There are more options for renting a car than ever before. In the past, you simply selected a vehicle from one of the many brick-and-mortar car rental companies found at airports, train stations or other locations. Today, technology has made possible other alternatives, including peer-to-peer car services, which enable consumers to rent personally owned cars from others; and car sharing programs in which—for a monthly or annual fee—consumers can pick up a vehicle at a wide range of locations for periods ranging from minutes to days.
While these car rental options mean more choice for consumers, they mean more questions about insurance coverage. Fortunately, it is possible to be properly insured when renting a car without wasting money by purchasing duplicative coverage.
The insurance coverage offered by traditional car rental companies is fairly standardized. However, coverage varies widely amongst other types of car sharing programs. The most important step is to read the car rental/sharing agreement—most companies clearly state what is covered as well as the supplemental coverage that can be purchased.
Regardless of the rental car option, the I.I.I. suggests making two phone calls:
The first, to your insurance company, to find out how much coverage you currently have on your own car. In most cases, whatever coverage and deductibles you have on your own car would apply when you rent a car (providing you are using the rental car for recreation and not for business).
- If you have dropped either collision or comprehensive on your own car as a way to reduce costs, you may not be covered if your rental car is stolen or damaged. Insurance rules vary by state, so it is best to check with your insurance professional for the specifics of your policy.
- Check to see whether your insurance company pays for—or provides a rider for—administrative fees, loss of use or towing charges.
The second, to your credit card company. Insurance benefits offered by credit card companies differ depending on the company and/or the bank that issues the card, and the level of credit card used (a platinum card may offer more insurance coverage than a gold card). However, most credit card only provide limited coverage, such as covering the deductible if there is a claim.
- To know exactly the type and amount of insurance that is included, call the toll-free number on the back of the credit card you will be using to rent the car. If you are depending on a credit card for insurance protection, ask the credit card company or bank to send you their coverage information in writing.
- In most cases, credit card benefits are secondary to either your personal insurance policy or the insurance coverage offered by the rental car company.
Brick-and-Mortar Car Rental Insurance
Consumers renting from traditional car rental companies can generally choose from the following coverages (Note: insurance is state-regulated; the cost and coverage will vary from state to state.):
- Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) Also referred to as a collision damage waiver, an LDW is not technically an insurance product—it is designed to relieve or “waive” renters of financial responsibility if their rental car is damaged or stolen. In most cases, waivers also provide coverage for “loss of use,” in the event the rental car company charges for the time a damaged car cannot be used because it is being fixed. An LDW may also cover towing and administrative fees. The Loss Damage Waiver may become void if the accident was caused by speeding, driving on unpaved roads or driving while intoxicated.Comprehensive/collision auto coverage generally covers damage to a rental car. Keep in mind, however, that in most states diminished value is not covered by personal auto insurance policies.
- Liability Insurance By law, rental companies must provide the state required minimum amount of liability insurance coverage—generally this figure is low and does not provide much protection. (See State minimums here.)A standard auto insurance policy includes liability coverage. For additional protection, consider an umbrella liability policy. Non car-owners who are frequent renters can also purchase a non-owner liability policy, which not only provides liability protection when renting a car, but also when borrowing someone else’s car.
- Personal Accident Insurance This covers the driver and passengers for medical and ambulance bills for injuries caused in a car crash Health insurance or the personal injury protection (PIP) provided by your auto insurance will likely cover medical expenses.
- Personal Effects Coverage This provides insurance protection for the theft of items from a rental car.A homeowners or renters insurance policy includes off-premises theft coverage. If you frequently travel with expensive items such as jewelry, cameras, musical instruments or sports equipment, consider a personal articles floater to protect your valuables at home and while traveling.
Car Sharing and Peer-to-Peer Car Rental Insurance
The insurance offered by these companies is not standardized. It is therefore important to go to the company’s website to read the insurance coverage information carefully. If you have any questions, call the customer service number listed on the website. And contact your auto insurer if you feel you need more information to make an educated insurance coverage decision.
Car sharing programs like ZipCar, generally include insurance costs in the fee. However, if the car is involved in a collision or is stolen, the renter may be billed for a specific dollar amount that is stated in the membership agreement. For an additional cost, customers can purchase a “waiver” to avoid paying the accident fee. Car renters under the age 21 should read the insurance coverage carefully as many programs limit coverage for young drivers to the minimum state required amount of liability. Young renters can look into whether their parents’ auto insurance would cover them for the difference, or purchasing their own non-owner liability policy.
A number of web-based peer-to-peer rental services (e.g. RelayRides) offer both basic coverage and supplemental insurance. The supplemental insurance includes both coverage for damage to the car and liability protection, and provides a choice of coverage amounts and deductibles. Renters who do not purchase the additional insurance are required to sign an agreement stating that they declined the coverage.