By David Stewart White
19 September, 2010
To really experience Europe, you have to get off the [Autobahn/M/Autostrade/Autoroute] and travel the back roads.
That’s standard advice from seasoned travelers and more than a few travel guidebook authors. A visitor to Paris, London, Rome won’t need to rent a car (read that “would be crazy to rent a car”). But anyone longing to explore the quaint villages and beautiful countryside of France, Britain, or Italy may find that car rental is a necessity. The same applies to almost anywhere in Europe.
This series will review some tips for sucessfully renting a car in Europe. Today’s focus: damage control.
Renting a car in Europe can be fairly expensive. What can make the transaction outrageously costly are damages — real or claimed —to a rental vehicle. Every rental car company will try to sell renters on-the-spot insurance against damage or loss of a vehicle. The basic coverages include Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). Sometimes separate coverages for theft of the vehicle or personal injury are also offered. Liability insurance, unlike damage coverage, is usually included with rentals in Europe—it pays to verify this at the time of rental.
Are these coverages mandatory? In most cases, no. However, CDW is required in Italy. Renters who charge their car rentals using certain credit cards—usually so-called gold or platinum cards— are automatically covered by those cards for collision and loss. There are limitations on the coverages offered by credit card issuers:
- Not all countries are covered (Italy, Ireland, and eastern Europe are three frequent exceptions).
- High-end and specialty vehicles are not always covered, and there is a limit to the value of vehicles covered.
- A deposit may be temporaily charged to the credit card account.
- If an accident happens, the renter may have to pay the car rental company for damages, then seek reimbursement from the credit card company.
- There may be a deductible of several hundred to several thousand dollars that is not covered by insurance.
Most American drivers are not covered by their regular automobile insurance policies when renting a car overseas, so some kind of additional insurance is a necessity, either as part of the rental or through a credit card company.
Stories about bogus damage claims by European car rental agencies are legend among frequent travelers. When renting a vehicle, carefully inspect it for damage (even small scratches) before leaving the rental facility and make certain that all such damage is listed on the vehicle rental agreement and signed-off by a rental company representative. Some renters go even further and take photographs of the vehicle exterior before driving out of the rental lot. The photos can help combat claims for damages by the rental company at the end of, or after, the rental period.
Next up: who to rent a car from in Europe
Note: This article provides suggestions for renting a vehicle in Europe. It is not legal advice and renters should verify all conditions and coverages before renting and driving a vehicle.