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Bill would bar recalls from rental car fleets

April 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you get a car recall notice, it's usually something you want to take care of right away. But when you rent a car, how do you know if recalls have been taken care of?

It was a horrific crash in Santa Cruz in 2004. Raechel and Jacqueline Houck rented a car to visit their mom in Ventura County when their PT Cruiser caught fire and crashed, killing them. The rental car was on a safety recall list for a power-steering hose defect.

"As a result of their drive for profit and their disregard for consumer safety, they continued to rent out recalled cars prior to getting them fixed," said the victims' mother, Cally Houck.

Just as Californians are planning summer vacations, the California Assembly is poised to vote on a bill named after the two young women that would bar companies from renting out vehicles recalled for safety reasons.

"When there's a safety recall, the manufacturer agrees that the car is really unsafe and they voluntarily comply with the mandate," said Rosemary Shahan, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. "And at that point, it's game over."

The car-rental industry opposes the bill. It points out the Houcks' accident was nearly seven years ago and substantial improvements have been made in the way recalls are handled.

The companies also say it's not fair to single them out when other fleets such as taxi and limo services aren't included.

In a March 29 letter to lawmakers, lobbyists for the biggest rental companies said: "We believe a permanent and meaningful solution is for the federal government to improve its recall notification procedures."

Congress, though, is unlikely to act. It will be an uphill battle in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Anthony Carrillo of Orange County was surprised to hear he could have rented a recalled car during any one of his numerous business trips.

"I expect that they give me a safe car that I can drive and not have any worries about it," said Carrillo.

Cally Houck doesn't want anyone else to worry and is fighting, in her daughters' memory, to change the way car companies do business

"We're trying to avoid another family from going through this," said Houck.