Rental Car Check (and Recheck)

The keys to a successful — and stress free — car rental.


For the most part, renting a car seems idiot proof. You make the reservation, head to the rental car counter, and stand in line. Or if you are renting with Advantage, Avis, Budget, Hertz, and National, you can trot straight off to the car and turn that key. Va-va-voom, and you are off to the races — as long as everything goes well. The truth of the matter is that there is always something — big or small — that is bound to drive you crazy when driving a rental.


Have you ever driven into a gas station and not known which side the gas tank is on? Has the sun ever dropped like a rock while you’re driving on the freeway, frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons to turn on the headlights? Ever turned on the radio instead of the A/C? Emergency signal instead of the windshield wipers? OK, that may be overstating the case, but when was the last time you left a pair of sunglasses tucked above the sun visor?

Finally, there are bigger questions like, “Should I buy the rental insurance?” You’ve never been in an accident or even gotten a ding — except for that one time when you rented that Lincoln and sideswiped a concrete post pulling into a ridiculously small space in a hotel parking garage.

Here are some handy checklists to take with you when you rent — as well as a few words of wisdom on insurance.

Checklist: When You Pick Up Your Car

  • Locate gas cap.
  • Locate control for headlights.
  • Locate control for turn signals.
  • Locate control for windshield wipers.
  • Inspect car for preexisting damage.
  • Check mileage.
  • Note color, make, and model (helpful for locating your car in parking lots).

One more thing: Assume that all passengers must wear seat belts, unless you know otherwise. All states, except New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state, have seat belt laws. Some require all adult passengers to wear seat belts. Others require just front seat passengers. Almost 20 states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws, which mean that the police can pull you over solely for not wearing a seat belt.(Check the “Rules of the Road” sections in the “City Guide” part of the Business Travel Almanac for city-specific information.) And remember — you’re liable for all parking and traffic violations.

Checklist: When You Drop Off Your Car

  • Check mileage.
  • Check gas gauge.
  • Locate your cell phone, eyeglasses, wallet, and briefcase (the most common items left behind in rental cars).
  • Check on and under front and back seats.
  • Check the trunk.
  • Check glove and storage compartments.
  • Inspect the car for damage.

On Insurance

A general rule of thumb is that your automobile insurance policy follows you everywhere you go, which means that coverage on your own car covers you if you drive someone else’s vehicle — including rental cars. If you have auto insurance — collision, loss, and liability — all the supplementary insurance and waivers described next should be covered under your existing insurance policy, which means that you don’t need to purchase this additional insurance when you rent a car.

Checklist: Supplementary Car Rental Coverage

  • Does your existing automobile insurance policy cover rental cars?
  • Does it cover the type of vehicle you are renting? (Vans, trucks, SUVs, and luxury vehicles may not be covered.)
  • Are you covered for the value of the vehicle you are renting?
  • Are you covered in the area you are visiting?
  • Does you credit card provide collision damage coverage?
  • Does your employer’s agreement with the rental company cover you?

If you do not have collision damage for your personal car, you won’t be covered for a rental car, either — except in Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, and Texas, all of which require rental car damages to be paid under the liability portion of your personal insurance. (In New York, your liability is restricted to $100.) Your credit card company may also provide collision damage coverage, but usually the protection is supplemental to your insurance. In most cases, credit card coverage is only for damage to the car, not for liability claims.

Other types of coverage that may be covered under your personal auto or home owner’s insurance include personal accident insurance (PAI), which provides accidental death and medical coverage for the renter and passengers, and personal effects coverage (PEC), which provides protection against loss or theft of personal belongings. You may also opt to purchase additional liability insurance (ALI) or supplemental liability insurance (SLI), which protects the driver against claims made by third parties for bodily injury or death and property damage.

When you see the terms loss damage waiver (LDW) or collision damage waiver (CDW), know that these are not types of insurance but rather a waiver of the rental company’s right to collect from you if the car is damaged or stolen. Variable LDW is sometimes offered; this covers the first $500, $1,000, or $3,000 in damage or loss, whereas any excess claim for damage or loss remains your responsibility. If you are in violation of a rental agreement, the waiver is void. Companies charge anywhere from $5 to $25 per day for these waivers, depending on location, vehicle class, and type of waiver purchased. This is the most popular type of supplemental coverage purchased by renters, as it lets you avoid reporting collision damage to your insurance company, which can result in higher future insurance rates.