Auto rental tips

This item appears on page 40 of the September 2010 issue.
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Carolyn McFarlane of Falls Church, Virginia, wrote about renting a car in Iceland with her husband and, upon returning the vehicle, being charged what she felt was an excessive amount for a small scratch on a bumper, one which they were not aware of causing (April ’10, pg. 29). Since this scenario comes up often, ITN asked readers for tips on renting a car — what to look for in the contract, what questions to ask, what to do before driving away and upon return, etc. Here are responses.

If you have advice to share, write to Auto Rental Tips, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com.

Ms. McFarlane wrote that she did all the driving and that it was possible she caused the scratch. I think part of the solution is to never suggest responsibility unless you know that you were involved.

When we returned a rental to an agency at the Manchester, England, airport in May ’08, a small scrape to the side of a tire was noted. My husband definitely thought it did not happen on his watch and told the agent that that was the case. We thought we might see a charge come through on our credit card but never did.

Don’t give the rental agency an opening to collect damages if you feel you are innocent.

Barbara McIntosh

Roseville, CA

I have a Delta American Express Card. A feature of this card is that I can usually sign up for rental car damage coverage.

When I use the card to rent a car, I decline the rental company’s CDW (collision damage waiver) fee. If you’re renting for seven days, the CDW from the rental agency could add up to $126, so I utilize the American Express coverage instead.

For each rental, American Express charges a fee (not by the day). The charge has been $19.95 for coverage up to $75,000 or $24.95 for $100,000 in coverage.

With that, I’m covered for damage to and theft of the rental, and there is no deductible. (However, the plan does not cover liability or other types of loss.) American Express becomes the primary insurer for collision and theft and is not a supplemental insurer (as is the case with some credit card coverage plans).

The coverage applies in the US and many countries and is good for up to 30 days. No coverage is provided for vehicles rented in Australia, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Jamaica and New Zealand.

I do utilize the coverage whenever I rent, but I have never had a claim so I cannot provide a firsthand evaluation.

There is plenty written on the Web about the pros and cons of American Express’ insurance coverage. It seems they are very good about covering actual damage, but there are potential problems regarding tacked-on administrative fees as well as loss of service to the rental agency while the car is being repaired.

John F. Heberle

Rochester, NY

When renting an auto domestically or internationally, I use my Visa or MasterCard and decline the CDW. Their terms are reasonable and, when procedures are followed properly, the card companies reimburse the traveler pretty much 100%.

Domestically (including in Puerto Rico), they are considered secondary insurance and will pay the deductible, if any, of the primary insurer. Abroad, with a few exceptions, they are considered primary and will pay all damages.

I used this service both in Portugal in 1995 and 2000 and in Puerto Rico in 2007. On the latter two visits I used a Visa card to rent a car, which then experienced a hit-and-run when no one was in the vehicle. In each case I paid nothing out of pocket.

I have subsequently found out that my Discover card also has the insurance option, but Discover is not well known outside the United States, so I would rely on my Visa or MasterCard when renting a vehicle.

Darrell Fees

Des Moines, IA

On the subject of scratches on rental cars, I suggest that everyone renting a vehicle carry a digital camera or a cell phone with a camera in order to walk around the car taking pictures of both sides plus the front and back.

I know cell phone pictures are not the best fidelity, but I believe they would be good enough to, later, satisfy the agents renting the car and would hold up in court. With pictures and some hand waving and loud noise at the counter in front of other customers, you would get immediate attention.

I carry a digital camera, and in addition to taking pictures of the vehicle I am renting, I also take pictures when I park the car in a large lot. Since it’s a different car from my own, pictures help me locate the vehicle later. This costs nothing, since the digital photos wouldn’t need to be developed unless there was a problem. It also helps to have a camera handy in case of an accident.

By the way, if a rental car is paid for with a charge card, in most cases the card company, along with a driver’s regular auto insurance company, will help resolve any claim.

William C. Goss

San Jose, CA

I’m sure you’ll get hundreds of replies with the same message: get out your digital camera and take pictures of the TOTAL car! First and foremost, this puts the rental company on alert that you are going to have evidence to fall back on if they try to bilk you for repairs.

Unfortunately, receiving a car in the rain (as the McFarlanes did) puts you at a great disadvantage. It’s well known that the reason cars are brought out “freshly washed” here in the States is NOT that they want it nice and clean for you but that it is hard to see the scratches when it’s wet.

Joyce Renee Lewis

Camano Island, WA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Carolyn McFarlane of Falls Church, Virginia, wrote about renting a car in Iceland with her husband and, upon returning the vehicle, being charged what she felt was an excessive amount for a small scratch on a bumper, one which they were not aware of causing (April ’10, pg. 29). Since this scenario comes up often, ITN asked readers for tips on renting a car — what to look for in the contract, what questions to ask, what to do before driving away and upon return, etc. Here are responses.

If you have advice to share, write to Auto Rental Tips, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com.

Ms. McFarlane wrote that she did all the driving and that it was possible she caused the scratch. I think part of the solution is to never suggest responsibility unless you know that you were involved.

When we returned a rental to an agency at the Manchester, England, airport in May ’08, a small scrape to the side of a tire was noted. My husband definitely thought it did not happen on his watch and told the agent that that was the case. We thought we might see a charge come through on our credit card but never did.

Don’t give the rental agency an opening to collect damages if you feel you are innocent.

Barbara McIntosh

Roseville, CA

I have a Delta American Express Card. A feature of this card is that I can usually sign up for rental car damage coverage.

When I use the card to rent a car, I decline the rental company’s CDW (collision damage waiver) fee. If you’re renting for seven days, the CDW from the rental agency could add up to $126, so I utilize the American Express coverage instead.

For each rental, American Express charges a fee (not by the day). The charge has been $19.95 for coverage up to $75,000 or $24.95 for $100,000 in coverage.

With that, I’m covered for damage to and theft of the rental, and there is no deductible. (However, the plan does not cover liability or other types of loss.) American Express becomes the primary insurer for collision and theft and is not a supplemental insurer (as is the case with some credit card coverage plans).

The coverage applies in the US and many countries and is good for up to 30 days. No coverage is provided for vehicles rented in Australia, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Jamaica and New Zealand.

I do utilize the coverage whenever I rent, but I have never had a claim so I cannot provide a firsthand evaluation.

There is plenty written on the Web about the pros and cons of American Express’ insurance coverage. It seems they are very good about covering actual damage, but there are potential problems regarding tacked-on administrative fees as well as loss of service to the rental agency while the car is being repaired.

John F. Heberle

Rochester, NY

When renting an auto domestically or internationally, I use my Visa or MasterCard and decline the CDW. Their terms are reasonable and, when procedures are followed properly, the card companies reimburse the traveler pretty much 100%.

Domestically (including in Puerto Rico), they are considered secondary insurance and will pay the deductible, if any, of the primary insurer. Abroad, with a few exceptions, they are considered primary and will pay all damages.

I used this service both in Portugal in 1995 and 2000 and in Puerto Rico in 2007. On the latter two visits I used a Visa card to rent a car, which then experienced a hit-and-run when no one was in the vehicle. In each case I paid nothing out of pocket.

I have subsequently found out that my Discover card also has the insurance option, but Discover is not well known outside the United States, so I would rely on my Visa or MasterCard when renting a vehicle.

Darrell Fees

Des Moines, IA

On the subject of scratches on rental cars, I suggest that everyone renting a vehicle carry a digital camera or a cell phone with a camera in order to walk around the car taking pictures of both sides plus the front and back.

I know cell phone pictures are not the best fidelity, but I believe they would be good enough to, later, satisfy the agents renting the car and would hold up in court. With pictures and some hand waving and loud noise at the counter in front of other customers, you would get immediate attention.

I carry a digital camera, and in addition to taking pictures of the vehicle I am renting, I also take pictures when I park the car in a large lot. Since it’s a different car from my own, pictures help me locate the vehicle later. This costs nothing, since the digital photos wouldn’t need to be developed unless there was a problem. It also helps to have a camera handy in case of an accident.

By the way, if a rental car is paid for with a charge card, in most cases the card company, along with a driver’s regular auto insurance company, will help resolve any claim.

William C. Goss

San Jose, CA

I’m sure you’ll get hundreds of replies with the same message: get out your digital camera and take pictures of the TOTAL car! First and foremost, this puts the rental company on alert that you are going to have evidence to fall back on if they try to bilk you for repairs.

Unfortunately, receiving a car in the rain (as the McFarlanes did) puts you at a great disadvantage. It’s well known that the reason cars are brought out “freshly washed” here in the States is NOT that they want it nice and clean for you but that it is hard to see the scratches when it’s wet.

Joyce Renee Lewis

Camano Island, WA