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Renting a Car? Buyer Beware

Anyone who has ever rented a car has debated about whether or not to take out the rental insurance. That’s really not a decision you should make when you’re standing in front of the counter, probably running late, and at the mercy of a high pressure rental agent.

At that moment, the decision is either, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll pay for it,” or, “No, my regular insurance covers it.” The real answer is probably that your personal policy will cover “part” of “it,” and your credit card may cover “part” of “it,” (if you’ve played by the company rules, like paying for the rental in full with the card in question.)

Most auto policies will cover physical damage to a rental, as will the benefits that are part of your credit card package. Where you take the hit is in hidden fees from the car rental company. One that can really inflate the cost of covering an accident in a rent car is the “loss of use” fee.

Basically the rental company charges you a fee for every day the car is out of service and not making them money. Your insurance won’t cover that. Truth be told, rental companies make their bread and butter from strange fees and you should be just as cautious and aware of those as you are of potential “scams” with high-priced rental insurance.

There are verifiable instances of renters being charged $1,000 for returning a car a day late or being assessed a fee for bringing one in early. Obviously renters want to return the car on time, but you also want to negotiate the full price in advance and pay the whole fee upfront with written verification that you’ve done so.

Other fun things the companies do? Charge an extra daily fee for drivers under the age of 25. Charge more if there will be two people driving the car. Charge more by “upgrading” your request for a specific form factor from say a compact to a sedan. And, of course, the stock standard refueling fee.

During the summer travel season, there are good reasons to consider renting a car rather than using your own for a trip close to home. Maybe you’re going camping, for instance, and you just can’t see getting all the equipment you need in your trusty Smart ForTwo.

However, buyer beware. And then beware some more. There are more hidden fees to worry about than whether or not that rental car insurance is a good idea. You can get a very accurate picture of your existing rental car insurance protection by just doing your homework ahead of time.

Truth be told, however, that may be the very least extra expense the rental company tries to slap on your final bill.

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