Rental Car Insurance: Buy It or Not?

Avis in Hawaii was a client of my ad agency, so I have always stuck with that company when I have to rent a car.
I’m also a member of Avis Preferred, their loyalty program. It doesn’t reward me with free cars or points or miles, but it does tell any Avis employee anywhere in the world that I’m a regular customer and I think that helps if there are any problems. Besides, I get a discount from Avis because I’m a NARP member.
I often mention Christopher Elliott’s blog and columns here and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read consumer complaints there from people who have been ripped off by rental car companies. The most common scam involves billing the customer for alleged damage to the vehicle days after the car has been returned. Often the costs involved are several thousand dollars.
The renter swears that there was no damage to the car when it was returned, but the rental car company insists there was and threatens legal action. (A word to the wise: the name of the car rental company most often mentioned in these disputes? Enterprise. And somewhat less frequently, Alamo and Thrifty.)
OK, so in addition to taking photos of the car, what should we honest-but-occasional renters do about protecting ourselves. Here are a couple of options:
The most obvious, and probably the worst choice, is to accept the insurance—the Loss Damage Waiver—offered by the company. Of course, many car rental companies pressure you to buy their “insurance” by speaking ominously about what will happen should you have an accident without it—even an accident that’s not your fault. And, as you would surmise, their coverage is expensive. It is, after all, a profit center for them.
The second option is to check with whomever sold you the insurance you have on your personal vehicles. Chances are, your own automobile policy will cover you while you’re driving a rental. Just be sure the coverages and limits you have for your personal car will be adequate in the event there’s an accident with that shiny new rental car.
Finally, and this may also be the answer if you’re renting a car outside of this country, contact the company that issues your main credit card. If it’s one of the more selective cards and if you’ve had it for more than a couple of years, covering you for damage to a rental car could be one of the benefits. But find and read the fine print carefully because there can, and usually are, special provisions. For instance, my credit card company says I must pay for the rental with their card—that makes sense—and I must decline the coverage the rental car company offers.
Just don’t go driving off without protecting your butt in some way, even if it means biting the bullet and buying coverage from the rental car company