Ignoring auto recalls at our own peril

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast Contact
Posted May 19, 2012, at 2:14 p.m.

 Roughly 20 million motor vehicles were recalled in 2010. Another 15.5 million were subject to recall last year. It’s a safe bet that not all of those vehicles went into the shop for the recommended repair.

There are a number of reasons for this. Many of us consider ourselves too busy to spend time getting our vehicles to an authorized dealer to have the work done. This begs the question of what happens down the road if a faulty part or assembly fails at a critical moment; in such cases, we have only ourselves to blame.

When rental cars are involved, the situation is less clear-cut. Some of the major rental agencies have come under fire for failing to have recall-related work done in what consumer advocates considered a timely manner.

Those companies have cleaned up their acts in recent years. Adverse publicity was a factor, but so was the companies’ desire to promote safety as their chief concern. Another stimulus may have been legislation suggested by at least one U.S. Senator to force recalled vehicles not to be rented again until they are repaired.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating on the heels of reports that a significant percentage of recall work had not been done 12 months after the manufacturers alerted rental companies of the recall. The American Car Rental Association, or ACRA, the trade group representing rental companies, says members’ current practices include:

• Not rerenting a recalled vehicle until all repairs are complete; if a member makes an exception, it’s because the manufacturer provides “information and direction” that makes the vehicle safe to operate.

• When manufacturers say a vehicle must not be driven for safety reasons, companies stop renting such models and immediately contact renters to provide them another vehicle.

• All decisions on “roadworthiness” of vehicles are based on information and direction provided by auto manufacturers.

ACRA has its own proposed legislation, including a provision that no rental company could sell any vehicle that is under an open recall directly to a consumer. The association says there’s no similar law governing any other used car sellers, and that its proposal “will hold our industry to an even higher standard than all other used car sellers.”

One question renters might ask is whether the vehicle they plan to rent contains all available safety equipment. One major rental firm saved millions of dollars by deleting the side-curtain air bags from an order of new vehicles placed with a major manufacturer.

Correction to last week’s column

In last week’s column on the overturning of an award to a California woman who took American Honda Motor Co., Inc. to small claims court, I made a couple of errors. As a spokesman for Honda pointed out, it was the lawyers for the plaintiffs who were paid fees in the class action settlement, not Honda’s attorneys. The class action was a legal proceeding not initiated by Honda.

I also said the judge’s ruling in overturning the award showed that “in the world of advertising, puffery may trump truth.” The Honda spokesman noted the judge’s decision included a finding that the majority of Civic Hybrid owners get very near the EPA-rated fuel economy. He said Honda’s advertising of the 2006 Civic Hybrid “was truthful and accurate to the capabilities of the vehicle.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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