Do you need rental car insurance?

Marketplace Staff Jul 21, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Americans get fewer vacation days than almost anybody on the planet. So when we do manage to get away, we want it to be right. Enter the insurance industry. You can buy insurance in case your flight gets canceled. Or once you get where you’re going, you can get rental car insurance, which means $10 or so a day they ominously imply you should pay, if you know what’s best. But, do you need it? Lisa Freeman from Consumer Reports has some tips. Welcome to the show, Lisa

LISA FREEMAN: Thank you.

KAI RYSSDAL: Can I tell you a story?

LISA FREEMAN: Yeah, sure.

KAI RYSSDAL: So I was driving in San Diego on the freeway right near the airport. And if you know anything about San Diego, you know that the freeway goes right under the approach path for the airport right there. And I had this thing for airplanes back 10 or 15 years ago. So I was watching the airplanes while I was driving down the highway at 55 miles an hour and the car in front of me stopped and I didn’t see it. Suffice it to say that I wrecked my rental car, I wrecked the rental car in front of me and I did really serious damage to the rental car in front of that one. Obviously the police came, nobody was hurt, everything was fine, took reports, blah blah blah. I actually made my plane but I lived in dread for the next couple of weeks checking my mail once I got home because I was sure there was going to be a big fat letter from Avis. It did eventually come and here’s what I did. I took the letter and I wrote a letter to my insurance company and I said, ‘gentlemen please take care of this’ and I never heard anything again

LISA FREEMAN: The car rental companies actually pressure you to buy these insurance waivers to cover you for such situations. But what most people don’t know is that they’re already covered if they have an auto insurance policy for damage to your rental car as well as liability. So one of the tips as far as saving money on rental cars is turn down the insurance waivers if you already have coverage.

KAI RYSSDAL: When you do damage a rental car or you do something that damages another rental car, when do you decide to tell?

LISA FREEMAN: Nowadays rental car companies are getting much tougher on scratches and dents and any damage to their cars. I mean you can’t just hand it in and expect that nothing’s going to happen. My advice to people is take pictures of your car whether it’s damaged or not after you hand it in or actually when you pick up your car. If there’s a small crack in the windshield or a slight dent or a scratch they’re not going to be charging you for something much more major than that, because they probably will get you at some point.

KAI RYSSDAL: You know every time I rent a car there’s all kinds of fine print and this and that and I, this drives my wife nuts, I never read that stuff, I just sign away. Am I being foolish here?

LISA FREEMAN: Well . . .

KAI RYSSDAL: If it’s yes, tell me yes.

LISA FREEMAN: Perhaps just a tad. You really do have to watch out for fine print for possibly additional fees that might be charged to you. Let’s say you return the rental car late, or let’s say after the fact you’re going to change your drop-off location. That can cost you a lot of money and some of those things are going to be laid out in the fine print, so read it.

KAI RYSSDAL: Lisa Freeman from Consumer Reports

LISA FREEMAN: You’re welcome.

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