• Jul 7, 2010
Recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser after the fatal crash – Click above to watch video after the jump

We don't typically think of rental cars as the most well-loved vehicles on the planet, but we do expect them to be well maintained and reasonably safe. According to findings from a recent lawsuit against Enterprise, that may not always be true. In a case involving the death of two California women who were killed after their rental Chrysler PT Cruiser caught fire and struck an oncoming semi. Enterprise admitted that it routinely rents out vehicles that are under recall and haven't been repaired. The PT Cruiser was one of those vehicles.

In September of 2004, Chrysler issued a recall for the car. In certain instances, the vehicle's power steering unit could leak, causing an engine fire. Enterprise continued to rent the vehicle for a full month after receiving the recall notice before Raechel Houck, 24, and her sister, Jacquie, 20 rented the vehicle for a trip to visit their parents.

In further testimony, it was revealed that Enterprise routinely rents out vehicles under recall, and that the company has no standing policy against doing so. ABC News also indicates that other major companies like Hertz and Avis conduct themselves similarly.

In the case of the PT Cruiser, a jury awarded the womens' parents a $15 million settlement. Click past the jump to watch the ABC News video report.

[Source: ABC News]



I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 52 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Remind me never to rent from Enterprise.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Or Hertz or Avis which operates the same way.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Avis does rent recalled vehicles but it depends on the severity. you have to call distro to ask for the vehicle to be "bumped" and if it not a serious recall (per NHSTA) then it can be bumped, but recalls like the accelerator recall, the vechile was grounded.
        • 4 Years Ago
        yeah, just take the bus. Greyhound baby.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Per the article above:

        "ABC News also indicates that other major companies like Hertz and Avis conduct themselves similarly."
        • 4 Years Ago
        The problem is that none of the major rental car companies give a crap about your safety. It's all about the revenue, whether it's keeping recalled cars in their rental fleets or buying cars specially ordered without airbags to decrease their expenditures:
        http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/24/earlyshow/contributors/susankoeppen/main6238028.shtml Saving them of course, $145 per car-which sucks for anybody driving these cars when they get t-boned.
        If they could get away with removing your seatbelts or your front airbags to save another $300 they'd probably do it because that'd be another $300 they make. They're businesses that'll buy the cheapest car possible and rent it out as much as possible, and if they're not required to keep them out of the rental fleet with a recall, or not required to have a particular safety feature they'll save whatever extra few dollars they can.
        • 4 Years Ago
        FWIW, I received an e-mail from Zipcar back when the Toyota recalls were just getting underway. They advised me that any reservations for the recalled vehicles would be cancelled, and that the vehicles would not be available until after the recall work had been completed. I don't know if that's a policy for them, or if they were merely scared of the high publicity surrounding the Toyota recalls.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Must be extreme cost-cutting. Awful news. Glad it broke out though.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Something else people should remember when you rent a car be sure and check the tread and condition of the tires. I rented a car from Thirfy. It had started to rain everyone started slowing down and applied the brakes hydroplaned off of the interstate into the medium. I was able to drive the car out of the ditch. I thought all that had happened was the tire was flat. I called the company told them what happened. I was told I was responsible for the tires and that I had to replace them with new ones. If the tires proved to be defective. They would pay me back. I went to a walmart I had to purchase 2 rear tires in order for me to get home safely with my children. The service dept told me the tires were bald and dry rotted. The tires were 5 yrs old on a 3 yr old car. Now they wont give me my money back for the tires and trying to say I totaled the car. I drove the care from Birmingham, Ala to Florida and left iot at the rental car company were I had rented it. Be careful who you rent a car from. Its not safe!!! Thank God we were ok. it happened on a very busy interstate.
      • 4 Years Ago
      A lot of the money goes to the lawyers who may have had to pay investigators, etc. If the families use the money to set up some sort of education fund for college students it will be a very nice thing. Any stupid death is an insult to humanity and knowingly do this was a case in point. Did the people who set up this policy get the deserved jail time?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I really hate how people always say "well 15 million isn't enough", yes in a situation where there is a loss of life, it SUCKS. And if what you say is true that a child really is priceless, than why complain about a dollar amount?

      Truth is no amount of money can fix it, and what most people don't understand is that yes you can put a statistical hard value on human life. Insurance companies do it thousands of times a day.

      The recall bit is scary -- and yeah any responsible company should take the cars off the road. It's not like it would cost them anything to get it fixed.
      • 4 Years Ago
      When I started working for ERAC in 2005, renting out cars with recalls was a common practice. By the time I left the company in 2008, there were very strict restrictions on renting out these types of cars (i.e. cars needing oil changes, recalls, tires, etc). Clearly ERAC got the message long before this lawsuit was resolved. It's definitely tragic for the family and never should have happened in the first place. These types of practices were merely one of the thousands of reason I quit the company.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm not really buying the cost-cutting argument. I think it's more shoddy management and legal advice. Any lawyer worth their salt would be able to tell Enterprise that the payout in the event of a lawsuit like this would likely outweigh the marginal benefits of keeping defective cars on the road. After the Ford Pinto memo, companies that actually do this calculus deliberately (or at least leave a trail) can see their damages awards upped to the moon. The proper value of a lawsuit is to not just compensate the victims, but to create the right financial (dis)incentive such that companies' interests are aligned with the customers' interests. In most cases, tort claims serve to ensure that they are. I think that Enterprise simply had lazy management and controls in place and did not properly value their risk. Having this be a regulatory requirement for the industry would help as well, rather than rely on lawsuits and negative publicity to serve as the deterrent.

      None of the above changes what a pointless tragedy this was.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @tekdemon - are you sure it's to save $145 - or could it possibly because too many people were having minor fender-benders in rental cars, and the cost to repack an airbag is kinda expensive, especially in a minor collision where it wasn't really needed?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Umm...Enterprise is the same car company that custom ordered cars without airbags to save $145:
        http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/24/earlyshow/contributors/susankoeppen/main6238028.shtml
        They just figure that they'll save enough money enough times by not keeping recalled cars from being rented and not buying airbags that it'll pay for whatever lawsuits come their way. Which is why it's important to make the penalty in these cases high enough that it's not worth it for them to be greedy a-holes who put their bottom line over people's safety.
        I'm not even sure that a $15 million penalty is gonna teach them to stop doing this nonsense since they clearly have a track record of putting profits over safety.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Holy...just look at that PT...almost feels like 15mil isn't enough. 2 kids died there...
        • 4 Years Ago
        I was thinking the exact same thing.

        Essentially two young adults lost their lives, and they were valued at $15 mil? That isn't right.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Since we all know that we drop our business the MINUTE a recall is announced and the dealer books us in that DAY to have it done. If your local Enterprise has 20 vehicles and 5 of them are PT Cruisers should they be expected to forgo 25% of their business until the recall can be done? A month is a bit long but people need to get off their high horses. Every used vehicle I have ever purchased has had outstanding recalls on it that were never done. Most rental cars and fleet vehicles are in better shape and better maintained than the AVERAGE driver's car. Enterprise should book the recall work when they are notified of it but they should be expected to be allowed to continue to rent their vehicles until the work can be done. If not the automaker would have to pay them for lost business.

        Enterprise is not 100% to blame for the death of these people. Chrysler has some blame in the fact that they built a car with a defect. The driver also likely has some blame here as well. All of these factors are used in determining the amount of a settlement. The settlement is not just about how much a human life is worth but how much the company is responsible. The attitudes about this are a reflection on why it is becoming so difficult for companies to do business in America.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If it were too high, the company would declare bankruptcy and those parents would get nothing.

        $15mill -20mill-40mill is NOTHING compared to your kids... At least that is how I see it. Still. Hopefully they put that money away, have another kid and give it all to him!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Maybe if the company shut down other companies would learn a lesson.

        And whoever is responsible for the action to not take those cars off the road should be charged with some form of murder.
        • 4 Years Ago
        So what is right? 25 mil? 50 mil? Shutting Enterprise's doors?

        Making attorneys independently wealthy doesn't bring these women back.
      • 4 Years Ago
      If power steering is leaking, the assist to the steering wheel will be lost making it very difficult to steer, especially if you understand nothing about cars. With a car on fire and loss of steering assist, this would cause many people to panic and loose control of a car.

      As for why the rental vehicles are not withdrawn from service when a recall is issued, the rental car companies do not want to loose revenue (greed at the expense of customer safety) when they have to ground a particular fleet of vehicles until repairs can be done.
        • 4 Years Ago
        How many of us remove our own vehicles from service when we get recall notices? Very few I suspect.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Driving is a risk, people...a dog could have run onto the road and caused these people to swerve into the truck. It's negligence on behalf of Enterprise and they should be penalized for this, but they are surely not the only rental company guilty of this and this is surely not the first thing that's gone wrong with a rental car.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'd like more info, how an engine fire leads to swerving into the incoming lane? Though it's somewhat wrong to rent a recalled vehicle (if it's a serious recall), though I don't see the two related..even if the power steering fluid was leaking it doesn't make the vehicle steer incontrolably.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Not to insult the deceased or anything, but I hope they did not drive faster on seeing any flames, thinking they could blow it out like a candle.

        Regardless, this is pure negligence. People make fun of lawsuits, but this is exactly the sort of thing they are for.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Not to generalize...but ever see a young(ish) girl get into a panicky situation behind the wheel? It's close the eyes, cover the face with the hands, and scream. I never let her drive my car again. Got a new GF. You can't drive, you don't belong in my car.

        Don't know what happened here, and not likely we ever will...and it's sad that 2 people had to die for whatever reason. Got to be hard to take. Not sure where or why $15mill helps out though. Can't buy 2 new daughters. Maybe they should have sued for ownership of the company, and then gone about making changes to the way things are done to ensure others remain safe, if that in fact was the cause of the accident.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @remy:

        Well, you have to remember that some people just can't keep their cool during a bad situation. Unfortunately, in my experience, peoples' first reaction to a driving crisis ISN'T to hit the brakes, but to turn the wheel. And since there's no law or test required to see whether or not a person should be driving based on their ability to handle a sudden crisis, it's kinda hard to put a lot of blame on the driver.

        You're right: leaking power steering fluid and a resulting fire don't force a car to swerve into an oncoming lane and hit a semi. But I think there's also a certain level of expectation that people have when renting a car, and Enterprise got a mess on its hands for failing to meet that expectation. Thus, I think the blame falls on both parties.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Enterprise can be grateful I wasn't on the jury. I would have awarded the family 100 times more than the $15-million.
        • 4 Years Ago
        All of us who enjoy the availability of affordable rental cars should be grateful you weren't on the jury.
    • Load More Comments