Enterprise Holdings, which had been pushing back against legislation, said customers emailed and called the company asking Enterprise to back the bill.
Consumer pressure "made us reconsider our position," said Laura Bryant, communications director for Enterprise. "We thought federal regulation and oversight was not needed ... The consumers told us they would be more comfortable with greater oversight."
It was a car rented from Enterprise that ignited the movement that led to the legislation. In 2004, two sisters, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, were driving in a rented Chrysler PT Cruiser when they lost control of the car and slammed into an 18-wheeler. They died at the scene.
The PT Cruiser, which they'd rented to take a trip home to visit their mom, Cally, had been recalled for problems with a hose that carried steering fluid. The fluid could leak, leaving drivers unable to control their cars.
The Houck family didn't know they car had been recalled until weeks after the accident. A loophole in recall laws allowed rental car companies to keep recalled cars in their fleets, without repairs, indefinitely.
Legislators will introduce a revised version of the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act to the Senate by the end of the year that would keep recalled rental cars off the road. It's taken two years for Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Chuck Schumer to get the majority of the rental car industry on board. As of Thursday, the bill has the backing of all four major rental companies – Enterprise, which owns National and Alamo, Hertz/Advantage, Avis/Budget and Dollar/Thrifty, according to a statement released by Sen. Barbara Boxer. Those companies comprise 93 percent of the rental car market.
The bill was called a "major win for safety on our roadways and in our communities" by NHTSA administrator David Strickland.
Although the companies have agreed to keep recalled cars in the garage, until the law passes, there is nothing prohibiting them from renting those cars to consumers.
"Believe it or not, it's still not against the law to rent a car with a serious defect," Schumer said on a conference call to discuss the new bill. "When consumers go to the rental car counter, they shouldn't have to worry about what they're getting. Today we are solving this major loophole in the law once and for all."
Schumer said he hopes the bill will pass during the end-of-year lame duck session following the November elections.
"I remain very hopeful and optimistic" that the legislation will pass, Cally Houck, Raechel and Jacqueline's mother, told AOL Autos. "But it's not done yet ... I remain a bit cynical, based on my history lobbying for this issue. But we do have a consensus of all the industry's major players."
The rental companies had argued that they already have, in the past few years, put policies in place that keep recalled cars off the road. Rich Broome, senior vice president of communications at Hertz, said recalled cars are flagged in the computer system as recalled and are taken out of the pool of eligible rental cars. Any employee who rents a recalled car could be fired, he said.
Enterprise also has a similar practice in place, said Bryant, which led the company to believe it didn't need any oversight from the government to keep its customers safe.
"At some point, you realize that if this is what your customers want, you need to deliver," she said.
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