Enterprise, the country's largest car rental and fleet agency, is finding itself in hot water after purposely deleting standard safety equipment from some 66,000 Chevrolet Impalas it purchased between 2006 and 2008 for its nation-wide fleet of rental cars. The full-size Chevy comes fitted standard with side-impact curtain airbags, but Enterprise chose to have the equipment removed to save the cost.

In an investigative piece broken by The Kansas City Star, industry sources say that deleting "unwanted equipment" can save fleet buyers like Enterprise significant costs, especially advantageous in the highly competitive rental car business where the lowest price is often the determining factor for many customers. By removing the airbags from the Impalas, Enterprise was said to have saved $11.5 million.

The rental company also acknowledged having ordered some 5,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Buick LaCrosses with the airbags removed at the factory. The placement of side-impact curtain airbags has been shown to dramatically reduce the number of fatalities from side collisions, the second most deadly type of accident after head-on collisions. Although the airbags came as standard equipment on the Impala, as well as the Cobalt and LaCrosse, federal safety regulations did not mandate their inclusion, therefore Enterprise broke no law in removing them. Research discovered at least five fatal side-impact collisions involving fleet-purchased Impalas from various companies.

To make matters worse, however, Enterprise reportedly sold 745 Impalas on the open market, falsely advertised as having the side airbags when they did not. Enterprise says the listing that specified the cars in question had the airbags was simply "a glitch in the system", and offered as recourse to buy back the cars from their new owners for $750 over their Blue Book value. That works out to $175 more than the cars would have cost with the airbags installed as standard equipment from the factory.

[Source: The Kansas City Star via CBS]