Should I Buy Auto Insurance at the Rental Counter?


If you’ve ever traveled and rented a vehicle at your destination, you’ve probably been confronted with a choice about purchasing car insurance. You might have opted in or out of coverage when you booked the reservation. If you visited the company’s counter to retrieve the keys, you were probably offered an insurance policy to cover you while you drove the rental vehicle.

Some people default to one option, purchasing the coverage just to be safe or accepting the implied risk of not buying it. Many people hesitate when offered insurance from a rental company. They’re not sure what they’d be purchasing or whether they need it. If you’re traveling soon, here are a few questions you can consider before deciding if the insurance offered by the rental company is right for you.

Do I even need insurance if I’m renting a car?

No, in most cases you technically don’t need any auto insurance of your own to rent a car. However, that statement comes with a disclaimer. While rental companies almost always have insurance coverage for their vehicles, these policies usually only provide the minimum protection required by law. In basic terms, if you rely on only the minimal coverage the rental company puts on their cars, you could be held responsible for significant expenses in the event of an accident.

Of course, rental agencies sell coverage at the counter that you can buy, but you’ll want to be sure you know what you’re purchasing. A loss waiver (LDW) or collision damage waiver (CDW) will only protect you if the car is damaged or stolen. If you want to be covered if you cause damage to yourself or others, purchase liability protection and personal accident insurance.

Am I covered if I have my own auto insurance policy?

If you have auto insurance for your car, you’re probably covered in most scenarios with a rental vehicle, if you’re using the car for personal, non-business use. If you’re traveling for business, you’ll need to check with your employer’s carrier to see what coverage is available.

It’s important to note that when using your own insurance policy for coverage on your rental car, you will be responsible for your deductible. You’ll also only be protected for as much as your policy covers. For example, you won’t have full comprehensive coverage on a rental car if your own vehicle is only covered for collision. If you have limited coverage on your own vehicle or are worried about policy limits, you could consider purchasing supplemental coverage.

You’ll also want to double-check for any other restrictions your policy may have. Still, most collision, comprehensive, and liability coverage will extend to a rental car rented within the US or Canada. Your Westwood agent can also help you navigate your policy, so you’ll be confident you’re covered no matter where your travels take you.

What can I do ahead of time if I don’t want to buy the insurance at the counter?

If you don’t have an auto insurance policy, you may have coverage through a credit card. Many credit cards offer coverage for rental cars, provided the card was used to pay for the rental and the rental is in your name. This coverage may even be an option overseas, where your personal auto insurance often won’t cover you.

Coverage through a credit card is most often automatically applied, so you don’t have to make arrangements in advance. Still, these policies may be limited and best served as secondary coverage. If you plan to rely on credit card coverage, talk to your credit card company beforehand to confirm policy details.

Another alternative to buying auto insurance at the rental counter is purchasing your own standalone rental car policy in advance. However, you’ll often be required to decline a rental company’s coverage to use one of these providers.

Companies that sell these standalone policies offer very affordable coverage, and some will even pay out before your own insurer, which will save you the cost of a deductible. Because many auto policies don’t cover rental cars outside of the US and Canada, it’s worth considering a standalone third-party policy that covers travel overseas.

Are there any circumstances where I should definitely buy the policy at the counter?

If you’re traveling overseas, it’s likely your personal auto insurance won’t cover you. You should always double-check your coverage. If you’re uncertain about what your policy covers or if you’re sure that it won’t cover you abroad, then it’s a good idea to buy the rental company’s policy.

When you don’t have your own auto insurance policy and you also don’t have car insurance or coverage through a credit card, it’s probably time to buy the insurance at the counter. Having at least liability coverage is often required in most states and can give you added peace of mind.

If you’re worried about a higher rate or large deductible in the event you damage the car, purchasing supplemental insurance from the plans offered by the rental company can bolster the coverage you already have. The extra protection can save you from unexpected bills in the event of an accident and provide extended coverage.

Finding the best option for your travels and your circumstances doesn’t have to be complicated. Talk to your Westwood agent. We can help you find an auto policy to fits your needs, so you’ll never have to wonder if you need to buy the insurance at the rental counter.

Please Note: This article is for general informational and educational purposes only. It does not represent any specific insurance policy and does not modify any provisions, limitations, or exclusions of any current policy.