The shocking state of many company cars was discovered during a four-month investigation by the firm involving more than 3,000 vehicles.
During the inspection, 53% of vehicles failed basic checks on tyre wear, coolant, oil and screenwash levels, despite the cars having an average age no older than two-and-a-half years.
In one fleet, the RAC found that 65% of vehicles were being driven without adequate maintenance while another had one or more faults on 90% of its 140 vehicles.
The list of problems included 11 illegal faults, eight rated ‘dangerous’ and 31 that would fail an MoT, of which a significant number were related to badly worn brakes and defective steering.
Adrian McCarthy, head of operations for RAC Inspections, said: ‘I believe these figures are typical of most fleets, as the majority have no formal vehicle inspection programme in place and so these potentially hazardous faults go unnoticed.
‘Fleet managers should find these results alarming, as their own vehicles could be at risk of incurring high costs and scrutiny from the Health and Safety Executive. In addition, the Government is now close to introducing an offence of corporate manslaughter. Under this legislation, it will be easier to prosecute companies where death has been caused by gross breaches of duty of care by its senior managers.’
A spokesman for fleet managers’ association Acfo was guarded on the findings, and expressed surprise that the levels of faults were so high.
He said: ‘These findings obviously need to be treated with caution and seen in context – for example, the research does not reveal how the fleets inspected were managed or funded.
‘There is no sign of a control survey among retail-owned cars to see if it is the vehicles or the drivers that cause these effects.
‘It must be remembered that a significant percentage of fleet vehicles are under contract hire or fleet management where good servicing systems are supposed to be in place – is this a failing of the industry?
‘I find it difficult to believe the modern car during its fleet life has deteriorated mechanically in terms of elements like steering and suspension.
‘It seems likely that many of the problems encountered by the RAC, which might include such areas as low screenwash levels, could be eradicated by driver education.’