ugg slippers USA TODAY analysis findsTh

USA TODAY analysis finds

Though Maher’s intuition may be sound the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the 2010 PT Cruiser’s protection against side and rear end crashes as poor he’s like many travelers who rarely think about safety before driving off in a rental vehicle.

Yet, many purchase their own cars based on safety.

“Obviously, there’s a major disconnect between my choices in a personal car and my rental car selection,” says Maher, a professional speaker in Corona, Calif., who bought a Honda Accord for safety reasons. “I have to admit it makes no sense to choose a personal car based on safety and then choose a rental car based on size and convenience.”

The fleets of the nation’s eight big rental car brands Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty have many common vehicles, most of which are new and most of which are highly rated for protecting against head on collisions, a detailed USA TODAY analysis of the fleets finds.

But many of the vehicles the companies offer aren’t rated nearly as safe if motorists are hit at the side or from behind or are involved in rollover accidents, according to the analysis, which matched Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ratings with the fleets.

“Vehicles are safer than ever before, but not all vehicles perform as well as others in crash tests,” says Russ Rader, vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute, a group funded by insurance companies that aims to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage in crashes.

“Consumers should act like they are buying the car and pick the safest car available in the rental class they want,” Ditlow says.

That’s not always easy. The vehicles in auto rental fleets are constantly changing, and many rental locations may have only one type available in a particular vehicle class. Renters may sometimes have to switch to another vehicle class which unless a free upgrade is provided could cost more.

Regardless of cost, the good news for renters is that USA TODAY’s analysis reveals that more than 95 percent of 167 different vehicles in rental fleets are rated “good” in head on crashes, the most frequent type of fatal accidents. There’s a large disparity, however, in their safety ratings in side, rear and rollover crashes.

A car with a good rating in such crashes compared with those rated acceptable, marginal or poor greatly reduces the likelihood of death or serious injury, Rader says.

If vehicles have the same crash ratings and are equipped with the same safety equipment, “bigger, heavier vehicles though you may have to pay more to rent them are safer than smaller, lighter ones,” he says.

Rental choices with ‘poor’ crash ratings

In side impact crashes, drivers of vehicles with “good” safety ratings are 70 percent less likely to die than those driving vehicles with a “poor” rating, the Insurance Institute says

USA TODAY found six 2011 vehicles and one 2010 vehicle with “poor” side impact crash ratings: the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, the Volkswagen New Beetle, the two door Jeep Wrangler, GMC Canyon, the Chevrolet Colorado with a crew cab and the 2010 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Two 2011 vehicles the Cadillac STS and the Lexus HS hybrid manufactured before 2010 and three 2010 vehicles the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Infiniti M35 and the Hummer H3 are rated “poor” in rear crash ratings.

Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera says renters “are free to consult” safety ratings, but it’s not necessary because Hertz’s fleet is made up of newer vehicles that are “typically kept less than a year and are in good condition.”

Avis and Budget spokesman John Barrows says renters should consider safety data “if they feel that doing so will help them make a more informed choice when selecting a vehicle.”

USA TODAY compiled 213 types of vehicles in the rental car fleets and matched them with IIHS crash data for model year 2011 vehicles. If data were unavailable for a model year 2011 vehicle, data for model year 2010 were used. Forty five vehicles had no ratings for front, side or rear crash tests, and 105 were not tested for roof strength, an important factor in rollover accidents.

Of 146 model year 2011 vehicles with safety ratings, the Insurance Institute classifies 59 as “top safety picks.” They rate “good” in all four crash tests front, side, rear and roof strength and have electronic stability control. They range in size from a minicar, such as the Ford Fiesta, to a minivan, the Toyota Sienna. Some other top safety picks:

Though 95 percent of the vehicles in car rental fleets with IIHS frontal crash ratings provide good protection in a head on crash, the percentage of vehicles with good protection drops to 77 pe ugg slippers rcent in side impact crashes and to 67 percent in rear crashes. Nearly 40 percent of the vehicles with IIHS ratings do not have good roof strength, an important factor in a rollover accident.

Crash ratings aren’t the only factor to consider in rental car safety. Maintenance, safety equipment in each vehicle and driver performance in an often unfamiliar vehicle also comes into play.

In August, two auto safety advocacy groups the Center for Auto Safety and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to stop Enterprise Rent A Car and its parent company, Enterprise Holdings, from renting recalled but unrepaired vehicles.

FTC spokesman Mitch Katz says the agency received the petition but won’t comment about whether an investigation has been launched.

The petition followed a $15 million jury verdict last year that found Enterprise’s fai ugg slippers lure to fix a recalled PT Cruiser led to the deaths of two sisters, Jacqueline and Raechel Houck, in 2004. The vehicle had been recalled to fix a power steering hose defect that could cause a fire. The Houcks’ rented PT Cruiser caught fire on a California highw ugg slippers ay, causing them to lose steering. The car crashed head on into a semitrailer truck.

Laura Bryant, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, which also owns the Alamo and National brands, says that in “the vast majority” of recalls manufacturers and the government “do not suggest” grounding vehicles but tell vehicle owners to schedule a service appointment with a local auto dealer.

“Over the last decade, we have improved and strengthened our practices, including the development of a more formal, systematic and centralized approach to recalls, and we have grounded vehicles in a number of cases,” Bryant says.

Last year, after Toyota recalled nu ugg slippers merous vehicles, “We learned to streamline and speed up our practices even more,” Bryant says.

Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles including 2.17 million on Feb. 24 to fix gas pedals and other safety problems. Many renters have refused to accept Toyota vehicles.

Last year, Hertz sent a notice to its most frequent renters informing them that it was pulling all recalled Toyota vehicles out of its fleet until they were repaired.