The recent anti-steering law that just passed in New York is a victory for the little guy. The law states that insurers can't require an insured to use a particular rental company, and the insurer must inform the insured of this right.
Will it result in more business for independent rental companies?
The conspiracy theorists will tell you one thing, but there are more practical matters to overcome. I spoke to an insurance agent who put the issue in perspective from a non-car rental point of view.
First off, he said renting the car is just one small part of the total collision experience. "Mostly we have to deal with damage to the automobile, injuries to passengers, lawsuits and lost income," he said. On top of this, "Claims adjusters are pretty much overworked. They don't have time to hold a new rental company's hand and walk them through their process."
From the customer's perspective, "It's a traumatic experience for people who have been in an accident. Anything that can be done for them that alleviates decision making on their part, they'll do it."
With all this to worry about, would you as an insurance company rather pay bills electronically, or would you rather write a one-off check for $134 to Bob's Car Rental and send it through the U.S. mail? Would you rather arrange a rental with a few mouse clicks, or have to call Bob to see if he has a car for your insured?
In these days of squeezing efficiencies out of every business practice, claims adjusters are rarely sent into the field anymore. Claims are processed with emailed photos and phone calls. There is less opportunity for a personal, local connection. The connection is solidified, however, if there is an employee for the national-chain car rental company who actually works in the office building of the insurance carrier, as is often the case.
Can any independent RAC match that business model? Of course not. The biggest hurdle is not collusion. The system isn't broke, at least for the insurance companies, so no one is looking to fix it.
That being said, forcing someone into that system is now illegal in the state of New York. And you can make people aware of it.
The next time your customer tells you she needs to be switched out of your rental in favor of an insurance company-approved one, or if her insurance company is making her pay out of pocket and won't direct bill, you can tell her it's called "steering," and it's against the law. Report any violations to the New York State Insurance Department.
If you use the carrot instead of the stick, you may have a chance of getting some business out of it. Put a sign on your rental counter telling customers they can ask for your great service when it comes to an insurance replacement.
Call on the insurance companies you haven't spoken to in awhile. Don't hit them over the head with the law. Instead, make it worth their while to consider you. Gently nudge them to get placed into that all-controlling computer system. It would make billing easier for them when they use you, and it could protect them against anti-steering charges.
Appeal to their customer service sensibilities. Show them your reasonable rates, and maybe they'll get the idea that competition is actually a good thing.
Many insured drivers put up with driving a standard rental instead of a replacement vehicle comparable to the one being repaired. In property damage/liability claims against an at-fault driver, the rules allow them to be "made whole."
Instead of risking an irate customer, tell the insurance company you can replace an SUV, minivan, sports car or luxury car where the large national chain may not be able to.
Do you accept debit cards or drivers under 25? Does your operation stay open late? Tell them you'll pick up and deliver. Ask them exactly what they want from you to smooth the billing process.
Handwringing will get you nowhere. Get off your butt and give them a reason to rent from you.
Finally, we need to recognize the person who deserves credit for this law: Gil Cygler of All Car Rent A Car, which has locations serving New York City's boroughs. It took many years, but he got this law passed without the backing of lobbying groups, political clout or money. When you're armed fairness and common sense, sometimes the little guy does win.