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What to do if you have an accident in a rental car

To avoid major debt, make sure you have some sort of collision coverage.

If you’re in an accident while driving a rental car, you’re responsible for the damage. But whether or not you need to pay for extra coverage depends on what insurance you already have.

Step 1: Decide if you need emergency services

Make sure everyone is OK in any vehicle involved in the accident. If anyone is hurt or if there are any flames, call 911or the local emergency services number if you’re traveling out of the country.

Step 2: Assess whether you can move the car

If the vehicle can be driven and nobody inside is seriously injured, move your car to the closest safe area that doesn’t obstruct traffic.

If the car can’t be moved, put the hazard lights on and use flares and/or safety triangles to alert other drivers there’s been an accident. Then, if people aren’t too injured to move, get any passengers or pets out of the car and to a safe place.

Step 3: Call the police and exchange information

If you didn’t call 911 earlier, you should call the non-emergency number for local police to report the accident.

Then exchange information with the other driver. Get their name, address, telephone number and license plate number – and give them your information. If you hit a parked car, leave your details in a note under the windscreen wiper.

If you damaged property, try to find the owner. Leave your information somewhere visible, like tucked into their front door, if nobody is home.

You’ll also want to take notes and photos of the scene so you can’t be blamed for damage you didn’t do. Record:

  • The color, make and model of vehicles involved in the incident
  • Date and time of the incident
  • What the weather conditions were like
  • What the condition of the road and street lights were
  • Damage to any vehicles or property
  • Injuries sustained by anybody in the incident, including pedestrians

Step 4: Contact the rental car company

Take a look at the rental agreement and find the rental company’s contact number.

Call and try to calmly explain what happened. Depending on how damaged the rental car is, they will then handle any repairs, recovery or replacement.

Step 5: Contact your insurer

Call your rental car insurance company and let them know what’s happened. You may have some protection under your own policy, even if you were driving a rental car.

Who pays for the damage?

Who is responsible for paying for the damage depends on what insurance coverage you have.

  • You paid for extra coverage through the rental company. If purchased the extra collision and comprehensive coverage from the rental company, it’ll likely cover the cost of repairs. But check the fine print – you may need to pay a deductible, or it might only cover what your personal car insurance doesn’t.
  • You have private car insurance. If you have collision coverage through your insurer, it might also cover any rental car you drive. But if the damage is caused by hitting an object or an animal, you’ll need to have comprehensive coverage. Check with your insurer before renting a car to learn what coverage you have.
  • You used a credit card to pay for the rental car. If your credit card includes rental car coverage, your card company can cover the damage minus a deductible – but only if you used that credit card to pay for the rental.
  • You didn’t have any collision insurance. If you didn’t have any type of collision coverage for the rental at the time of the accident and you were at fault, you’ll need to pay for the full repair costs. If another driver was at fault, the rental company may still charge you for the cost of the repairs, but you can file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company for reimbursement. In some cases, the rental company may decide to work directly with the other car’s insurer, which means you’d be off the hook.

Bottom line

While a rental car is in your possession, you’re responsible for any damage to it. But the right insurance policy can make sure you don’t end up in debt after a fender bender. Compare car insurance policies to find one with the right coverage for your needs.

Frequently asked questions about rental car accidents

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