New bill gives more choice to motorists in a bind

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If you have an auto accident and need to rent a car at the insurance company’s expense, you have a right to get the loaner from wherever you want.

That’s the essence of a new bill floating around in Albany, after several lawmakers have heard from constituents that almost all insurance companies are steering business to major rental chains.

“If I went out of business tomorrow, this still affects the consumer,” said Gil Cygler, who owns Allcar Rent A Car, 1941 Utica Avenue. “It takes away the consumer’s right to make a choice in the competitive marketplace.”

Cygler explained that almost every major insurance company steers business to large national car rental companies, who often charge more than the $30 a day and usually the consumer has to pay the difference.

Also, many of these larger companies are known to push rental insurance even though the consumer’s regular car insurance usually picks up that tab, he said.

“Before consumers purchase car rental insurance from a company they should check to see if their regular insurance company covers it,” said Cygler. “Otherwise consumers are being hosed.”

Particularly galling to Cygler is if consumers rent cars from his or other local car rental companies, they often must pay the money for the rental out of pocket and then get reimbursed from insurance companies.

On the other hand, all major insurance companies give vouchers for the national chains, he said.

“We will accept direct billing and vouchers, but almost all the major insurance companies won’t let us,” said Cygler.

Enterprise Rent A Car spokesperson Laura Bryant defended the practice noting there are more than 5,000 Enterprise Rent-A-Car neighborhood branch offices located within 15 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population, and the company is known for outstanding customer service.

“As a result, we are often a top choice when customers are looking for a replacement vehicle %u2013 and like most major car rental companies, we offer direct-billing for insurance customers’ convenience,” said Bryant. “In addition, none of our partnerships with insurance companies are exclusive, and we continue to support consumer choice in the insurance replacement business.”

The issue, however, has caught the attention of at least two state lawmakers -- Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer of Queens and State Senator John Sampson.

Both said their offices have received a number of complaints on the issue from both mom and pop rental companies and consumers in their district.

The two have crafted identical bills that are expected to be debated in the upcoming January legislative session.

“This is a disclosure bill and it will mandate insurance companies to notify consumers up front that while they recommend certain rent-a-car dealerships, they can use anyone they want,” said Pheffer.

“The other part of the bill prohibits insurance companies from saying they must use any particular rent-a-car dealer,” she added.

Pheffer said the bill is an important piece of legislation because most people have a tendency to rent cars from whoever the insurance company recommends without knowing they have a choice.

Sampson said the bill will ensure complete disclosure of motorists’ rights in selecting the best rental company based on their preference and needs.

“Current auto insurance practices have left many local car rental companies and motorists at a great disadvantage by requiring the insured to use a particular rental company,” he said.

When contacted, the State Department of Insurance was unaware of both the bill and the issue.

“We have received no consumer complaints in regards to this issue,” said DOI spokesperson Ron Klug. “So we are not aware of any consumer issues with it. People are free to file complaints and we’ll look into it.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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