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Enterprise Sold Rental Cars Without the Standard Side Air Bags – August 20, 2009

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the nation’s largest buyer of new cars and seller of used cars, sold 745 Chevy Impalas from it’s used car lot without the standard side-air bags. Enterprise spokeswoman Christy Conrad said the used “Impalas were marked incorrectly, only online, as having side air bags and they did not.” Enterprise has offered to buy back all 745 cars for $750 above the Kelley Blue Book value regardless of condition.

When Enterprise ordered the cars from the manufacturer between 2006-2008, they had chosen to have the manufacturer delete the side airbags from the vehicles purchased. By doing so, Enterprise was able to save approximately $175 per vehicle, saving roughly 11.7 million dollars. Enterprise defended the decision by noting that removal of the side air bags violated no federal mandates.

Front-impact air bags have been a mandatory safety feature in the dashboard or steering wheel of all new automobiles sold in the United States for years. Side-impact air bags, while not mandated, are now standard on about 40% of all new passenger vehicles sold since 2006. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that side-impact collisions represent the second most common incident of fatal accidents, with more than 8000 people killed in 2007 alone.

Russ Radar, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute, found the finding surprising: “My personal view is that the liability concern alone would raise a lot of red flags if I were an official at Enterprise, looking to purchase cars that would be rented.”

General Motors says that it has discontinued the ability for fleet-buyers to choose deleting the side-impact air bag on the 2009 model Impalas as an option.

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