Car rental insurance has to be one of the most widely misunderstood phenomena of the 21st century. In the 3+ years I have worked in this industry, close to 25% of all the issues that arise have to do with deductibles, authorizations, refunds and the geocentric validity of insurance. These situations tend to come about once a client has dropped off their vehicle and are presented with a bill that makes their eyes pop out of their head. Today we will discuss methods of avoiding this type of ocular discharge.
Let us first go over the types of insurance you will most likely be presented with when deciding what to rent for a car. There are five major types and a million different minor types, and new ones are being invented everyday. The ones you will have to keep an eye out for are:
1. Collision Insurance – Also known as CDW or LDW, collision insurance covers the body of the vehicle in the event of an accident. Please keep in mind that the last sentence is an exact measure of what it covers and when. In no case does CDW cover damage to windows / windshields, tires, roof, mirrors, interior, headlights, blinkers or undercarraige. On top of that, it only covers for an accident, not vandalism, and sometimes not for single party accidents (i. e. - running into something that isn’t another vehicle). Make sure you ask about these things when booking you reservation.
2. Theft Insurance – Simply put, it covers the car in the event that it is stolen. In order for this insurance to be valid you have to fill out a police report and alert the rental company (and credit card company if you are under their policy) within 24 hours or you will be liable for the price of an entire car.
3. Liability Insurance – Also known as Third Party or TPL, liability is almost always included in a European rental. This will cover any damages incurred to things outside of the vehicle, such as people, buildings, property, etc. So when you happen to crash it through the front window of a crowded shopping mall, you can at least be thankful you don’t have to pay for it (unless your liability insurance has a ridiculously low limit, most have unlimited coverage).
4. Personal Accident Insurance – Or PAI, this covers medical expenses for people in your vehicle in the event of an accident. Typically this type of insurance can be circumvented with a good health plan here stateside and will almost always only cover you up to a few thousand dollars, up to 20 or 50 thousand dollars in the case of death or dismemberment, but we’re all hoping that doesn’t happen anyway.
5. Personal Effects Coverage – Covers your belongings up to a predetermined amount. Usually is not valid unless you can prove the items were in the car (so take pictures of your stuff while you are there if you want this insurance).
Keep in mind that if you are cited for negligence or drunk driving, most of these insurances will be null and void. So if you are going out for a night or several of partying, it’s best to leave the rental at the hotel and take alternate transportation.
Rental companies will always try to convince you that you need to take their insurance, but this isn’t always true. In fact, if you have a US or Canadian issued credit card, it very may well have collision and theft insurance already covered for you. Most gold and platinum cards have decent coverage policies, with little to no deductible. The cards that may cover abroad are American Express & Visa (up to 30 days continuous), Mastercard (15 days continuous) and Diners Club (usually 30 days but varies). Under no circumstances should you try to use a Discover card overseas. Though you may be told by your representative that they cover the insurance, you can bet that it will not be accepted at the rental counter.
Also, don’t expect to use your stateside car insurance policy in Europe. It won’t work. Even policies that you purchase stateside with the sole intention of covering you for car rental overseas will generally not be accepted at the counter. Sometimes you can get a policy that will reimburse you for expenses related to car rental accidents, but these are treated separately since they do not directly involve the rental company.
There are exceptions to this rule, particularly in Ireland, where currently the only coverage accepted is Mastercard Platinum. It can be assumed that in the future there may be more than one country that accepts only a certain type of card so make sure you mention to your credit card company where you are picking up the car before taking their policy at face value. Get a copy of the policy in writing. Not only is this a good safety measure but it will speed up the process at the counter if the agent argues the validity of your coverage. Also, make sure to inquire into the claims procedures that your credit card company uses to enact coverage and recoup deductibles in the event of an accident. Usually there is a lot of red tape involved, but in the end if you decide to use your credit card coverage you can save anywhere from 50 to 500 dollars for a single week’s rental!
As there is an upside (saving money) and a downside (filing extensive paperwork) to using your credit card coverage, the same is true of taking the insurance from the rental company. The downsides are that you have to pay the premium to begin with, and then if you get into an accident, there is usually a deductible between $200 to $2000 or more depending on the type of car that you will be liable for. In theory you are only supposed to pay for the amount of damage done but somehow the rental companies can make a dented bumper work out to cost $2000. The unforunate thing is that you can’t really stay to contest it. Normally you have to jump on a plane to your next destination! The upside of this is that you can walk away without having to do anything else. That block on your credit card will become a charge and that’s the end of it, until the bill gets to your house of course.
Understanding the insurance limitations and capabilities can be a mind-numbing practice. However it is one of the most important parts of the car rental experience, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Considering that the rental companies make a good portion of their profits on unused insurance, you can see why they would intentionally make it time-consuming and confusing to approach it any other way. God forbid you ever have to really apply this information to your car rental. The more prepared you are, the less you have a chance to lose during your experience. In the next chapter we will talk about how to prepare for the fun part: the actual driving.
Murdoch Morris has worked in the European car rental industry for 3+ years, learning about the intricacies of insurance so others don't have to. Feel free to contact him with any questions you may have specific to your next trip to Europe.