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Everything You Need to Know about Rental Car Insurance

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By George Hobica

Before you leave home, examine your policy documents or call your insurance provider and ask. Questions like: Am I covered for damage, theft and loss of use? Liability for injury to others (personal and property) while in the rental car? Personal effects if stolen or damaged? How screwed am I, as regards deductibles and such, if I find myself in any trouble related to the above? You should know the answers to all of these questions.

—Coverage through your credit card? Maybe. Probably not.

Too many people think that their auto insurance policy plus their credit card coverage benefits equals all set. Again — maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Have you read the documents? Too many renters learn the hard way that what most cards provide is “secondary” coverage, meant only to bulk up your auto insurance policy, paying out after that has been exhausted. Your Visa card, for example, can be a great asset, but if you don’t follow all their rules (the coverage may be invalid if you rent a mid-size car in Cincinnati on a Tuesday when it’s raining), the very thing you think is going to keep you out of trouble might end up leaving you in a world of hurt. Across the board, it’s wrong (really, really wrong) to assume that one size of coverage fits all card brands. Some higher-end Mastercards might be great, for example.

Others card levels may offer little protection. Examine each card document carefully. Finally, note that credit cards tend to mostly offer collision, damage and theft coverage, if they offer anything at all — personal liability (hitting a pedestrian, crashing into a store front, or injuring drivers in another car) and personal effects are generally your problem. Again: Read.

—So you’ve got nothing.

Say you go over both your auto insurance policy and your credit card documents, hundreds of time. Say you now fully accept that rental car-wise, you’re less than protected. Don’t just wing it — winging it can lead to all kinds of trouble, such as you being stuck with a bill for thousands of dollars or a huge jury award. Besides upgrading your credit card to something more useful and bulking up on your auto insurance you can also sign up for primary coverage with a third party (but again, this will only be coverage for damage to the rental car, it’s not personal liability coverage).

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