Last Updated on January 11, 2024 by Rachel

car rental crash

The last thing you need on vacation is a car accident, and especially not in a rental car. Before you drive away from the rental company lot, arm yourself with the lowdown on what to do if the worst happens.

6 Steps to Take If You Have an Accident in a Rental Car

Assess the situation

First, make sure that everyone is safe and that no one is hurt. Call 911 immediately if someone is injured. If necessary, move to a safe location. Contact the police to report the incident.

Gather evidence and information

Next, exchange contact and insurance information with other drivers and injured parties. Ask the responding police officer for a copy of the accident report. Get the officer’s name, badge number, contact information and the accident case number. Don’t forget to take multiple pictures of the damage and of the scene of the crash.

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Call your rental company

Use the company’s emergency phone number to report the accident involving your rental. Find out what the company wants you to do with the car—where to bring it if it’s driveable and where to have it towed if it’s not. Finally, take the customer service representative’s name and phone number, and note the date and time.

Call your insurance provider

Start filing a claim as soon as possible through your personal auto insurer or credit card company. Insurance companies are more likely to deny a claim that is filed late. This is especially true with credit card insurance coverage.

Take care of the car

You are responsible for the car during the rental period. If the car is driveable, bring it back to the rental office or to another location in the company network. If the vehicle is not operational, call for roadside assistance from the rental company, AAA, your credit card provider, or another provider and have it towed to the rental car company location or an auto shop.

File a report with the rental company

The accident report will ask about the details of the incident, the parties involved, and your insurance information. For example, here’s Avis’s report.

Who Pays After a Rental Car Accident?

If you are at fault in an accident with a rental car, what happens next will depend on the insurance coverage that you have.

You bought the CDW from the rental car company

If you purchased the collision damage waiver (CDW) at the rental car counter, you’re covered. Unless the accident was due to reckless driving or a breach of the rental agreement, the damage waiver shifts most of the cost to repair or replace the vehicle to the rental company. Remember, though, that damage waivers don’t cover liability for medical expenses or property for you or other people involved in the accident. You’ll have to rely on your personal insurance or the rental company’s supplemental liability coverage for that.

You already have coverage

Most personal auto insurance policies cover rentals, but definitely check you coverage limit and deductible. If your auto policy extends to car rentals, you are covered for both collision and liability up to the limits of your coverage.

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Some premium credit cards offer car rental coverage. If yours does, you will be covered as long as you use the card to pay for the rental. Credit card coverage is almost always a damage waiver and doesn’t cover liability.

You are not covered

If the accident was your fault, you’re responsible for damage to the rental car and for any liability issues. In the event you are not at fault, your rental company will work directly with the other driver’s insurance company. Unfortunately, the rental company may charge you before the dispute is settled. If this happens, you’ll have to deal with the other driver’s insurance directly to get reimbursed.

Note that it is usually illegal to drive a rental car without any insurance coverage. Most states require rental car companies to provide the state’s minimum liability coverage on their vehicles.

Notably, some states, like California, don’t have this requirement. In that case, renters without coverage (especially liability coverage) could end up with a tremendous bill on their hands. In addition, they can end up with a suspended license.

Additional Charges if You Crash Your Rental Car

If you were at fault for the accident, there are three types of charges beyond damage costs for which you may be liable.

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  • Loss Of Use Fees: A rental car company is losing money when its fleet is out of circulation. Rental companies charge between $20 and $40 per day, depending on the make of the vehicle, to make up for lost revenue.
  • Diminution Of Value: A damaged rental car has lost value. Rental companies charge fees to compensate for this devaluation. The fees can vary wildly, depending on the extent of the damage.
  • Administrative Fees: Additional fees associated with the processing of your claim vary from $50 to $150 or more depending on the rental company.

Do This Before You Rent a Car

  • Take Names and Numbers. Familiarize yourself with the procedures of your rental company. Make a note of emergency numbers and where to find accident/incident report forms.
  • Research Your Insurance Coverage. Confirm what your personal auto insurance and credit card covers. Know the coverage limits and the deductibles, as well as whether it is primary or secondary coverage.
  • Prepare to Pay. If you don’t already have coverage, it’s in your best interest to suck it up and purchase the rental company’s insurance. Alternatively, you can purchase inexpensive insurance from Sure, which is cheaper than what you’ll find at the rental counter. Still, remember that Sure provides collision coverage, not liability for persons or other property.


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