Boxer to automakers: Drop opposition to recalled car rental ban

Greg Nash

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Friday that U.S. automakers should drop their opposition to a proposed ban on renting cars that have been recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Boxer has been pushing auto companies to voluntarily abide by the rules of a bill she and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have introduced that would require recalled cars to be pulled from rental fleets.

The bill has languished thus far in the Senate, which Boxer attributed Friday to opposition from the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

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“During the May 21, 2013 Senate Commerce Committee hearing on rental car safety, your advocacy organization, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers [the Alliance], raised concerns about S.921, the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act,  named after two sisters from Santa Cruz, [Calif.,] who were killed when a recalled car they had rented caught fire and crashed into a truck,” Boxer wrote in a letter to all of the major U.S. auto companies. 

“The Alliance offered to work with the committee to resolve those concerns, but our efforts have been met with little response,” Boxer continued. “Now, an entire year has passed since the Alliance made that commitment.  I would like to know - will your company commit to supporting this legislation that would prohibit rental cars under safety recall from being rented or sold to consumers until the defect has been repaired?  Your support of this legislation will demonstrate your own company's dedication towards becoming an industry leader in safety.”  

Boxer noted that the major U.S. car rental companies have agreed to support her proposed legislation. She added that the measure is being supported by groups like Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, State Farm Insurance Co., the America Automobile Association (AAA), the American Car Rental Association, as well as the traffic safety administration itself. 

Boxer said it would be timely for the auto manufacturing industry to get on board with her legislation because more than 36 million U.S. residents are expected to drive further than 50 miles from their homes over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to AAA Auto Club travel forecast. 

“As many families are getting ready to travel for the Memorial Day weekend, they should have certainty in knowing that their rental car is safe to use, and that the vehicle's manufacturer also supports every measure taken to guarantee the user's personal safety in the car produced by that individual company,” Boxer wrote.  

Boxer addressed her letter to the CEOs of BMW Group, Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Jaguar-Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Cars North America. 

Auto Alliance spokesman Wade Newton told The Hill on Friday that auto manufacturers were opposed to Boxer's bill because it have unintended consequences of pushing car rental companies to the front of the repair line when auto models are recalled.

"All along we have said that rental car companies and consumers should get recall repairs done quickly. They are important," Newton said in an email.

"Our concern is that the way this bill is written, it is a windfall to rental car companies, and those expenses would be passed along to consumers," he continued.

-This story was updated with new information at 1:54 p.m.