When it comes to proms, weddings and other formal events, a limousine is often the vehicle of choice.
But how can consumers feel safe and make sure they are getting the best service?
On Oct. 6, 20 people were killed when a limousine ran through a stop sign at a T-intersection, struck two pedestrians and a parked car and landed in a ravine in Schoharie County, near Albany, according to officials.
The crash has raised questions about oversight of the limousine industry and the safety of such vehicles. Authorities are still investigating the crash’s cause, and are looking at a number of factors ranging from the vehicle’s condition to the design of the intersection and local roads.
Industry experts said consumers don’t need to be afraid of hiring a car service, but they should do their homework before booking.
Research a company’s reputation
The first step in choosing a limousine company is figuring out which ones are worth your time.
You can start by asking for personal recommendations from friends or family, said Claire Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York. Online review sites like Angie’s List and Yelp can also help identify companies with satisfied customers.
The BBB tracks consumer complaints and rates businesses based on their trustworthiness and record. Some businesses choose to take an extra step and become BBB accredited — a certification of trustworthiness for companies who have strong records and score high marks with consumers, based on BBB’s metrics.
“You want to choose an experienced and reputable company that’s been around for a while and has a solid reputation,” Rosenzweig said.
A company’s customer complaint record is also a good indicator of quality, said Penny Casey, president of the Long Island Limousine Association and owner of T and J Limousine and Car Service in Lindenhurst.
The BBB has its own complaint records or you can call your local taxi and limousine commission, which also takes consumer complaints.
Ask the right questions and follow up
Once you have chosen a company or two to contact for a quote, make sure you’re asking the right questions.
The BBB recommends asking to see proof of insurance, registration, inspection and licensing.
“You call them and say ‘I’d like to see proof of insurance, please verify that their drivers have the appropriate license to drive the kind of vehicle that you’re renting,’ ” Rosenzweig said.
You can check the business’s history with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which allows consumers to confirm those records independently and see accident history by plugging the company's name into the FMCSA database (ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SMS).
Casey said customers can also ask for details about the vehicle, like mileage or manufacture date, or to see the vehicles in person. For consumers, a visit can provide peace of mind and a chance to verify the company’s claims about their vehicles. Consumers will be able to check out details like seat belts, inspection stickers and more.
“Any reputable company will tell you, come on down and take a look,” Casey said.
Know your rights and your contract
Before you sign a contract, it’s important to know what’s in it and what your options are if you have concerns about the vehicle or its driver.
“Every limousine company is different, and I can’t speak for every company, but you have to look at the contract and see,” Casey said. “If you have questions, ask.”
Casey said consumers can negotiate a specific replacement policy in case the vehicle they want becomes unavailable. The contract should include in writing the terms you discussed, including the quality and type of vehicle.
“Whatever is being promised, all of those things should be in your agreement,” Rosenzweig said.
At the very least, consumers should know what the cancellation policy is. That way, you know your options if you are not satisfied with the driver and car that show up.
And if you have to cancel? You can file a complaint with the BBB or your local taxi and limousine commission.