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—What is this “primary coverage with a third party?”

Simply: It is a separate policy that protects you when you rent cars. Maybe you are protected with your credit card and your auto insurance policy, but if you get into an accident and have primary coverage elsewhere, you can leave your insurer out of the loop entirely, avoiding any potential rate increases. American Express cardholders can purchase a Premium Rental Car Protection policy for less than the cost of one day’s damage waiver in many destinations. For $24.95 per rental period of up to 42 days — $17.95 if you live in California — you’ve got $100,000 in coverage for damage and theft, plus $100,000 of Accidental Death or Dismemberment coverage, $15,000 for excess medical expenses and up to $5,000 for personal property loss. The real deal here? No deductible. Nada. It’s a good policy. Best of all, it kicks in automatically when you begin your rental using that card. When you do, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to stop agents in their tracks — most know about the policy. Tell them you’ve got it and they’ll generally understand that they’re dealing with someone who has come prepared.

—But what about liability?

As long as any accidents involve just you and, say, a lamppost, you’re now well and truly protected. Bump into a billionaire in a supermarket parking lot, however, and you may not be adequately protected, liability-wise. Many drivers lack the proper liability protection, often assuming that that they’re safe, hiding behind their homeowners or renters policies. More than once, after hearing about all the coverage we’ve got, the rental car agent has asked the question, “What about liability?” While rental car companies are required to build basic liability protection into their rates, they won’t tell you this. Generally, you’re going to be fine in a fender bender situation, but if you find yourself in some horrible scenario where you can be sued for lots of money, then make sure you are covered (if you’re a high net-worth individual, you probably have an umbrella liability policy, which should be enough, but check with your agent). For those that are not covered, the agent will be happy to sell you Supplemental Liability Protection, often quite reasonably priced at about $10 per day. Then again, liability protection isn’t something you should be sorting out on the fly with some kid at the Enterprise counter — this is a matter for your insurance broker.

George Hobica is founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.

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