How Safe Are Rental Cars?

Just make sure it's safe!

“It makes no sense to choose a personal car based on safety and then choose a rental car based on size and convenience.”

That’s a quote from business traveler Barry Maher, in a USA Today story that raises questions about the safety of rental cars.

According to the story, while many vehicles offered by big-name rental car companies may carry the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s “good” ratings in head-on crash situations, some are rated as “poor” in side or rear-impact collisions.

To make matters worse, in the past at least one rental car company has saved millions by opting out of safety features that would normally be included as standard on vehicles sold to the public. That’s certainly not good for car renters, but it’s even worse for buyers of former rentals once they are unloaded on the used car market.

When behind the wheel of a car, I would imagine that “not dying” would be one of the top priorities for most drivers. With that in mind, drivers of vehicles with a side-impact rating of “good” are 70 percent less likely to die than drivers of vehicles saddled with a “poor” rating.

When buying a new car, safety ratings like that are something many people strongly consider, but they don’t tend to do the research when renting a car.

But they probably should.

Of 167 rental vehicles analyzed by the USA Today, six were found to have the “poor” side-impact crash rating. While statistically that isn’t very many, those vehicles tend to be popular with renters because they are usually cheap.

While I believe that every person has the choice to drive whatever car he or she chooses, car rental companies should clearly state which vehicles are top safety picks. This is especially true when a vehicle ages out of the rental fleet and is sold as used.

Buying a former rental is risky enough, considering the cars are often basic models that get driven hard. Then there’s the fact, at least according to the same USA Today story, that “rental car fleets are less likely than personal vehicles to get the latest safety technologies.”

When shopping for a used car, that’s enough for me to pass on the former rental and go with a solid one-owner vehicle with a history I can trust.

Should car rental companies disclose the safety ratings of their fleets, or is it the consumer’s responsibility to do the research? What about when the cars are sold used?


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