Enterprise's cheap-out cars could kill you

2007 impalaIf you rent cars or buy used lease fleet vehicles from Enterprise, you may want to question the dealer if a side-curtain air bag is installed -- even if the sale ads claim the company's used General Motors cars have them.

A Kansas City Star investigation has discovered that the company decided, when it ordered Impalas, that the safety of its customers wasn't worth springing for the $175 to include the air bags.

According to the Star, Enterprise ordered approximately 66,000 Chevrolet Impalas between 2006 and 2008 without side curtain air bags, saving around $11.5 million.

I'm guessing it will lose a lot more than that in liability lawsuits as a result of this flap. Those with the strongest case against the company will be the people who bought one of the 745 used Impalas that were advertised on the Enterprise Web site as being equipped with these air bags, although they were not.

A company spokesperson told the Star the misrepresentation was an error. The company has contacted the misled buyers, offering to buy back them back at $750 above Blue Book.

The report cites an Insurance Institute for Highway Statistics report that shows 8,000 people died in side-impact crashes in 2007. If even one of the 745 Enterprise Impala has suffered an injury in a collision, the consequences for the company could be dire.

I spoke to AOL Autos editor Reilly Brennan, who pointed out that side curtain air bags are not federally required. Nonetheless, the Impala is very popular as a family vehicle and these buyers are really looking for safety features, which makes this snafu particularly troubling. He expects that this situation will cast a shadow over the Enterprise rental business, which he points out has heretofore been one of the better companies in the business. He finds they typically provide "incredible customer service" partly due to its policy of staffing its locations with college graduates.

I've rented from Enterprise often, and have become accustomed to the odd decisions it makes to trim costs of its fleet; no electric windows in one model, no cruise control in another. I didn't expect, however, that it would cheap-out on what I consider an essential safety feature, the side-curtain air bag. A few years ago, a driver ran a red light in front of me and I hit her going 35 mph. Thanks to air bags, I walked away from a total wreck. I heart air bags.
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