Car Vandalized

San Francisco gives the AutoSlash blog so much material; the city provides gifts no one wants! The airport has the honor of the highest in the nation taxes/fees on free rental days. The City and County decided to sue a rental car company because of decisions made by government agencies. Given rampant theft from cars (rentals and non-rental alike), the police decided to eliminate the task force addressing the issue. Even human remains get stolen from rental cars in San Francisco! Then the government decided to level additional restrictions on rental car companies because the government can't slow the pace of theft from all cars. And thefts from cars are still increasing to the point that has become a major policy point in upcoming elections and residents don't even report thefts anymore! Even the AutoSlash team doesn't rent cars in San Francisco. But here's a hypothetical -- what if our brain temporarily went missing and we decided to rent a car in San Francisco, then were shocked (shocked we say) to discover that our vehicle was vandalized and our possessions were stolen. What are the implications for a renter? The answer has two parts -- the possessions lost and payments that would be due to the rental car company.

Actual human hearts might be stolen if left in a car in San Francisco.

What about my stolen possessions?

Stolen possessions are unlikely to come back in any city. In San Francisco, 1.6% of thefts from vehicles result in an arrest. It's the definition of a crime that is expected to go unpunished in the region, and the Police Chief admits that there are people who have "car burglar" as their official job title. And the sad part is that the renter's unlikely to receive any compensation for the value of any lost items, whether in San Francisco or anywhere else in the world.

  • The local government isn't going to compensate for theft.
  • The rental car company won't make any payment unless the user paid for the exceptionally expensive (and limited) personal effects coverage
  • The consumer could make a claim against a personal policy (like homeowners) but would then risk premium hikes for actually making a claim. 

Being a victim of theft is profoundly unpleasant -- it's happened to me twice (not from a rental car but a structure) and in each instance I had to accept the losses, which were less than my homeowner's insurance deductible. As the professional wrestler James Storm might say, "Sorry about your (darn) luck".

What about debt to the rental car company?

Renters of cars damaged in hit-and-run accidents are responsible for paying off the rental car company. In most cases, the credit card used at the time of pickup has a secondary damage waiver that covers any payments up to the renter's personal insurance policy deductible. And claims against a personal insurance policy also risks increased premiums in the future; that's one reason our team has shifted to cards that have primary coverage for damage to a rental car.

What happens when the rental vehicle is not in an accident and not stolen? Such as when one or more windows are busted or the trunk lock is popped with a screwdriver? The State of California has an answer for that, almost as if they expect the need to protect consumers from rental car vandalism ... It's in Section 1936 of the California Civil Code, which addresses rental car agreements. And the answer for damage caused by "vandalism unrelated to theft" is different than any other state in the nation!

California code protects renters as if vandalism is expected.

If a rental is broken into in the State of California, the maximum amount due to the company is $500 for the damage plus fees (such as administrative, loss-of-use, and towing). Given the deductibles in most automotive policies, many credit card coverages would protect this renter (whether the coverage is primary or secondary). And California is truly an exception with the "expectation" of vandalism. What about renting a vehicle anywhere else in the United States? Well, the cap for vandalism damage unrelated to theft of the vehicle is $500 in California but $2,000 in Nevada, $15,500 in Illinois, and actual damage costs (up to the value of the vehicle) in the rest of the United States, as Hertz helpfully relays in their reservation rules.

Hertz provides the low-down on state-specific exclusions.

So if one has a rental car and it is vandalized, the best place to be is California. As we already know, the most likely place to be in that unfortunate scenario is San Francisco, California. And that realization would be fairly comforting if it wasn't so distressing!

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