What Should I Do If I Crash My Rental Car?

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Written by: Guest | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: February 24th, 2020

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Guest Post by Melanie Musson

Driving a rental car can be pretty fun. Chances are it’s newer than your regular car, it has more safety and tech features, and you’re not likely to run into any mechanical problems.

But all that enjoyment disappears in an instant if you get in an accident. It’s never fun to be involved in a collision, but at least when you’re driving your own car, you should have a pretty good idea of the steps you need to take in the aftermath.

When you’re in a rental car, you might be scrambling to figure out what you need to do first. You may be asking, “Will my private insurance cover the damages?” or maybe, “Who should I call first?” We’ll walk you through the process so you can be confident you’re doing what you should and you’re not forgetting anything important.

Steps to take after a crash

The first three steps you’ll need to take after being involved in a crash with a rental car are the same steps you would take no matter what car you’re driving.

1. Ensure safety. Make sure you’re in a safe place. For example, if you’re in the middle of the interstate and you can safely move your vehicle to the shoulder, do so.

2. Check for injuries. Check yourself, those in your vehicle, and the other party for injuries, making sure to keep as accurate of a record of all injuries as possible. You will need this information when you call to report the accident.

3. Report the accident to the police. Law enforcement may or may not respond to the accident, but you’ll want to file a report, regardless. If there are injuries and/or significant damage, medical services and law enforcement will respond to your location.

Each state has its own damage threshold for when a state report must be filed, but typically the threshold is quite low, and when you consider that a hairline crack in a bumper could cost over $1K, you’d better make a report. Car accidents aren’t exactly the cheapest things to fix.

4. Contact the rental agency. Here’s where you stray from standard protocol. Obviously, you’re going to need to contact the owners of the vehicle you crashed–the rental company.

They’re going to let you know exactly how to proceed, so take notes. Depending on whose insurance you’re using (your own, the rental company’s, a credit card), your outcomes will vary.

A lot of people are confused about insurance when renting a vehicle, and when a crash happens, they’re not sure whose insurance will cover what. If that’s how you feel, you’re not alone. The rental agent has dealt with many others just like you. They will help clarify what you should know.

5. Call your insurer. Your insurance company may be the primary insurer with your rental or they may be secondary if you have coverage with the rental agency or through a credit card. Contact your company and let them know what you learned from speaking with the rental agency. They will let you know how you should proceed.

6. Exchange information. These previous five steps happen quickly. While you’re waiting for law enforcement to respond, you can call the rental agency and your insurer. Since you’ve had a chance to gather your thoughts and you know what’s expected of you, make sure you exchange information with the other party.

Give and get insurance information and names. There is no reason to share that this is a rental vehicle, and there is no reason to admit that everything was your fault (even if you think it was). Give the info you have to give, and don’t offer anything else.

7. Take pictures. Document the damage to all vehicles and property involved. Doing this will help prevent other parties from trying to add repair work that isn’t warranted.

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Car insurance considerations

I mentioned earlier that your insurance, the rental company’s insurance, and your credit card could all play a part in your insurance coverage. Here’s a more in-depth explanation. 

Your insurance

Your personal car insurance generally covers the rental car. There are always exceptions, but this is a general rule. So, if you have full coverage, you should be covered in your rental car exactly how you would be covered in your regular vehicle.

You can expect to pay a deductible and then your insurer will pick up the rest of the tab.

If you only have liability coverage, that will not be sufficient for a rental vehicle. If you get into a wreck, liability coverage will cover costs for the victim, but you’re going to be responsible for the damage to the rental vehicle.

If your personal vehicle is old and not worth much money, skipping full coverage can be a wise financial move, but when you’re renting, the vehicle will certainly be a late model in good condition. You need comprehensive and collision coverages, and you can get that from the agency.

Unfortunately, even if you have full coverage, there are some insurance holes that you should be aware of.

  • Loss-of-use fees — The rental company can charge a daily fee during the time their vehicle is not able to be rented because of damage. Your insurance probably won’t cover that, so you’ll be responsible out-of-pocket.
  • Certain damages — There are some things that just aren’t covered by insurance, like flat tires. If you get a flat tire on a rental car, you’ll probably have to pay for repair or replacement.
  • Towing — If you don’t have roadside assistance either from your private insurer or a third party, you’ll be responsible for towing fees should your rental car need a tow.
  • Administrative fees — These are additional costs the rental company can charge for their time dealing with the aftermath of your accident.

If you have no insurance at all, maybe because you don’t own a vehicle, the rental company already has minimal coverage on their vehicles, but like private liability-only coverage, you’ll be responsible to pay for damage to the rental car out-of-pocket.

Be wise and make sure you don’t ruin your financial situation with inadequate insurance coverage.

Credit card insurance

You’re best off knowing what your credit card covers before you rent a car, that way you can choose to use the card that provides the best coverage for your rental needs.

If you’ve been in a wreck and you’re unsure, call the customer service for the credit card you used to rent the car and ask what your card covers.

If you used a card that provides coverage, likely, your private insurance will offer primary coverage and then your credit card rental coverage will kick in and it may cover your deductible, loss-of-use fees, towing costs, and administrative fees.

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Rental agency insurance

Some rental companies are better than others, and some offer better insurance options than others.

You can get the best peace-of-mind following an accident if you purchase the premium insurance plan from the agency. It will essentially guarantee you’ll walk away from the accident without having to face any bills.

The downside to the rental agency coverage is that it’s expensive. You’ll have to weigh in your own mind whether it’s worth it or not, especially if your own insurance and credit card supplemental insurance will provide sufficient protection.

Getting into a car accident with a rental car is a possibility that you need to consider before signing all the rental forms. To save a headache later, make sure you know what insurance coverage you have and can expect following an accident.

The most important thing to remember about insurance when you rent a car is that you need full coverage, so if you don’t have it through your private insurer, you should purchase what the rental company has available.

The steps to follow post-crash are similar to the steps you would follow in any circumstance, just remember that one of your first phone calls (after emergency services) needs to be to the rental agency. It’s their car. They have to find out.

With proper coverage, your finances will be minimally impacted following a crash with a rental car.

Melanie Musson is a writer for CarInsurance.org. She has studied and worked in the insurance field for several years. Her favorite thing to do is spend time outdoors in the Rocky Mountains where she and her husband and four children live.

The Top Rental Cars Companies

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