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Your credit card may provide rental car damage coverage

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As anyone without plastic knows, it can be tough to rent a car without a major credit card.  However, the benefit of renting a car with plastic is that you may be able to pass on the collision protection the rental agency tries to sell you, since your credit card may automatically provide this coverage.

Compare Low Interest Credit CardsThe protection sold by the car rental agency is generally known as collision damage waiver (CDW), and is an agreement under which you are not liable for loss or damage provided you follow certain conditions.  But at $15 to $25 a day, you may prefer to forgo this option. 

Luckily, you often can.  Even if your regular auto insurance doesn't cover your rental car, your credit card may provide ample protection.  Many credit cards offer collision protection, at no additional cost, when you pay with plastic.  And, if your credit card covers collision damage, it will also include loss-of-use and towing charges.

Visa's statement for all its credit cards reads: "Visa Auto Rental CDW reimburses you for covered damage or theft to a rental vehicle while it is your responsibility as well as valid administrative and loss-of-use charges imposed by the auto rental company and reasonable towing charges."

For American Express, the rules are similar, with a credit card that covers CDW also covering loss of use.  A MasterCard may or may not cover CDW depending on the bank issuer.  However, a MasterCard that covers CDW will also cover loss of use.

If you rent a car in your home country, most credit card CDW is secondary, paying only what your regular auto insurance won't cover after you file a claim.  When you rent abroad, the credit card CDW is primary (the credit card pays your entire claim), so there is no need to ever involve your other insurance.  However, be aware that some countries you drive in may require you to purchase CDW from the rental agency, even if your credit card offers coverage, and that not all rental companies accept credit card CDW.

For cardholders that carry one of a few specially negotiated credit cards from American Express, Visa and MasterCard, primary CDW is provided on all rentals, including those in the U.S.

Consumers who use a personal AmEx credit card but want primary coverage when renting with their plastic can opt for "Premium Car Rental Protection," which provides primary CDW, as well as accidental death and dismemberment insurance and secondary medical and personal property insurance. 

Premiums begin at $19.95 per rental, regardless of length, with higher-coverage options available at a higher cost.  Enrollment is free and coverage will apply automatically every time you rent.  This offering from AmEx can be a good choice is you usually rent cars for two days or more.

If you plan to rent a car, find out if your credit card issuer provides CDW, if it applies in the countries you will be driving your rental car, exactly what is covered (personal injury or personal property may not be included), if there are any restrictions and limitations that apply, the maximum number of rental days CDW will cover, the types of vehicles covered and how the claim procedure works. 

You may want to discuss the worst-case scenario with your credit card issuer.  Additionally, you may want to request a copy of the credit card issuer's insurance policy.  That way, you have in writing exactly what is and is not covered before you decline CDW from the car rental agency.

By accepting coverage from the car rental agency, you automatically forgo any coverage supplied by your credit card.  Conversely, when you decide to use the CDW offered by your credit card, you will need to decline the rental agency's protection.  As a result, some rental companies may view you as technically liable for the entire deductible, which may equal the cost of the rental car. 

Therefore, these agencies could put a hold on your credit for the value of the car, essentially freezing part of your line of credit.  Find out how much any hold will total and when it will be removed.  To keep from tying up your credit, you can use one credit card for car rentals and hotels, and another credit card for making daily purchases.  If you don't have enough credit left on your card to cover the value of the car, you may have to buy CDW insurance. 

Published: March 9, 2007


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