Recently I appeared on WJCT’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross to alert drivers to a big loophole in consumer safety: unrepaired rental cars and used cars that are recalled but not repaired before being rented or sold to unsuspecting consumers.

With recalls grabbing the headlines every week over the past couple of years – from runaway accelerators to GM ignition switches to defective airbags – recalled cars on the road are a big safety concern. Defect and danger leads to the recalls. Not getting defective cars fixed and then renting them out or selling them as used cars is grossly negligent.

Just this week, GM admitted its own count of the death toll linked to faulty ignition-switches jumped to 19, from the original estimate of 13, according to this NPR News story.

Unrepaired rental cars

Right now, there is no federal legislation requiring rental car companies to repair unsafe, defective, recalled cars before renting them to consumers. The issue gained national attention when two sisters from California, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, died in 2004 after their Enterprise rental car, a Chrysler PT Cruiser, caught fire and crashed due to a power steering malfunction that was the subject of a recall. Enterprise knew about the recall and didn’t fix it before renting it to the sisters.

As a result of the advocacy of their mother, the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013 was introduced to close the loophole. It now has support from the major national rental car companies as well as General Motors. Consumer advocacy groups expect the legislation will pass this year. It would prohibit rental car companies from renting out or selling vehicles under safety recall until repairing them first. In the meantime, be sure to ask or check this website about any car that you may consider renting.

Unrepaired used cars

While it’s against the law for car dealers to sell or lease recalled new cars unless they have been fixed, it’s not the case with used cars. You may unwittingly buy a used car that’s been recalled and unrepaired. Consumer advocates say dealers have given the most resistance to regulation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recommended the loophole be closed, but right now there is no pending federal legislation.

Requiring used car dealers to repair recalled cars is being addressed at the state level. The California legislature considered the first legislation in the country that would specifically prohibit dealers from selling unrepaired recalled vehicles. It didn’t pass. New York City is taking the lead and cracking down on dealers selling recalled vehicles with safety defects without repairing them. NYC has interpreted existing state law requiring all vehicles to be safe and roadworthy to prohibit a recalled used vehicle from being sold.

An easy way to check

If you’re renting a car or buying a used one, there’s an easy way to check if it’s been recalled. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently unveiled an online tool that allows you to search 15 years back on recalls – all you have to do is type in your vehicle’s VIN or Vehicle Identification Number. Go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. The link is vinrcl.safercar.gov.

Until the laws catch up and close the loophole, consumers need to check that the cars their renting or buying are safe; why leave your safety up to a used car dealer or a somebody at the rental company desk?