Nothing ruins a vacation or a business trip like a car accident, especially if you’re driving a rental car that’s not even yours. Fortunately, you can minimize the negative consequences of a rental car accident by carrying an appropriate auto insurance policy. Here’s what to do if you get into a crash while driving a rental.
Make Sure Everyone is OK
No matter what kind of accident you are in, always think about your health and the health of others first. Assess the scene and make sure everyone is okay. Survey the damage, document the evidence, call the police, and inform your rental company. To protect yourself legally, medically, and financially, avoid these common car accident mistakes.
Once help has arrived and the scene has been cleared, it’s time to figure out how the damage will be paid for. This all comes down to the types of insurance policies you carry.
Understand Your Rental Contract
It’s important to understand that the main point in your rental agreement is that you are legally obligated to return the car in the same condition that it was in when you rented it. That means you are responsible for any damage to or loss of the vehicle.
Always walk around the car and document any preexisting damage before you leave the lot. This way, if the rental company tries to charge you for damage you didn’t cause, you’ll be protected.
Know Your Insurance Coverage
Personal Car Insurance
If you own and drive a car in Massachusetts, you must carry a car insurance policy. Most insurance policies will cover you when you are driving a rental car, but be sure to read your policy carefully to confirm. The rental car company may require you to provide proof of insurance before you can rent the car.
Even if your personal policy covers damage to a rental car, you may still be responsible for rental fees. This means that if it takes a week for the car to be repaired, the rental car company will expect you to pay the going rate for that rental car for that week. Check your policy for a “loss of use” clause to determine if you’re covered.
Credit Card Coverage
Some credit cards offer rental car insurance. This is generally a damage waiver, which covers damage to your rental car. Credit card rental coverage generally does not cover liability. It’s also often secondary insurance, which picks up where your primary car insurance leaves off. Remember that you must use the same credit card to book, rent, and return the car, and always report an accident to your credit card company.
Rental Car Insurance
If you purchased the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), the optional insurance that the rental car company offered before you drove off the lot, you may be off the hook for paying for the damage. But read the policy: some are supplemental policies that only kick in after your personal insurance pays out.
Help! I Have No Coverage
If you get into a car accident in your rental car, have no personal car insurance or credit card rental coverage, and you didn’t purchase the insurance from the rental company, the company is going to expect you to reimburse them for the damage to their car. Even if another driver’s insurance is covering the repairs, the rental company may go ahead and charge your credit card, and you’ll be responsible for seeking reimbursement from the insurance company.
Be prepared to face legal trouble as well. By law, nearly every state in the U.S. requires drivers to carry some kind of auto insurance. Driving a rental car without insurance may result in a variety of penalties.
Was Someone Else Driving Your Rental Car?
For most rental car companies, allowing an “unauthorized” driver to drive your rental car is a breach of contract. Most rental contracts include language that terminates the contract in the event that this happens. This means that all liability protection and optional services, such as additional insurance, are immediately void.
What’s more, their personal insurance may not cover the damage, either. Personal auto insurance policies typically only cover non-owned vehicles if the policy holder is entitled to drive them.
In short, it is always in your best interest to “authorize” any additional drivers who may get behind the wheel of your rental, and you should never drive someone else’s rental car unless you are listed as a driver on the agreement.
You May Need a Lawyer
Insurance companies don’t want to pay out any more than they have to. If you get in a car accident while driving a rental car, you need a car accident attorney who can investigate the situation and work with the insurance and rental companies in order to properly evaluate the situation and damages.