Last Updated on September 30, 2023 by Michael

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If you own a car, you will receive an alert if and when there is a recall. But you may be wondering how car rental companies handle recalls for cars in their fleets.

Not too long ago, it was perfectly legal to rent out a car under recall.

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Then Congress passed the Rental Car Safety Recall Law in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015. The federal law prohibits rental companies from renting out vehicles that are subject to a recall with two days of receiving the recall notice. In addition, now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to investigate rental car companies and punish violators.

In November 2022, multiple Hertz rental cars that had been recently returned by President Joe Biden’s Secret Service detail caught on fire when parked in at the Nantucket airport. The investigation pointed to a Ford Expedition, which was under recall due to a faulty battery junction box. Luckily, nobody was hurt but the government has launched an investigation.

Another high profile case involved the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck in October 2004. Enterprise had rented the sisters a PT Cruiser under recall for a defective power steering hose that posed a known fire risk. As smoke poured into the vehicle’s cabin, Rachel Houck lost control of the car. It then crashed head on into a semi-tractor, killing both women instantly.

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The deaths of the Houck sisters led to a large financial judgment against Enterprise. Congress introduced multiple bills in an attempt to take unsafe rental vehicles off the road. But by then the major rental car companies had already decided to proactively remove rental cars with active recalls from their fleets.

What Does a Vehicle Recall Mean?

A recall issued through the NHTSA means that there’s a safety-related defect that’s present in a particular car model or models.

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If a rental car company learns of a safety risk and doesn’t fix the issue, there is massive liability issue. Today, rental car companies are smart enough to handle recalls as quickly as possible. Yet in the not-so-distant past, rental car companies didn’t even contemplate whether recalled vehicles should be pulled off the road.

If you’re wondering if a particular make and model is under recall, NHTSA’s free Recall Look-up Tool lets you find out quickly.