LOS ANGELES — Some of the nation’s biggest car rental companies are selling wrecked vehicles without making the proper disclosures, endangering the public and harming consumers, according to lawsuits filed in California in recent months.
The late-model automobiles carry hefty price tags despite a broad range of major problems, from bent frames to compromised suspension systems, trial lawyers and consumer activists charge.
Although the suits, which seek class action status, allege that the salvaged vehicles are unsafe, there are no documented cases of deaths or injuries pinned to the practice.
In California alone, thousands of badly damaged vehicles make their way back onto the streets each year through a network of rental agencies, salvage vehicle auctioneers and secondary-market repair shops, say consumer safety advocates.
“The car rental companies take this twisted piece of metal and send it to the auction yards, and they go along without branding the titles as salvaged,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.
Under state law, the owners of badly damaged cars must notify the Department of Motor Vehicles to retitle the cars as salvage if it is not economically feasible to completely repair them.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., the largest rental company in the country, routinely puts badly damaged vehicles up for auction in the salvage market without informing the DMV, according to a suit filed in Fresno earlier this month.
The plaintiffs, David and Gloria Martinez of Los Banos, claim they were specifically told the 2000 Pontiac Grand Am they purchased had never been in an accident. But a few days after buying it, they found it had a number of problems, even though it only had been driven 15,386 miles.
Sarah Bustamante, an Enterprise spokeswoman, said the company had not been notified of the suit, but would “investigate these claims fully.”
Similar legal action was launched last summer against Alamo Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental. Officials at ANC Rental Corp., which owns both companies, declined to comment.