Regardless of how safely and attentively we drive, it’s no question that an automobile accident can occur at any time. Our roadways are full of negligent or reckless drivers, unpredictable weather and road conditions, and an assortment of ways our vehicle could suffer damage in an accident.
Most of us already know the routine following a car accident: check that the other drivers and passengers are safe, notify first responders, and exchange insurance information. Most people will be in a car accident at some point, and this post-accident ritual is accordingly common knowledge.
However, what do we do when a rental car is involved in an accident? More importantly, how does the insurance process work? Does my ordinary auto insurance cover damages in a rental car accident?
These are all good questions, which we’ll explore in more detail in this blog post.
Insurance Types: Personal Auto Insurance vs. Rental Company Coverage
While renting a car, it’s normal for the rental agency to offer their own insurance coverage. However, in the vast majority of cases, the driver of the vehicle already has at least a baseline of coverage thanks to their own personal auto insurance policy.
Keep in mind, however, that the insurance the rental company offers may exceed the benefits of your policy. For example, if your personal policy is a bare-bones, liability-only policy, an accident involving a rental car could result in damages that greatly exceed the value of the policy. Keep this in mind in particular when renting a vehicle that is more expensive than your personal vehicle.
On the other hand, a more thorough personal auto policy (including things like comprehensive coverage, collision coverage, or even uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage) might be sufficient to cover the expenses incurred following a rental car accident. It’s important to make sure that your personal policy covers the full value of the rental vehicle; if not, supplementary coverage is usually available through the rental agency.
How Can I Tell If I Need Rental Car Insurance Coverage?
First, check the details of your personal auto insurance policy, or contact your insurance agent to discuss rental coverage. In most cases, personal auto policies will cover rental cars, but this isn’t always guaranteed. Additionally, it’s wise to evaluate how much coverage is offered; if the benefits do not cover the full cost of the rental vehicle, it may be wise to seek supplementary coverage.
Second, if you are a credit card user, check the details of your card benefits. Many popular credit card companies include car rental insurance as one of their card benefits, which can save you valuable time and money over purchasing coverage through the rental agency.
Keep in mind, however, that many of these credit card benefits have exclusions and limitations; they may, for example, only cover car rentals from certain rental companies, or car rentals in certain countries or localities. If you have questions, it’s often worth contacting your card issuer to ask.
What Does the Average Rental Policy Cover?
In the event your personal policy and/or credit card company don’t offer enough coverage to adequately insure your rental vehicle, it may be worth considering a policy through the rental company.
Similar to personal auto policies, car rental policies are fairly simple and may include a handful of benefits:
- Liability coverage. The most important aspect of car insurance, this coverage covers you for liability in an accident. You likely already have this as part of your personal auto policy.
- Personal coverage. This benefit covers medical bills for injuries following a car accident. This is also a basic aspect of most personal auto policies, as well as individual health insurance plans. This also usually covers passengers in the vehicle as well.
- Personal property coverage: This may or may not be an aspect of your personal auto policy. Personal property coverage provides compensation for damage to personal effects, whether resulting from a car accident or from a crime (such as a vehicle break-in). Some personal auto policies may already include this; if yours does not, this can be a useful supplement, particularly when travelling with expensive goods.
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW): A CDW, also called a “loss damage waiver,” typically covers losses from the theft of or damage to a rental car. While sometimes included with a personal auto policy, these aren’t as common.
Ensuring All Drivers Are Covered
Keep in mind that, depending on the person operating the rental vehicle, your personal insurance benefits may or may not apply. For example, in most cases, spouses are automatically covered drivers under most auto insurance plans (or in other cases, are already a named insured). This is also the policy for most car rental agencies.
On the other hand, if a friend or other family member is operating the vehicle at the time of an accident, your insurance benefits may no longer apply. Most benefits follow the named insured (or additional approved parties), rather than the vehicle.
If you anticipate needing to have someone else operate the rental vehicle, it’s wise to include them as an authorized driver on a car rental insurance policy. If you choose to rely on personal auto coverage, it’s important that they be covered by insurance as well.
What To Do Next Following a Rental Car Accident
Unfortunately, car accidents aren’t always simple to resolve, and the addition of a rental car can make things even more complex. Questions of liability and insurance coverage can lead to significant disagreement between parties, making it even more difficult to secure the compensation you need for your injuries during the time you need it most.
This is why retaining an experienced car accident attorney is a wise decision. Your car accident attorney will fully understand the details of your case, who should be responsible for what, and how to most effectively represent your interests when negotiating with the big insurance companies.
When you’re involved in a rental car accident, your only focus should be on getting better, and caring for your loved ones. Let your car accident attorney handle the rest, and get you the compensation you need as soon as possible.