Renters beware. With summer in full swing, thousands of people will rent trucks for a move or project.
People can drive rental trucks, which can weigh as much as five tons, without any special license or training. Just as important is the question of if the trucks are kept in good condition. The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters learned when it comes to rental trucks and how they’re maintained, it’s basically an industry that polices itself, with little state or federal oversight as we saw in the case of a small business owner in Waterbury.
Prom and pageant dress shop owner Laurye Natale travels far and wide so customers can check out her high-end merchandise. Last February, her business, called Dazzle Boutique, got a Budget Rental truck from Taylor Rental in Plainville for a trunk show in Vermont.
"It was probably one of the most stressful events I had to encounter in a very long time," Natale said.
From the beginning, Natale says she sensed problems with the truck.
"It was absolutely disgusting. There was melted candy and gum stuck inside the dash, there was all filthy papers everywhere, the seatbelt was covered in grease," she said.
Natale claims within minutes, that grease ruined her $400 coat. She also said the truck for her wintry drive had no wiper fluid,
“They were really poor quality wipers as well, so that even when I put some water on there, it just streaked," she said.
Once Natale got her dresses to Vermont she found lots of buyers.
The next day the real nightmare began back in Connecticut when Natale says she could not offload her racks of dresses at a trunk show and fundraiser in Burlington.
The rental truck’s lift gate would not work, she said. A Budget crew dispatched to deal with the problem could not fix it.
"That event was destroyed. I could have easily sold $10,000 worth of dresses," she said.
Natale says she noticed the lift gate didn’t work when she got it from Taylor Rental and was told it just needed to “warm up”.
The next day she tried to get her dresses back to her shop and the truck died in the middle of the trip, according to Natale. She was stranded for four hours on a three-degree day before Budget got her a tow, Natale claims.
"Over $100,000 worth of dresses, stuck on the side of the road, and I couldn’t leave them,' she said.
Natale says she still could not get the dresses off the truck when she returned to her shop and lost a whole day of business.
“I was ready to just crawl in a corner and cry," she said.
Natale got a full refund from Budget. We asked Taylor Rental in Plainville about what happened. It referred us to Budget. Budget declined to answer our questions but provided us with a statement:
“Budget Truck Rental strives to operate the cleanest and best-maintained rental truck fleet on the road. Every vehicle undergoes a 10-point quality inspection by our dealers to ensure proper fluid levels, tire pressure and other necessary elements for a reliable, safe rental. Repairs are handled by certified local truck repair centers. We are looking into Ms. Natale’s rental circumstances and will take appropriate action when the investigation is complete to prevent recurrence of this unfortunate experience.”
When it comes to rental trucks our state requires companies inspect them once per year. The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles says this mirrors federal law.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal says that’s not enough.
"There are gaping lapses and lack of consumer protection when it comes to rental truck safety," he said.
Blumenthal called for a study of rental truck safety after a fatal crash involving one at a tailgating event prior to a Harvard-Yale football game four years ago.
The study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found rental trucks used for non-commercial purposes did not cause any fatal crashes between 2005 to 2010. The non-commercial rental trucks failed roadside safety inspections just five-percent of the time from 2005 to 2012.
Blumenthal and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration criticize the report for having limited data.
“The report we received is, unfortunately, incomplete," Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal believes the government can do better when it comes to non-commercial truck rental inspections and maintenance.
“There's no data, there's no real protection, there is a need for an overarching, uniform, set of federal standards," he said.
Despite the problems Natale had with her rental, she says it could have been worse.
“While my event was a real pain in my side, I got away lucky even still because there could always be a more catastrophic event that could happen if the trucks are poorly maintained," she said.
The Better Business Bureau says nationally it receives roughly 1,000 complaints about rental trucks every year. Until a federal standard for truck rental maintenance gets adopted, Natale, Blumenthal, and the Better Business Bureau suggest you conduct an extra thorough check of your rental truck before you drive away with it, and make sure everything, right down to the windshield wipers, works properly.