9 Investigates

Action 9: What should you check before driving a rental car?

CHARLOTTE — More people are hitting the roads and traveling again, increasing the demand for rental cars.

When a driver pays good money for a rental, they expect to be safe. But some rental cars aren’t dependable, which could leave a driver stranded.

That happened to Regina and Briyelle Houston, who rented a 2020 Infiniti from Enterprise for a girls’ trip to Atlanta. On their way back home, the women said the car started having problems in South Carolina. They could see smoke coming from under the hood.

“We were scared,” Briyelle said.

“Every time I talk about it, I get kind of emotional about it because we were in the middle of nowhere,” Regina said.

The women said Enterprise covered the cost for them to take an Uber back to their home in Salisbury, but they feel the company never should have rented the vehicle in the first place.

“I just don’t want anyone else to be put in that situation because you never know if you will come out of that situation,” Briyelle said. “Anything could have happened to us.”

Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke learned firsthand some of the issues that can arise when renting a car. Stoogenke noticed a bulge on one of the tires on the car he rented from Enterprise. He contacted the company and was referred to a mechanic. Enterprise paid for the repair, but over the next 24 hours, he noticed more problems with the car – warning lights came on for low tire pressure, an inspection due date and oil change.

Stoogenke contacted Enterprise again and an agent told him they would give him a different car.

Stoogenke discovered that federal law requires rental car companies to get recalls fixed. Rental vehicles that are registered in North Carolina are also required to get annual inspections. But there is no law in North or South Carolina that requires rental agencies to perform routine maintenance on vehicles, such as oil changes and tire rotations.

Jason Levine with the Center for Auto Safety said, “Rental car companies have a real financial incentive to not put you in a vehicle that is less than well-maintained.”

A representative with the American Car Rental Association, which represents 98% of car rental agencies in the United States, told Stoogenke that it is in the companies’ best interest to maintain vehicles so they keep their value for when the companies resell them. But they added, “There is no industry standard with respect to such maintenance.”

The representative said, “Each company likely has their own detailed policies regarding routine maintenance.”

A representative from Enterprise sent Channel 9 the following statement:

“All of our rental vehicles follow a regular maintenance schedule that is based on the manufacturer’s recommended requirements. Vehicles in the rental fleet also receive visual inspections between each rental for safety items, such as tires and warning lights, as well as change in vehicle condition.

I looked into the instances you cited. In Ms. Houston’s case, inspection shows prior to rental the vehicle had no warning lights, was not leaking any fluids and showed no signs of maintenance issues. There is no clear reason for the engine damage, and the repair was warrantied by the vehicle manufacturer. We apologize for the inconvenience to our customer.

In your case, the vehicle was still within 1,000 miles of needing an oil change and maintenance, however, in this particular model maintenance lights come on prior to the service being due – giving vehicle owners ample time to get their vehicle in the shop for inspection and maintenance. Based on mileage, this vehicle would likely have been flagged in our system for an oil change/maintenance within the next couple of weeks, depending on rental activity.

Related to the tire, the vendor who serviced the vehicle indicated there was an impact bubble on the tire you referenced and the tire was replaced. The other three tires were good. It’s unknown if the bubble was there during the visual inspection when you and the employee did the walk around of the vehicle prior to rental (as is our protocol). If it was, it’s possible it was not noticeable during the visual inspection or it became enlarged as a result of striking something (a pothole, road debris, etc.).

Nonetheless, the safety of our customers is our top priority and we never want to inconvenience our customers. That’s why we keep our vehicles on strict maintenance schedules per their manufacturer’s requirements. However, just as with any vehicle, issues can happen on the road and that’s why we offer our customers 24-hour roadside assistance.”

Stoogenke offers the following tips when renting a car:

- Ask the company if it has a policy on routine maintenance and ask to read it.

- Walk around the car and check for maintenance issues such as the tire tread in addition to cosmetic damage such as dents and scratches.

- Drive the car around the parking lot for a few minutes to make sure no warning lights come on.

- Report any minor issues you notice even if it’s when you’re returning the vehicle.