By on July 8, 2015

starlimo

When Maggie Dajani realized that the tire-pressure warning light was on in the van she’d rented to take six teenagers and their parents to a One Direction concert in El Paso, she took the van back to the rental company. A representative of the company, Star Limo, told her not to worry. She then continued to the concert. Shortly afterwards, the van blew two tires and rolled over. Several motorists helped drag the ten passengers out of the van, which was filling with smoke. The children went to the hospital with various injuries, and one of them reportedly received one hundred and fifty stitches as a result.

Now, the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission has delivered a very, ahem, business-friendly verdict on the whole ordeal. Turns out that Star Limo is the beneficiary of a unique combination of regulatory conditions.

There is little doubt about the circumstances of the accident, as reported late last year:

According to State Police, the driver was driving at a safe speed when the outer tread of one of the van’s rear tires came off, causing the crash. Their report indicates Motor Transportation Police inspected Star Limo’s vehicles a month earlier, in August, and there were no safety violations.

Most business travelers and other people who rent vehicles fairly often can tell at least one story where they had to return their rental vehicle for some egregious issue that had been totally overlooked by the spectacularly indifferent employees that seem to universally populate rental lots, particularly ones located at or near an airport. It’s not difficult to imagine the apathetic response Ms. Dajani received when she tried to complain about a TPMS light; I’ve had exactly the same response when I’ve complained about TPMS lights in rental cars.

This would seem to be the kind of open-and-shut case that would result in civil — if not criminal — penalties for someone, but it turns out that Star Limo, and this rental van, fall into a very convenient hole in the enforcement framework:

But the case surrounding the rental van is unique. Motor Transportation Police said it’s too small to be a commercial vehicle, so it’s not within their enforcement. The Public Regulation Commission said since it was used as a rental vehicle, not a charter, it’s not in its jurisdiction to investigate the crash. However, the PRC can investigate Star Limo.

The results of that “investigation” were released last week:

Star Limo is regulated under the PRC because they offer limousine services. But Director Bryan Brock said that van was rented out and that no one from Star Limo was actually driving.

“Rental car companies don’t provide transportation,” Brock said. “They provide cars for people to use and to transport themselves but that’s different than what we oversee.”

Brock and other PRC officials said there is no official state agency that actually regulates rental car companies here in New Mexico.

Oh, okay, as long as that’s the case, I guess we can all just forget about it. And some people have forgotten about it — one of the regional news stations just did an advertorial-style piece encouraging local teens to hurry up and choose Star Limo for prom. But I wouldn’t go buying stock in Star Limo just yet. The next step for this story is surely a long day in a civil courtroom. And the moral of said story: If you are faced with believing that either a tire-pressure sensor or a rental-car agency employee is “defective”, choose the latter.

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62 Comments on “Rental Van With Low-Pressure Tire Warning Rolls, Injuring Six Children; No Charges To Be Filed...”


  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Boy that trip proved to be one direction alright. One direction to the ER. That loophole won’t protect them from civil liability, and I’m sure the families will seek millions. The limo company might assert open and obvious danger, but these days, more people know how to fly a Cessna than check their own tire pressure.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Under the old doctrine of “contributory negligence”, if you were even 1% at fault, you could not recover for injuries based on the negligence of another party. Luckily, most states have gotten away from that rule and follow some sort of “comparative fault” doctrine, including New Mexico.

  • avatar
    Exfordtech

    If the TPMS light was on, the prudent thing to do is to oh I don’t know, maybe check the tire pressures and adjust as needed? If it stays on afterwards then you can assume a sensor/module issue. If no one checked and set the tire pressures when the woman went back to the rental company, then that is just plain ignorant. Additionally, if the indifferent response was not the first time for this vehicle, and it has been driven under inflated for significant miles, the tire(s) would have been compromised already. If you consider the amount of abuse, intentional or otherwise, (curb strikes, potholes, inflation issues) that rental cars are likely to see, it is a wonder that there aren’t more stories like this.
    I also can’t help to wonder, with 10 people in the van, and underinflated rear tires, how the driver didn’t notice the a$$ end of the van wandering all over the place. Unless they just assumed that behavior was normal? Not trying to place blame here, but that thing had to be pretty squirrelly.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    I’m ready to place blame with the captain of the ship, aka, the driver. Why can’t drivers start taking responsibility for the vehicle they drive!

    • 0 avatar
      Shinoda is my middle name

      The driver did take responsibility, and initiative. She acknowledged the light was on and questioned the (supposedly knowledgeable) attendant. The (actually ignorant) attendant reassured the driver “not to worry” which in effect is an assumption of responsibility by an agent of the company that the vehicle was safe despite the warning light. So, the drive did some due diligence. She didn’t just blithely jump into the van and take off.

      • 0 avatar
        jjster6

        Asking a kid at the counter is not responsibility and initiative. To drive a car you should understand how to take a pressure gauge to the tires. The captain is last line of responsibility in making sure the car is safe to operate. If it’s not safe, stop driving it.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      +1 to that jjster. This is right up there with driving off an incomplete bridge in broad daylight because the GPS told you to.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    The statement f “A representative of the company, Star Limo, told her not to worry.” seems to be unable to be proven in court. Driver of the van needed to know right from wrong or how to tell if the van had a flat tire. She should be liable just as much as the rental agency. In fact, the rental agency is probably out of the clear. For all we know the driver was thinking it was in God’s hands. And we it was.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I have rented plenty of cars in my lifetime and from experience I can tell you all they do is clean the thing b4 renting it to someone else after you return it, one time I turned in a Cobalt to enterprise and warned them that the car had failed to start a couple of times needing me to ask for a jump start from a good samaritan, even then, they just cleaned it and gave it to another waiting customer.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Proves again that safety equipment is useless unless you actually use it and heed warnings, etc.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Dan! Fix this, you live there!

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Mom and Dad flew in to see the grandbaby last October. Rented in Albuquerque (don’t know which company but I think they usually get Enterprize.) Got an AWD Rogue (1st gen) and the TPMS was on when they got to Gallup. Dad waited till he got to my place (30 min out in the country) to have me break out my tire gauge. Every tire was inflated to roughly 70 psi.

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        Had a similar experience. On the way to Chitown in a Jetta and the light came on as soon as the tires warmed. Found a station and the tires were way over (though not 70!). I’m sure the make-ready detail was as lax as the attendants who handed me the contract and neglected to mention the huge curb dent in the rocker where someone had apparently driven off a small cliff HARD. Lucky for Mr Knievel, the damage hadn’t been noticed by anyone till me.

        These are the only kind of events that keep the profiteers at least a tiny bit concerned about our well-being as customers.

      • 0 avatar
        Veee8

        32-33 is recommended I believe…70, wow the Rogue must’ve been on its tip toes.

        I feel bad for what happened here.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I must have missed the part where she stopped at a gas station and put air in the tires.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      I must have missed the part where the lady in question became a gear head who knew exactly what the brain-dead TPMS warning light on the dash meant.

      Mine has come on before and a visual inspection of all four tires showed no obvious problem. The warning light doesn’t tell you which tire it is complaining about, by the way. If it weren’t for the tire gauge I keep in my car (does a rental car come with one?), my only option would have been to go to a gas station and put small amounts of air in random tires until the light turns off. Is that somehow safer? I’d potentially have three over inflated tires and one (temporarily) properly inflated tire which is probably slowly leaking air.

      The lady did the right thing, taking it back. When someone who SHOULD know a lot more about the situation tells you it’s fine, they are implicitly saying that the tires aren’t under inflated, the sensors are broken. In hindsight, she’ll never trust a rental car employee again, something Jack is recommending for everyone. I agree.

      This limo company is probably going to discover that proper state regulation is cheaper, once their insurance company has their say in the matter.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I’ll be sure to complain to the rental company when the LOW FUEL light comes on.

      • 0 avatar
        Exfordtech

        Visual inspection is an unreliable way of checking tire pressures especially with radial tires.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        It sounds like it has been a long time since you stopped and checked your air pressure. Almost all gas station air chucks in my area have an integral pressure gauge. What you can do is, pull up to the pump, hang on to your quarters, and use the integral pressure gauge to see what the tire pressures are. Then, if one or more is low, you can focus on that tire once you do start the pump, saving valuable time.

        Maybe the pumps in your area don’h have the gauges. If so, too bad.

        This story is quite tragic and could have easily been much worse. I’m just glad those kids all survive and should be (mostly) fine.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          You’re lucky if those gauges are accurate within 10 PSI. I carry a gauge in my car, but I wouldn’t have one if I were in a rental. The rental company should be responsible — especially if the customer complains that the TPMS light is on.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Agree with Dal here. She complained of a fault with the car via warning light, and was brushed off. It is absolutely the responsibility of the company providing the vehicle to ensure said vehicle is in operable condition with no faults.

            I think if I were her, I might have demanded a different vehicle, or the tire pressure checked (likely the latter).

            I have a little air compressor with an integral gauge, and it’s always pretty far off. I just know about how far off it always is, so I can get it right.

            My car has a TPMS screen in the display, showing a live feed updated every minute (I think) of what each tire pressure is. Checking it to a digital gauge, they’re always right.

          • 0 avatar
            fvfvsix

            Accurate to 10psi is just fine when you have a tire that is underinflated enough to throw a TPMS sensor. What, are we all bad at deductive reasoning now? I blame the education system, but that’s for another post…

            Also, an all brass pencil gauge is what, 5 dollars? I have about 10 of them lying around the house, and my wife keeps one in her purse. We’ve gotten enough flat tires on rentals to ALWAYS keep a tire pressure gauge around.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The warning light is there to indicate the need to add air, not that the car is going to explode.

            I’ve added air to rental car tires before. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I bothered when I should have just called my lawyer.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            “I think if I were her, I might have demanded a different vehicle, or the tire pressure checked (likely the latter).”

            If you’re going to fault the lady for anything, this is it. Insist that the tires be checked in her presence to ensure that the TPMS sensor is indeed faulty and not that the tires are improperly inflated. It should not be the responsibility of the customer to determine whether fault sensors are working correctly. If the CEL was on, should she have gone to a mechanic to get the code diagnosed?

      • 0 avatar
        duffman13

        Except for the part where literally every gas station I’ve ever been to had a tire pressure gauge built in to the air compressor so you can see while you’re filling up the tires.

        35psi in all 4 corners will generally do it – most cars have recommended pressure between 31-33psi at all 4 corners. Or I guess your safety isn’t worth $0.75 and 3 minutes of your time.

    • 0 avatar
      clivesl

      A little harsh don’t you think?

      She saw a warning light on the dash, she returned the van. The people “who know what they are talking about” told her it was fine, so she drove it, apparently in a safe and reasonable manner.

      Do I immediately find a gas station and check the pressure myself? Absolutely.

      Do I expect a Mom that trying to get 10 teenagers to a concert to do it after being told that the van was fine by the rental company? Not so much

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I’m pretty good at being liberal, but we’ve really gone off the rails if we don’t expect licensed drivers to grasp the concept of tires needing to have air in them.

        We have these warning lights to advise drivers of their need to stop and add air. Even the federal government gives us enough credit to believe that we have enough smarts to use this information wisely.

        • 0 avatar
          clivesl

          But the rental company told her to ignore the light.

          You don’t see a distinction there?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            From a legal standpoint, there seems to be little doubt that the rental agency shares some liability.

            But it’s quite astounding that we would mandate this equipment in order to avoid this very kind of problem, only to give drivers a pass for not using it. Adding air to tires isn’t exactly rocket science.

          • 0 avatar
            Exfordtech

            I’d be curious to know, did they check/set the pressures and then say don’t worry about it, or was it a simple don’t worry about it? Were I the renter, I’d have requested the check in my presence, or else no dice on the rental. One Direction concert be damned.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The driver claims that the rental company said that the light was malfunctioning. Of course, that’s a dumb thing to say if the tire pressure hasn’t been checked.

          • 0 avatar
            pbr

            >> But the rental company told her to ignore the light.

            Part of being a grownup is deciding what advice to accept and what advice to discard. In retrospect “ignore it” was clearly bad advice and this would not be a story if the driver had either the persistence to demand resolution or the initiative to address it directly. Along with others here, I’d like to think I would have done differently, but I’ve done not-smart things from time to time, so …

            As it is, only the lawyers are going to win here. My sympathy is with the injured for being harmed through no fault of their own and with the driver for having to live with the memory of what happened and knowing there was more that could have been done.

      • 0 avatar
        fvfvsix

        Then call hubby and ask for a second opinion. The warning lights aren’t there for decoration and people need to be more assertive about getting to the root of problems. Not that I don’t place most of the blame on the rental company. IMHO, assigning fault to Star Limo doesn’t take away the pain of rolling a van with ten people in it- so, it’s best to avoid these situations by assuming a bit of personal responsibility.

        • 0 avatar
          SP

          It’s quite possible that the TPMS sensors WERE malfunctioning AND the tires were ALSO low on air.

          These sensors are far from trouble-free in some models. I would not be surprised to learn that the limo company employees had seen many false alarms in the past. After too many false alarms, they started to tune out the warning light.

          Who knows when the light came on? It could have been on for the past 6 months. The tire problem could have developed in the last 2 weeks. There’s just no way to tell from the information presented thus far.

          It definitely does not absolve the employees of the responsibility of actually checking the car before sending the woman on her way.

  • avatar
    RHD

    I once rented a Mazda3 from the local Enterprise. The tire pressure light, which was a new thing back then, was on, and I asked them about it. They didn’t know (or care) which tire it was, or if it was overinflated or underinflated. And they couldn’t help anyway, since they had no air available at the lot, and no tire pressure gauge.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    This seems quite similar to the very famous Toyota unintended acceleration case in El Cajon (near San Diego) where an off-duty cop (driving like a cop) floored his loaner Lexus in traffic and managed to get himself and his passengers all killed when an improperly installed floor mat caused the accelerator to stick wide open.

    It’s similar because the previous driver of the Lexus had told a receptionist of the very same problem when he brought the Lexus back a short time before (he had been standing on the brakes, too, and it’s thought that had significantly compromised their effectiveness). Of course, rather than the dealership bearing the brunt of the litigation for both installing the wrong floor mats, then ignoring the warning of the previous driver, Toyota ended up paying huge in big recalls and redesigns of the accelerator and floor mats.

    I wonder if the same thing will happen here and the rental agency gets off scott-free, but the tire and/or vehicle manufacturer end up with a big bill.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    When I worked for the insurance company I dealt a lot with Enterprise as we had a program that allowed us to set up rentals on our computers (ARMS – if I recall).
    I hated my job pretty much all the time but never for a second would I have considered going to work for ERAC, that place seemed awful.
    My assumptions were later confirmed as I presently work with a bunch of former ERAC managers who have told me horror stories about it.

    I rented a 1st gen new Malibu after my car was damaged from Enterprise. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of downtown DC traffic that I realized that using the turn signal stalk had no affect on the turn signals at all. Fortunately with all the Maryland drivers around, no one noticed any difference.
    I returned the car and I have no doubt it went back out on the street that way.

  • avatar
    Don Mynack

    This is only a regulatory ruling (i.e. determining if the company will be fined by the state) and not civil judgement or insurance settlement, correct? It seems she can still sue in civil court, and/or the insurance company can, and recover damages. Am I incorrect here?

  • avatar
    Veee8

    “If you are faced with believing that either a tire-pressure sensor or a rental-car agency employee is “defective”, choose the latter.”

    I’d say both to be safe and check your tires.

    My gauge is always at hand and used regularly.

  • avatar
    210delray

    I always have a tire pressure gauge in my carry-on bag. Haven’t been hassled yet for it by the TSA. I just don’t trust that rental car tires will be properly inflated. I will also check the fluids if I’m renting the car for long distances in sparsely populated areas, like the desert Southwest.

    • 0 avatar
      Veee8

      Agreed, like windshield washer fluid in the winter, and a spare jug of it in the trunk…otherwise you’re out of commission fast.

      I did the fluid check on my rental in Vegas this past May, you can’t prevent everything but it’s so easy to jump in and go.

      Thanks to Jack for shedding light on this story.

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    Last fall I rented a Passat. The first time I stopped for lunch, put it in park, removed the key and got out-the dam thing almost ran over my foot. This was a gentle sloping lot not some S.F. hilltop. This happened twice more over the three days I had it. You had to really PUSH the lever hard to get it to engage the pawl.
    Told the rental attendent. He seemed concerned and noted it with the handheld he was using. While waiting for the bus to take me back to the terminal I could see it get a quick vacuum was and right back to the lot for the next customer. They did not have many cars in the lot so I assume this defect was deemed not important enough enough to pull it out of service.

  • avatar

    Last year, I rented a Chevy Cruze for a one-way trip (to take delivery of my new car, which was three hours away) whose air pressure in one tire, as it turned out, was at 62 PSI. I noticed on my way from picking it up at the airport, and if not for the fact that the Cruze (and most new GM cars) have direct TPMS with individual readouts, I wouldn’t have noticed at all.

    Now I always check tire pressure before accepting a rental.

  • avatar
    z9

    What if we required every rental car to come with a $5 tire gauge in the glove compartment, and maybe a sticker on the glove compartment cover suggesting its use when the TPMS light comes on?

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      I came back to add another observation and suggestion.

      Here in Chicago we have a bike sharing system called Divvy that has been so successful that in the last two years they have had more than 4 million rides covering more than 9 million miles. Basically, you have a few thousand bicycles spread out among almost 500 bikes racks, each rack having the capability to hold anywhere from a dozen to three dozen bikes. Each bike dock in the rack has a little button on it with a logo containing a red stop sign with a white wrench instead of the word “stop”. If anyone presses this button, the bike in that dock is locked into place and a red LED is lit. That bike cannot be removed until a Divvy employee comes and removes it or resets the light.

      Perhaps this is what we need. Every rental car needs a simple button on the dash – a stop sign with a wrench. Press the button and it is unable to be rented again until a certified mechanic turns off that light, with all of the legal liability involved in suggesting that the car is now safe to rent again.

    • 0 avatar
      Exfordtech

      Will it be attached to a cable like the pen in a bank?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Perhaps car rental contracts should include a pop quiz:

      One of the tires on your car is low on air. What should you do?

      a. Panic
      b. Call my congressman
      c. Call my lawyer
      d. Call my therapist
      e. Blow really hard in the general direction of the car
      f. Go to gas station, drive up to thing that says AIR on it, park the car, follow directions

      Other questions could ascertain whether the renter knows what a gas station is and understands the importance of selecting “P” on the gear shift when parking.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        g. Keep driving, and hope it blows so you can jerk the wheel, roll your rental, and try to sue later.

        Not to say that’s what happened; I’m assuming this person didn’t have the opportunity or knowledge to see all of these options, and I can’t feel good about a van full of someone’s family rolling over, but were I alone given a van with low air pressure, I can’t say the thought of rolling that byat wouldn’t cross my mind.

  • avatar
    Dan

    There are any number of expensive ways that this could have been averted. We’re now one incident closer to one (or more) of those bandaids being made mandatory in the future. Whereupon you and I will get to pay for it every time we rent a car until the end of time.

    The idiot woman driving the thing being a little bit less of an idiot woman while driving the thing would have been free.

  • avatar
    WhiskeyRiver

    As the story reads, the woman drove back to the rental agency to complain about the tire pressure warning light. The rental agency assured her it was fine and sent her on her way. The driver was driving at a safe speed when the tire failed.

    It’s a bridge too far for me to blame the driver for not checking the air pressure herself.

    But it’s a blame the victim kind of world now, isn’t it?

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I am going to fess up right here to having driven a rental car all around Northern California for four days earlier this year with a TPMS indicator on. This being the first time I have ever experienced a TPMS indicator being lit (I have never owned a car with TPMS), it took a while for it to register in my brain what that little light with a tire cross section symbol was. I then actually did attempt to do something about it at a gas stop, but the gas station’s air pump was broken.

    Now, this was not a van with ten people in it. It was a Dodge Avenger (don’t judge, it was cheap) with me and my girlfriend (she doesn’t read TTAC or I would not be writing this!).

    So, maybe I should have assumed we were GONNA DIE, as people are suggesting the van driver should have thought? Here’s my problem. I’ve been driving for 40 years, 99.8 percent or something of that in cars with no TPMS. During that time I have had plenty of occasions to find that a tire has gotten low, or infrequently is inflated too high (ever driven a Corvair with all four tires at 40 PSI?). So, I absolutely KNOW that I have driven thousands of miles with a tire low or high enough to set off a TPMS, if there had been one, but golly, Corvairs, ’76 Cadillacs, ’74 Buicks etc. don’t have ’em. Maybe I’m wrong, but I have trouble believing that the goofy dash light, that doesn’t even say WHICH tire is low, is actually telling me whether the car is safe to drive or not.

  • avatar
    Reliable Hydraulics

    This is very unfortunate. No matter what someone says, never sacrifice your safety because someone insists that it is okay. The company should have checked the air presser in her tire. As a rental company, there should be someone on site to check vehicles and make repairs as needed because cars constantly come and go.

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