What If I … Get Into An Accident With My Rental Car?

Driving in a foreign country? Rent a car with seat belts.
Before hopping into the driver’s seat of a rental car, know what your regular auto insurance will cover. Photo credit: Israel Sundseth via Unsplash.

By Molly Jensen

When you rent a car, you need to know the rules of the road where you’re going. There are the obvious ones, like in Alabama, where it’s illegal to drive while blindfolded, or in Georgia, where you aren’t allowed to drive through playgrounds. Some are a little more complicated, like having every driver of the rental car listed with the rental-car company, or the whole issue of insurance for your rental car.

Before getting into the long and winding line to rent a car, you really need to find out how much coverage you have with your regular car insurance. If you have collision and comprehensive coverage, it’s quite possible that it will also cover damages to a rental car. Also, your credit card might have rental-car coverage. Look at the information that came with your card or go online to find out what types of vehicles are covered, if any countries aren’t covered, and if the coverage is primary or secondary. If your rental car qualifies for coverage under your card, charge the rental fee (all of it – otherwise it’s not covered) to your card.

If you pursue either of these tactics and still don’t feel adequately covered in case of an accident, or if you don’t have any auto insurance at all, it’s smart to invest in rental-car insurance. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have a magical bubble around you to protect you from accidents. And you want to be sure you’re covered before you’re in an accident; after an accident is too late.

So where do you get more insurance for your rental car? The obvious answer is from the rental-car company, and that means saying yes to the persistent counter person. Depending on the type of insurance you buy from the rental-car company, you could be exempt from paying deductibles, and you might even be able to keep your regular car insurance from being involved and having your premium raised. So while the knee-jerk option is to say, “Nah; I’m good,” and decline the rental-car company’s insurance, especially if you’re driving abroad it can be a very prudent investment.

Another option to consider is travel insurance. If you choose ExactCare from BHTP, you can add rental-car collision coverage for just $9 a day.

When you’re covered and have your keys, you can hit the road.

Hopefully you won’t have to use any of the insurance you’ve stocked up. But if you do crack up your rental car, here are the first steps you should take, which are the same steps you’d take in any sort of car accident:

  • If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately.
  • Call the police and file a report no matter what type of accident it is, because insurance providers are going to want a copy of that report. Keep a copy of the report for yourself. If that’s not possible, take a picture of it with your mobile phone.
  • Exchange insurance information with anyone else in the accident. Take a picture of that, too, just because things get lost when you’re traveling.
  • Take lots of pictures – on a mobile device and a camera, if you have both — and notes about the accident. Take pictures of the damaged parts of the car and the undamaged parts, close up and farther away, including context and damage to the other vehicle, if there was another vehicle and it was damaged. It’s not at all unheard of for a car to be damaged significantly as it’s being towed, and if you haven’t documented what the car looked like before it was towed, you could be on the hook for that damage.
  • If the car has to be towed, write down contact information of the towing company as well as the body shop’s address. The last thing you need is for the car to be driven away and you have no idea were on Earth it was taken. (Obviously, this is way more important if you’re overseas.) And, yes, take a picture of that.
  • If there are injuries, you might need a lawyer, sooner rather than later. BHTP can provide international legal-referral services.

If you have a rental car, the steps you take are a little different. Basically it’s a laundry list of people to call:

  • Call the car-rental company. Most often, their phone number is in the glove compartment or on the contract (which should always be kept in a safe place that you will remember). They’ll know the next steps to take to get the car repaired, get you a new rental car, and deal with their insurance, if you bought it.
  • Next, call your regular car-insurance company. Tell them about any other insurance that covers the rental car, because who pays how much in what order towards the car repairs depends on who’s the primary carrier, who’s secondary, and so on.
  • Your third call will be to your credit-card company, if you have coverage through them. You might have only a number of days to make a claim with them, so make sure you call and get in their system.
  • Did you get travel insurance with rental-car coverage? Give them a call, too. Or with BHTP, you could go online or use our app to start the claims process.

Experience teaches us that the key to successfully navigating rental-car-accident claims with multiple insurance companies, multiple jurisdictions, and quite possibly multiple languages is to document, document, document. Insist on getting everything in writing, keep copies of everything, and take pictures of the copies. It’s not always because someone is trying to take advantage of you and your situation; quite often it’s because one entity doesn’t know what other entities are doing.

When you get through all of the calls, take a deep breath. This is why you had all this insurance in the first place.

Molly Jensen is a member of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.