A couple of years ago, my husband and I took a vacation to the U.K. He had lived there for a while, and is comfortable driving in left-hand traffic, so we rented a car for our trip. Tired and bleary from our trans-Atlantic flight, at the car rental counter we did exactly what we would do in the U.S.: we declined the extra insurance coverage, paid for renting a car with our credit card, and drove off.
We set out the next morning to visit a friend. A detour in a village diverted us up a winding road, barely as wide as the car, with a six-foot-high hedgerow on the side. As we approached a blind corner, my husband pulled over as far to the left as possible, slowing to a stop because he heard a vehicle coming. The other driver slammed on his brakes when he saw us, but he skidded on mud and hit the front right side of our rental car. We had minor fender damage, as did he — everyone exchanged information, took pictures, and we were on our way.
Later that afternoon, we called our auto insurance carrier to explain what had happened, and found out that we weren’t covered when renting a car overseas. The carrier suggested we call our credit card company, as we might have coverage through the card we used.
Thankfully, the damage was minimal. After talking to our credit card company (and asking about insurance tips), we returned the car and got another rental (opting for full coverage this time). We followed the instructions of the credit card company on filing a police report in the town where the accident happened, and submitted that with photos. Ultimately, we ended up paying for the damage out of pocket and were not reimbursed because of mistakes we made in the process, such as not calling the local police to the accident scene. Luckily, we had rented a Ford Focus and the damage was minor and therefore not terribly expensive — but, as the accident wasn’t our fault, it was disappointing to have to pay.
We now do things very differently when we rent a car before traveling abroad. Check out these tips if you are planning an overseas vacation:
Call your car insurance company
Most auto insurers do not extend coverage to rental cars overseas. Verify this if you have any questions at all. Your insurer might have information on what to expect from rentals in the country you are visiting — for example, our carrier informed me that Italy requires everyone who rents a car there to have full coverage for collision and liability; you are not permitted to decline any coverage. They will also likely explain things such as how to file an accident report form, which is required in many European countries if you are in an accident.
Check your credit card’s benefits
Many credit card issuers offer some insurance on car rentals, even overseas, but there are generally restrictions. Some credit card companies may exclude coverage for those vehicles with a high MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price). For example, the credit card company may restrict coverage to those vehicles having a MSRP of less than $50,000. It may also exclude specific types of rentals, like those vehicles on a truck chassis, thereby eliminating coverage for many SUVs. Your credit card may offer very different coverage and exclusions, so it is important to find out what is covered and what isn’t.
Verify coverage even if you’ll be driving your own car
For those who live on the borders to the north and south, a quick road trip to Canada or Mexico can make for a fun and quick getaway, but some insurance companies limit coverage if you are outside of the U.S. It’s always wise to check with your agent about what your auto policy covers before you leave on a trip.
Vacations should be fun and relaxing, but accidents do occur. Taking the time to call your carrier before your trip means that you’ll be prepared if something does happen — don’t let an accident put the brakes on your vacation fun.
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