Decoding Rental Car Insurance: Do You Really Need It?

Renting a car often comes with a common, yet puzzling question at the counter: “Do you want to purchase car insurance?” For many travelers, this query triggers a sense of doubt and confusion. Let’s demystify this topic and guide you on whether you need to buy extra insurance when renting a car.

Understanding Your Personal Car Insurance Coverage

The first step is to consider your existing car insurance policy. Most personal auto insurance policies extend coverage to rental vehicles, offering the same level of protection as for your own car. This typically includes liability coverage, which covers damages to other vehicles or property if you’re at fault in an accident. However, remember that any deductibles and coverage limits from your policy will apply to the rental car as well.

Comprehensive and Collision Coverage: A Closer Look

If your personal auto insurance includes comprehensive and collision coverage, it likely extends to rental cars too. Collision coverage takes care of damages to the rental car from an accident, while comprehensive covers non-collision-related damages, like theft or vandalism. However, without these inclusions in your policy, you might be responsible for all repair costs if the rental car gets damaged or stolen.

The Role of Credit Card Insurance in Car Rentals

Many travel credit cards offer rental car insurance as a perk. This coverage is typically secondary, kicking in after your personal auto insurance. It can cover the deductible of your primary insurance and potentially other costs not covered by your policy. The extent of this coverage can vary, so it’s essential to understand the specifics:

  1. Collision Damage Waiver (CDW): This type of insurance, offered by many credit cards, covers damage to or theft of the rental car. However, it usually doesn’t include liability coverage, meaning it won’t cover damages to other vehicles or property, or medical costs from injuries.
  2. Other Coverages: Some credit cards may offer additional coverages, such as towing charges or loss-of-use fees charged by the rental company while the car is being repaired.

Secondary and Primary Insurance Coverage from Your Travel Cards

Some premium travel credit cards will offer primary insurance coverage. This means that they pay first and you most likely don’t need to get your personal auto insurance company involved. Insurance coverage is typically coming from the credit card network (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, etc) – not the card issuer (Chase, Capital One, etc).

Your card issuer will have some information regarding coverage type, but the credit card network will have significantly more details.

Visa Infinite®, usually found with premium cards, is an example that offers premium travel protections. You can learn more about those protections in detail on their website.

When to Consider Buying Insurance at the Rental Counter

There are scenarios where purchasing insurance from the rental company makes sense:

  1. Insufficient Personal Coverage: If your existing insurance policy doesn’t cover rentals, or if you don’t own a car and hence lack auto insurance, it’s wise to consider the rental company’s insurance.
  2. International Rentals: Many U.S. auto insurance policies don’t cover international rentals. In such cases, buying insurance from the rental company or through a travel insurance policy is a good idea.
  3. Business Travel: If you’re traveling for business, your personal auto insurance may not apply. Check with your employer or the rental company for appropriate coverage.
  4. Peace of Mind: For some, the extra cost of rental insurance is worth the peace of mind, especially if it means avoiding potential hassles with your insurance company in case of an accident.

How to Make an Informed Decision

To make a well-informed decision, consider these steps:

  1. Review Your Personal Auto Insurance: Understand the extent of your coverage and how it applies to rentals.
  2. Check Credit Card Benefits: If you plan to use a travel credit card, review the insurance benefits it offers and understand the coverage limits and exclusions.
  3. Evaluate the Risks: Consider the nature of your trip, the rental duration, and the driving conditions you’ll be facing.
  4. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Weigh the cost of rental insurance against the potential financial risk of not having it.


Choosing whether to buy additional insurance at the rental counter is not a one-size-fits-all decision. It requires a mix of understanding your existing coverage, considering the benefits offered by your credit card, and assessing your individual circumstances and risk tolerance. By taking these factors into account, you can make a choice that ensures peace of mind and financial prudence on your next car rental journey.



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