What Happens if You Crash a Rental Car?

It’s every driver’s worst nightmare. After arriving at your vacation destination, you’re happily cruising back to the hotel in your rental car – when all of a sudden, you slam into another vehicle. Fortunately, no one was killed in the accident; but now you’re stuck dealing with serious damage to a vehicle you don’t even own. In this article, our car accident lawyers will explain what to expect and what you should do if you ever get into a crash or collision with a rented vehicle.

What to Do if You Get into an Accident with a Rented Vehicle

After any accident, safety is always the immediate priority. Before you do anything else, check to make sure that no one was hurt in the crash. If there are any injuries, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Not only is this basic courtesy – it’s the law. All states have laws requiring drivers to stop, render aid, and remain at the scene of the accident following an accident resulting in death or injury. Maryland’s version of this law can be found at MD Transportation Code Ann. § 20-104, which we discussed in depth in our article about what to do after a car accident.

Inspecting Crash - What Happens if You Crash a Rental Car?

If you leave the scene of a fatal or injurious accident before you have performed all the duties prescribed by state law, such as calling for medical assistance, you can be charged with leaving the scene of an accident, more commonly known as hit and run. Hit and run is a serious criminal offense, and violators are subject to costly fines and lengthy prison terms.

Check Your Insurance Policy for Collision and Comprehensive Coverage

Once you have taken care of the immediate safety concerns, like calling an ambulance, it’s time to start dealing with the legal and financial consequences of the accident.

First, you should call the rental company and notify them that an accident has occurred. Most rental cars store emergency contact information inside the glove box, but in case it’s missing, refer to the roadside assistance numbers below:

  • Avis – (800) 354-2847
  • Budget – (800) 354-2847
  • Enterprise – (800) 307-6666

Rental car companies have their own accident report forms, which will prompt you to fill out basic information regarding the crash. For example, the Budget accident report form asks for a description of the incident, asks whether police were contacted, and supplies fields for the make and model of the involved vehicle(s).

The representative you speak to will tell you how you should proceed, as each rental company has its own policies and procedures for handling accidents. However, regardless of what the representative tells you, you should read through your insurance policy carefully.

We know insurance legalese makes for a dull read, but it’s important not to skim the fine print. Highlight any relevant sections for quick reference. If there’s anything you don’t understand, contact an attorney for assistance. Don’t rely on your insurer to be on your side, because the insurance company will always place its own financial interests above yours. Your insurer might even engage in bad faith practices, like repeatedly ignoring your calls.

If your policy includes collision and comprehensive coverage, you might be in the clear. This type of coverage extends to rental vehicles, so unless the car you rented is worth considerably more than your personal vehicle, it’s likely that your collision and comprehensive coverage will be sufficient to cover the costs of the accident.

Do I Really Need a Damage Waiver? What About My Credit Card?

Even if you don’t have comprehensive and collision coverage, you might still be covered by your credit card. Many credit cards offer insurance coverage for rental vehicles, though specific benefits and provisions vary from one network to the next. This is known as secondary coverage, because it will cover costs which aren’t covered by your primary insurance (e.g. towing charges). A few credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card, offer primary coverage as well.

If you aren’t covered by collision and comprehensive coverage or a credit card, it might be wise to consider purchasing optional coverage called a damage waiver when you rent the vehicle. Damage waivers, which are sometimes called collision damage waivers (CDWs) or loss damage waivers (LDWs), are not technically considered insurance, but still make the rental company responsible for costs arising from theft- or accident-related damage.

Driving Ominous 1 - What Happens if You Crash a Rental Car?

Credit cards, collision and comprehensive coverage, and damage waivers might all potentially cover loss of use, or charges for the time the vehicle was out-of-service while being repaired. In accordance with MD Code, Insurance, § 19-512, “An insurer may offer to provide to the insured coverage for damages incurred… as a result of the loss of use of a rental vehicle that sustains collision damage while rented by the insured.”

While exact pricing varies, most rental car damage waivers typically cost somewhere the range of $15 to $25 per day. Whether that’s a rip-off or a small price to pay for greater peace of mind is a matter of perspective, and the choice is ultimately up to you. Just keep in mind that even “minor” car accidents can easily rack up thousands of dollars in expenses.

If you were injured in a rental car accident in Baltimore or elsewhere in Maryland, the experienced automotive accident attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help. To set up a free, confidential case evaluation, call our law offices at (410) 583-8000 right away. We also handle truck accidents and motorcycle crashes.


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