Five Questions to Ask Before Renting a Car

(NUI) - Joe Smith learned a costly lesson when his rented minivan was sideswiped in a parking lot. Only when he returned it to the rental counter did he realize that he was responsible for the several hundred dollars in damages.

As this year's vacation season begins, if you're planning to rent a car, don't fail to call your insurance company and ask, "Am I covered for any damage to a rental car and any third party liability? Exactly what does my policy cover."

Had Smith taken the time to call his insurance company, he would have known that his car insurance policy did not cover him in a rented vehicle. Further, he may not have declined to purchase a damage waiver or additional liability coverage while he was at the rental counter. Had he called his credit card company, he would have found that his credit card didn't offer free collision protection as some premium cards do.

Not only was Smith stuck with the cost of repairs, he was also out the rental revenue the company lost while repairs were being made.

All car rental companies will hold you responsible for any damage done to the vehicle while it is in your possession, whether it's a parking lot ding or a major collision caused by a negligent driver.

Here then, from the experts at Thrifty Car Rental, are five important questions to ask your insurance carrier or credit card company before you step up to the rental counter.

1. Does my personal auto insurance policy cover any damage to a rental car?

2. Does my personal homeowners policy cover the theft of my personal property from a rental car?

3. Does it cover the theft of personal property belonging to a traveling companion if the property is stolen from the rented car?

4. Does either my personal auto insurance, homeowners insurance or employee medical insurance cover injuries from an accident in a rental car?

5. Does my credit card cover me for any damages done to a rental car or any third party liability?

Don't drive unprotected under any circumstance. If you are not already covered through an existing policy or charge card, buy the car rental company's collision and liability insurance. These allow the renter's financial responsibility for damage to the rented vehicle to be waived. There is generally a per-day charge for this option.

Most car rental companies do not provide primary liability with the rental. That means if you were involved in an accident, you would be responsible for any resulting third-party claims. Such claims for personal injury or property damage can be very sizable.

Some car rental companies also offer additional insurance coverage on your personal effects - cameras or video equipment - and medical protection for the renter and passengers.

Remember, advise the experts at Thrifty, ask questions before you get to the rental center. The worst time to consider your financial responsibility is at the rental counter with six people in line behind you.

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