What to Do if You’re in an Accident With a Rental Car

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If you’re involved in an accident while driving a rental car, exchange insurance information with the other parties involved in the accident, inform the rental car company and contact your insurer to determine who will pay what costs.
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In the unlikely event that you’re involved in an accident while driving a rental car, here’s what you need to know in order to protect yourself.
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Ensure everyone is okay

First things first, if you’re involved in an accident while driving a rental car, make sure that everyone—including you and your passengers, and everyone in the other car—are okay.
Safety is paramount, so if possible, carefully pull your car to the side of the road. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately.
If a car is smoking, get some safe distance between yourself and the car in case of any fire or explosions.
Key Takeaway If you’re involved in a collision with a rental car (or any car), always look out for everyone’s well-being first.

Exchange contact information

Once everyone is safe and accounted for, now is the time to exchange insurance information with the other involved drivers. Here is what should be exchanged:
Your name and address Phone number and email Your insurance company as well as your policy number Your driver’s license information Vehicle registration and license plate numbers
If there were any witnesses, make sure to get their contact information as well. If the police become involved, be prepared to show them your license, car registration, and current address, as well as evidence of financial responsibility.

Don’t admit fault!

While accident scenes can be emotionally charged, it is very important to not admit fault for anything.
Make sure you are polite and express empathy to any other parties involved without admitting any responsibility for what happened—this can be used against you later if you’re not careful, and could potentially result in you losing your insurer’s protection.
Also, make sure you don’t sign anything regarding fault! Even if the other party offers to pay for damages or your deductible and asks you to "just sign this"—do not do it.
If the other party is aggressive, keep your distance and wait for the police to arrive.
Key Takeaway At the scene of an accident, look out for the well-being of everyone involved in the accident, but do not admit fault to anything.
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Document scene with notes and pictures

For insurance purposes, especially when driving a rental car, be sure to document the scene of a collision with lots of photos and notes.
Be as detailed as possible with your notes of the scene, and don’t hesitate to take as many photos as you need in order to give your insurer a complete picture of what happened. Here’s a list of the information you’ll want to record:
  • Year, make, model, and color of each car involved in the collision
  • Any obvious details about any cars involved
  • Exact (as much as possible) details of where the collision took place, including street names and lanes where the accident occurred
  • How the accident took place

Get in touch with your rental company

You’ll need to get in touch with the rental company and inform them of what happened as soon as possible.
There should be a contact number listed on your rental car agreement, as well as a sticker inside the glove box with an emergency number listed on it.
When you contact your rental company, they will give you instructions on how to proceed. To start, you’ll likely have to fill out an incident report about what happened.

Call your insurance company

If you are using your own insurance for primary coverage when renting a car, you need to inform your insurer in order to make a claim. You’ll need some information from your insurer, so be prepared to ask them the following questions:
  • Who files the accident report with the police—me or you?
  • Am I covered for just liability insurance, or do I have collision and/or comprehensive coverage as well?
  • What is my deductible?
As an example, if you have a $1000 deductible, but you’ve caused $5000 in damages, you’ll be required to pay $1000 before the rest is covered by your insurer. Also, if you purchased any supplemental insurance when renting your car, inform your insurance company.
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Determine who is responsible for paying what

Be sure to find out who will cover what in your claim, including your insurance company and the rental car company. If you used insurance from your credit card, make sure you find out what that will cover as well.

Collision damage

If your own personal auto insurance offers both collision and comprehensive coverage, that will likely cover you for any damages to the rental car in an accident.
If your own policy doesn’t offer collision or comprehensive coverage, it might be a good idea to buy a collision waiver from the rental company, just in case. If you have no coverage, any damages to the rental car will be borne by you alone.

Damage to other parties

If you already carry liability insurance, that should cover you for any damage you cause to other vehicles, even while driving a rental.
If you don’t have liability insurance, it is a very good idea to buy supplemental liability coverage before you drive off in a rental—you can buy this from the rental company, which will cover you in case you cause any damage or injury with the car.
A note about credit cards—they typically do not offer liability coverage. If you don’t have a personal car insurance policy, it is a good idea to buy supplemental liability coverage when renting a car.

A damaged rental car with rental days remaining

Without rental coverage on your car insurance policy, you may still owe the rental company for any unused remaining days with the rental car, even if it's damaged and cannot be driven.
Even if the car is out of commission, the rental company may count those days as extra days that need to be paid for, as if the car was in use. Buying a collision damage waiver or extra insurance from the renter can usually cover you in such a situation.

Primary and secondary coverage—what’s the difference?

In the world of rental car insurance, you’ll hear a lot about primary and secondary coverage. Here’s what both of those terms mean.

Primary coverage

Your primary coverage is enabled once you file a claim.
So long as you pay your premiums, many insurance policies provide full coverage if you’re in an accident. This means that—if you’re at fault—any damage you cause to another driver’s car, as well as any damage sustained by the rental car, will be covered.

Secondary coverage

This type of coverage typically pays for charges and fees that your primary coverage won’t pay for, like refunding your deductible. Even when using secondary coverage, you’ll have to have filed an initial primary claim, which can result in your overall premiums going up.

Credit cards

Some credit card companies offer primary coverage, which means that you wouldn’t have to file a claim with your insurer in the case of an accident. But again, only some credit cards offer this—ask your provider about this before assuming your credit card can fully protect you. It might not.
If your credit card does offer primary coverage, it will probably be applicable only if you decline similar coverage from the rental company.

Travel credit cards

Some travel credit cards provide secondary coverage, which can save you some money, but typically it won’t offer as much coverage as a card that offers primary coverage.
Keep in mind, any rental car coverage on a travel credit card usually does not cover luxury cars or RVs, long-term rentals, rentals overseas, or any loss or damage covered by your own auto insurance policy.
Key Takeaway Some credit cards provide car insurance, but ask your credit card provider if this coverage extends to rental cars.
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If you’re not at fault

If you’re in an accident with a rental car but you’re not at fault, you will still have to pay your deductible to the rental company, as they will want the car back on the road as soon as possible.
Your own insurer will go after the at-fault party, and you may get reimbursed for your deductible down the line.

Prepping ahead of time for potential accidents in a rental

When you’re planning your vacation and you’re set on renting a car, it’s a good idea to plan for how you’ll deal with a car accident with your rental, even if it is unlikely to happen.

Does your credit card have rental coverage on it?

If you’re going to pay for a rental car with a credit card, check to see if it offers primary or secondary coverage. If so, that can save you a good chunk of money in the unlikely event that you’re involved in an accident.

Buy rental insurance on your own

If your own auto insurance policy doesn’t cover rental, and you’re not interested in buying insurance from the rental company, there are plenty of third-party insurers to buy rental car insurance from.

Having some insurance is always a good idea

If you’re driving anywhere in the U.S., you’re required to carry at least liability insurance, except in New Hampshire. If you’re caught driving a car—rentals included—without insurance, your license could be suspended. Talk about a way to ruin a vacation!
If you’re planning on renting a truck or trailer, you should know that your personal auto insurance won’t cover those vehicles.
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What do I do if I damage my rental car?

If you’re in an accident with your rental car, you will initially treat this like any other accident.
Make sure you, your passengers, and the other drivers involved are okay, and call 911 immediately if anyone needs help. Once it is safe to do so, exchange your insurance information with the other drivers involved, as well as the police, if necessary.
At this point, contact the rental car company and see what they need from you in order to sort things out. Finally, you’ll need to contact your insurer about filing a claim.
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