The last thing you need on vacation is a car accident, and especially not in a rental car. Before you drive away from the rental company lot, arm yourself with the lowdown on what to do if the worst happens.
6 Steps to Take If You Have an Accident in Your Rental Car
- Assess the situation. First, make sure that everyone is safe and that no one is hurt. If someone is injured, call 911 immediately. If the scene is dangerous, go to a safe location. Contact the police to report the incident.
- Gather evidence and information. Exchange contact and insurance information with other drivers and injured parties involved in the accident. Ask the responding police officer for a copy of the accident report and the officer's name, badge number, contact information and the accident case number. Take multiple pictures of the damage and of the scene of the crash.
- Call your rental company. Use the company's emergency phone number to call and report the accident involving your rental. Ask what the company would like you to do with the car—where to bring it if it's driveable and where to have it towed if it's not. Take the customer service representative's name and phone number, and note the time and day of the call as well as what the representative tells you.
- Call your insurance provider. Start filing a claim as soon as possible through your personal auto insurer or credit card company. One common reason that insurance providers deny claims is that the claim is not filed quickly enough. This is especially true with credit card insurance coverage.
- Take care of the car. You are responsible for the car during the rental period. If the car is driveable, bring it back to the rental office or to another location in the company network. If the vehicle is not operational, call for roadside assistance from the rental company, AAA, your credit card provider, or another provider and have it towed to the rental car company location or an auto shop.
- File a report with the rental company. The accident report will ask about the details of the incident, the parties involved, and your insurance information. For example, here's Avis's report.
Who Pays After a Rental Car Accident?
If you are at fault in an accident with a rental car, what happens next will depend on the insurance coverage that you have.
You Bought Collision Insurance from the Rental Car Company
If you purchased the collision damage waiver (CDW), you're covered. Unless the accident was due to reckless driving or a breach of the rental agreement, the damage waiver shifts most of the cost to repair or replace the vehicle to the rental company. Remember, though, that damage waivers don't cover liability for medical expenses or property for you or other people involved in the accident. You'll have to rely on your personal insurance or the rental company's supplemental liability coverage for that.
You Already Have Coverage
Most personal insurance policies cover rentals, but definitely double check you coverage limit and deductible. If your policy extends to car rentals, you are covered for both collision and liability up to the limits of your coverage.
Some premium credit cards offer car rental coverage. If yours does, you will be covered as long as you use the card to pay for the rental. Credit card coverage is almost always a damage waiver and doesn't cover liability.
You are Not Covered
If you are at fault in an accident, you're responsible for damage to the rental and for any liability issues. If you aren't at fault, your rental company will work directly with the other driver's insurance company (if they have it). Know that the rental company may not wait until the dispute is settled with the other driver's insurance and may charge your credit card or bill you for damages anyway. If this happens, you'll have to deal with the other driver's insurance directly to get reimbursed.
Note that it is often illegal to drive a rental car without any insurance coverage. Most states require rental car companies to provide the state's minimum liability coverage on their vehicles. Some states, like California, don't have such requirements and renters who don't have coverage (especially liability coverage) could end up with a tremendous bill on their hands, as well as a suspended license suspended and other penalties.
Additional Charges if You Crash Your Rental Car
If you were at fault for the accident, there are three types of charges beyond damage costs for which you may be liable.
- Loss Of Use Fees: When a car in a rental company's fleet is being repaired and out of circulation, the company is losing money. Rental companies will charge you between $20 and $40 per day, depending on the make of the vehicle, to make up for lost revenue.
- Diminution Of Value: Whenever a rental car is damaged, even after being repaired, it loses value. Rental companies charge fees to compensate for this devaluation, and those fees can vary wildly, depending on the extent of the damage that needed to be repaired.
- Administrative Fees: These are additional fees associated with the processing of your claim. These costs vary from $50 to $150 or more depending on the rental company.
If the accident was not your fault, however, you should try to get the at-fault driver to pay these fees. If they refuse, you could sue them in a small claims court.
Do This Before You Rent a Car
- Take Names and Numbers. Familiarize yourself with the procedures of your rental company. Make a note of emergency numbers and where to find accident/incident report forms.
- Research Your Insurance Coverage. Check to see what your personal auto insurance and credit card may cover. Know the coverage limits and the deductibles, as well as whether it is primary or secondary coverage.
- Prepare to Pay. If you don't already have coverage, it's in your best interest to suck it up and purchase the rental company's insurance. Alternatively, you can purchase inexpensive insurance from Sure, which is cheaper than what you'll find at the rental counter. Still, remember that Sure provides collision coverage, not liability for persons or other property.
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