fact that there are currently more than 900 active auto recalls.

“It’s critical that every recalled vehicle, whether new, used, rented or leased, is repaired as soon as possible,” Rosekind said. “Rental agencies operate some of the largest fleets, so this law will go a long way in ensuring the cars and trucks on the road are safe.”

Rosekind has stated that he is seeking a 100 percent completion rate for outstanding recalls.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing