8 Ways to Protect Yourself When You Rent a Car

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Posted by Tim Semelroth

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School is nearly out, and for many families, that means a summer vacation.  If you’re on a vacation where you need to rent a vehicle, you will face a common dilemma at the rental counter.  You’ll have to choose between purchasing extra insurance from the rental car company, which sometimes can nearly double the price of your rental, or signing a damage waiver which states if any of part of the rental vehicle is damaged, you are personally responsible – regardless of how the damage happened.

Despite what you may have heard, there is no simple answer to which option you should pick.  The best way to protect yourself is to take these steps before, during and after you rent a vehicle:

Before you rent: Check your personal auto insurance policy

If you have personal auto insurance with comprehensive and liability coverage, it likely covers your rental car. We recommend contacting your insurance agent to double-check the specifics of your coverage before you leave on a trip.

Identify the limits of your personal auto insurance

If you have dropped certain types of coverage to save money on your personal auto insurance, then you may not be covered if your rental car is stolen or damaged.  If you are traveling to another country, be aware that certain countries are often excluded from coverage. Call your insurance agent to discuss these details.

Your credit card might offer protection

If you use a credit card to pay for your rental car, you may have supplemental protection. The major card brands often offer rental insurance. We recommend calling your credit card company to get the details of their rental insurance coverage before you travel.

Identify the limits of your credit card protection

Credit card rental car insurance can be primary or secondary. Primary means it’s a first line of protection. Secondary means the insurance pays only for costs not covered by your primary personal auto insurance. A call to your credit card company can confirm what level of protection you will have.

When you rent: Use your credit card to rent the vehicle

To get protection from your credit card company, you typically must charge the full rental on the card and decline the waiver offered by the car rental company.

Take photos of any pre-existing damage to your rental vehicle before you leave the lot

Don’t rely on the rental company to properly document any pre-existing damage. Inspect the rental vehicle and photograph any dents or scratches you see. This guarantees you have visual proof if the rental company later tries to make you pay for damage that didn’t happen while you had the vehicle.

After you rent: If you need emergency roadside assistance, use your personal resources if you can

Roadside assistance through the rental car company is typically expensive.  If you have emergency roadside assistance through your personal auto insurance or through a service like AAA, use that first.

Reject the arbitration provision in your rental agreement

When you rent a car through most major companies, you are, whether you like it or not, agreeing to private arbitration if a dispute occurs. This arbitration process does not allow for meaningful appeals and is heavily weighted in their favor.  With some rental companies, you can opt out of forced arbitration if you email them within 30 days of renting, saying you reject the provision.

If you have any questions concerning arbitration contracts, consult an attorney.  They will be able to explain how arbitration works and what your rights are.  If you aren’t sure which attorney to contact, call us at 1-319-519-4193 and we will refer you to a knowledgeable attorney.

Using these tips should help you avoid issues at the rental car counter.  Have fun on your trip, and safe driving!

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