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Rental truck that endangered family "should not have been on the road," says safety expert

CTSY: Greg Callahan

STATEWIDE (WGME) -- A former Maine man says the truck he rented to move to his family hundreds of miles, put them in danger when two different tires blew out.

Greg Callahan moved his family to Florida over the summer, but said the trip was treacherous.

"This experience was so bad," said Callahan.

He said he rented a 16-foot truck from the Budget office in South Portland, and bought roadside assistance to go with it. Eight hundred miles later, a front tire blew out, he said, and he started snapping photos.

"The gentleman who I was talking to, or was changing our tire, said this tire never should have gone out and showed us all the problems that were wrong with it," Callahan said.

He said they continued driving, but 100 miles later, another tire blew, this time, with his 8-year-old son in the passenger seat.

"It's just completely dangerous," he said. "I mean, I was put in harms way. This is a busy, busy freeway."

And it only got worse.

"From there, I was on the side of the road for, oh gosh, 13 hours," he said. "So I had to sleep in the truck on the side of the road."

Callahan said he got a full refund and an apology, but only after including the CBS 13 I-Team on an e-mail to the company.

"They essentially were ignoring me up until I got a hold of you guys," he said.

A spokesperson for Budget said,"We always strive to provide customers with a positive rental experience; and we take customer feedback seriously. The tire problem Mr. Callahan described is highly unusual. Safety is a top priority and we are looking into the matter."

CBS 13 took Callahan's pictures to Sean Kane at Safety Research & Strategies, a Massachusetts-based research firm that specializes in motor vehicle safety.

"This doesn't happen after 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 miles," said Kane. "What we're seeing here is really significant wear that's happened over time."

Kane said the tread depth on the tires appears to be right at the legal limit, and show signs of dry rot.

"It shows you've got maintenance issues, okay, with the truck itself," he said. "These are all very clear indicators that this vehicle was not inspected properly, should not have been on the road and rented to a customer without having these replaced."

Maine State Police said rental trucks require an annual inspection like any other vehicle, but the I-Team discovered the trucks aren't subject to the same safety standards as similar commercial vehicles.

Under federal law, vehicles leased to private individuals for non-business purposes are exempt from daily trip and periodic inspections. That means maintenance is left up to the companies.

A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found deadly crashes involving rental trucks between 2005 and 2010 weren't caused by the truck. Rental trucks were taken out of service about five percent of the time between 2005 and 2012.

"You're really at the whim of the company that's doing the rental," said Kane.

His advice to consumers: Take a close look at any truck before renting it. If it's in poor condition, request another one. And don't hesitate to ask for a copy of the most recent inspection.

Callahan is grateful the outcome in his case wasn't tragic.

"I can do nothing, or I can help the standard, increase the standard, so this doesn't happen to another family," said Callahan.

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