Enterprise Rent-A-Car removed airbags from fleet cars, sold them, didn't inform customers

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the nation's largest private buyer of new cars and seller of used ones, is in hot water today after the company chose to remove a standard safety feature -- side-curtain airbags -- from thousands of Chevrolet Impala fleet vehicles and then sold them on the open market without disclosing the alteration.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the nation's largest private buyer of new cars and seller of used ones, is in hot water today after the company chose to remove a standard safety feature -- side-curtain airbags -- from thousands of Chevrolet Impala fleet vehicles and then sold them on the open market without disclosing the alteration.

After the company rented out 66,000 of the 2006 to 2008 models, Enterprise and other dealers offered them for sale on the open market without disclosing that the standard safety feature had been removed, according to a report in the Kansas City Star.

(It goes without saying that side-curtain air bags have been shown to dramatically reduce highway deaths.)

The Star's investigation found that hundreds of Impalas already sold had been incorrectly advertised online as having the safety feature.

Why remove them? Enterprise says the cost-shaving maneuver saved the company $175 for each Impala, or about $11.5 million total. The move "does not violate any federal mandate", the Star reports Enterprise as stating.

Enterprise determined that 745 Impalas "were marked incorrectly" and that it would send letters to all 745 buyers notifying them of the problem.

Further, the company said it will offer to buy back the cars, regardless of condition, at $750 above Kelley Blue Book value.

While the Impalas aren't the only vehicles in which Enterprise removed side airbags -- about 5,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Buick LaCrosse models were also subject to the factory modification -- they were the only vehicles mislabeled.

It's a smart move on Enterprise's part to remedy a fairly egregious mistake and keep the company's reputation in good fair standing  -- after all, the rental car business has been criticized for its bureaucratic red tape, complex insurance policies and high fees.

Still, I wonder if Enterprise informs its rental customers that there aren't side-curtain airbags to begin with.

What's your smart take?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com