Update: How the Toyota recall impacts your next car rental

Though Toyota announced a fix for its problematic accelerator pedals on Monday, some car-rental companies are still trying to remove the cars from its fleets.

Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car, and National Car Rental brands, said Tuesday that it has successfully removed 83 percent of the estimated 35,000 recalled vehicles from its rental pool. This overall number is about 4 percent of its North American fleet. The Enterprise brand also has the benefit of having both airport and suburban locations, which means its inventory can be shifted around fairly quickly depending on demand.

Avis has said that if you wind up with a non-recalled Toyota rental and you prefer to drive another brand, they’ll switch you to another vehicle. This gesture of good will is naturally based on availability. With Presidents’ Day weekend falling at the same time as Valentine’s Day, it’ll be interesting to see if the car-rental companies can anticipate the demand of the holiday weekend.

If you are planning to rent a car over the long weekend, please let us know if you encounter any problems–or any unexpected perks.

Tip: Sometimes you may be upgraded at no extra cost if the rental category you reserved is no longer available. When I was in Oahu a few years back, my friend and I reserved an economy-class car through Enterprise. We were bumped up to a SUV when the rental location ran out of economy cars. As I said, this was a few years ago–before driving gas guzzlers became passé and before you had to worry about an accelerator pedal getting stuck.

Update: Automotive Traveler reports the following short-term price hikes of rentals from Hertz, Enterprise Holdings, Avis Budget and Dollar Thrifty: “Daily rates for both mid-size and full-size cars have increased an average of 46 percent at New York’s JFK airport across all four of the companies and their respective brands mentioned above. Yet prices at LAX for the same rental period and vehicle classes remained almost unchanged. At the Miami and Denver airport locations, results have been mixed depending on the vehicle class. Mid-size cars at MIA saw only a 3-percent increase, while full-size cars rose 10 percent. Data from DEN showed a 23-percent increase for mid-size cars and a 16-percent increase for full-size.”

[Thanks, Automotive Traveler]

Will the Toyota recall affect your next car rental?

Toyota‘s massive recall due to faulty accelerator pedals is trickling down into car-rental companies. How does the recall affect your next rental?

I checked in with some of the major players to see how they’re handling the recall, now estimated at more than 9 million worldwide.

Avis Budget: About 20,000 cars have been grounded due to the recall. “Our fleet is 7 percent smaller today, but we are receiving weekly deliveries of new vehicles from the purchase agreements we made months ago with our suppliers,” Avis Budget spokesperson John Barrows told me via e-mail. “So we expect to be able to fulfill all demand for any rental occasion while we await guidance from Toyota regarding the handling of the recalled vehicles.”

Dollar Thrifty: The recall represents less than 1.5 percent of the overall Dollar Thrifty fleet. “We have currently grounded the vehicles and are working with Toyota on inspection of the vehicles and a proper resolution of the issue. We do not have any significant Toyotas on order,” Scott Thompson, president and CEO of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, said in a written statement.

Zipcar: Toyota’s recall affects about 5 percent of the Zipcar fleet. The car-sharing company isn’t taking new reservations on any recalled vehicles, which include the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Matrix. If you already have a reservation on a Toyota Matrix, Zipcar will move you to a different car and compensate you for any rate difference. If you’d rather bail, any cancellation fees will be waived. For questions about upcoming reservations, call Member Services at 866/494-7227.

The silver lining: Many car-rental companies, such as Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty, only let you reserve a certain vehicle class (compact/economy, mid-size, full-size). Since you weren’t able to specify a make/model to begin with, at least you won’t have to deal with re-booking because the car you wanted is suddenly unavailable.

In general, car-rental companies had already been shrinking its fleets, which was resulting in higher prices. We’ll keep an eye on how this will affect pricing now that the supply is even smaller. I’ll also update once I hear back from Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National.

Big in Japan: Man works himself to death, company compensates wife

Ever hear the joke about the Japanese man who worked himself to death?

Guess what? It’s not a joke…

According to the Associated Press (AP), last week a court in Japan ordered the Toyota Motor Corporation to pay compensation to a woman who argued that her husband died from overwork.

According to woman’s lawyer, Kenichi Uchino (the departed) had been working overtime as a middle manager at a Toyota factory when he suddenly collapsed and died in February of 2002.

He was just 30 years old.

Before dying, Mr. Uchino had logged 80 hours of overtime a month for a sustained period of six months, and had logged 114 extra hours the month he died.

Sadly, Mr. Uchino is anything but an isolated case. In fact, the Japanese even have a word for punching the clock until you drop.

Working yourself to death is known in Japanese as kar?shi (??????), which directly translates to “death from overwork.”

Known in medical circles as occupational sudden death, the major medical causes of kar?shi are believed to be stress-induced heart attack and stroke.

Depressed yet? Keep reading as the story gets worse.


Sources indicate that the first recorded case of karōshi was in 1969 following the death by stroke of a 29-year-old man in the shipping department of Japan’s largest newspaper company.

However, karōshi was not officially recognized until 1987 when a large number of business executives started dropping like flies during the glory days of the famous “Bubble Economy.”

Following an intense media campaign, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor began to publish annual statistics on karōshi.

Out of morbid curiosity, would you like to hear the statistics for 2006?

Of course you do!

Last year, an estimated 355 workers fell severely ill or died from overwork. This is the highest recorded figure on record, and is sadly a 7.6 percent increase from 2005.

In 147 of these reported cases, individuals died of either strokes or heart attacks.

It gets worse.

A separate 819 workers reported suffering work-induced mental illness. In 176 of these reported cases, workers killed themselves or attempted to do so.

And now back to the original story…

Not surprisingly, karōshi lawsuits are on the rise throughout Japan, and relatives of the deceased have been increasingly awarded compensation payments.

In fact, the protocol has even been streamlined!

Before compensation can be awarded, a specially designated inspection office must acknowledge that the death was work-related. However, this can take several years, and a precedent has been set for court cases to bounce around various judicial systems.

Here is the clincher:

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour also reports that the leading cause of karōshi is the practice of voluntary undocumented unpaid overtime, which is known as sabisu-zangyo. Just to clarify, that means that Japanese workers are choosing to work longer hours without documenting their time or seeking compensation.

On that note, it’s nearing midnight here in Tokyo, and suddenly I feel as if I’ve worked enough for the day…

** All photos were taken by the Associated Press (AP) **