We speak about many of the considerations of insurance in our Primer on Rental Car Insurance. Yet many renters who don't read insurance policies and terms every day forget that personal automobile policies are a common part of the rental car coverage equation. Most renters know that many credit cards provide secondary damage protection if there's an incident with the rental car; when a credit card provides secondary coverage, the driver's own policy is the primary. And those damage waivers only cover the rental car - cause an accident and harm other individuals and property, and the potential liability is huge. And many renters would be surprised to learn liability coverage isn't included on rentals in California, which makes personal insurance policies even more important.
Why Can't California be Like Other States?
We're neither attorneys nor insurance salespeople, so we can only say "California has to be California". And while most of the legal framework in the state is consumer-friendly, the lack of consistency on the concept of rental car liability is a potential snag for renters who drive infrequently.
It Ain't Like Anywhere Else
Really? No Liability Insurance on Rentals that Commence in California
Indeed, and it's in the rules that every rental car company disclose while making a reservation, but here are some examples of the statements a renter would see from the rental car companies.
Avis' declaration from their reservation rules.
Enterprise's declaration from their reservation rules.
Hertz's declaration from their reservation rules.
The Real World Implications
If you're renting a car in California, there are really three different groups of customers; drivers with valid liability insurance in California, those without insurance who elect to purchase liability from the rental car company, and those without insurance who choose not to buy liability insurance from the rental car company.
Drivers with Valid Liability Insurance -- Drivers who have a valid insurance policy that covers rental cars in California (a personal policy or a non-owners policy) don't really have to worry about liability; they are covered to the limits listed on their policies. When our team travels, we only really have to worry about the MSRP of a car when we make rental decisions (e.g. "insurance on a Nissan Altima at home doesn't cover a McLaren 570s when on vacation").
Drivers without Insurance who Purchase Liability from the Rental Car Company -- These drivers would have liability coverage to the limits listed on the policy purchased by the rental car company. These policies would cover at least the minimum requirement to operate a car in the State of California, even though the policy cost can be much higher than keeping a non-owners policy for long-term renters.
Drivers without Insurance who do not Purchase Liability from the Rental Car Company -- The rental car companies list that their companies don't provide liability insurance in their rules, yet liability insurance is required in order to legally operate a vehicle in California. The rental car companies have no responsibility to check a driver has liability insurance and a rental car company cannot mandate that a driver purchase insurance. Complying with California's law on rental car insurance is the responsibility of the renter.
That means a driver can leave the rental car company's lot without legally required liability insurance. The cost of that mistake can be huge -- a driver without liability insurance who causes an accident would be solely responsible for any claims of injury or damage to other persons or property. And if the driver interacts with police for any reason -- such as a traffic infraction or accident, driving without liability insurance can result in penalties such as fines, points, and/or loss of license. Even as visitors to California, it's always the responsibility of a renter to read the rental rules, understand the law, and follow steps to protect oneself (with liability insurance and from rampant crime).
Ready to rent your next rental car? Always ensure you understand your insurance policies (personal and credit card) to see what's covered, then request your car quote below. We'll search discounts among all the major providers and then send the best possible rates within minutes!