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Accident While Driving a Rental? Tips for the Unpredictable

When you get into a car accident while driving a rental vehicle, it’s normal to feel like a fish out of water. However, you’re likely more in control of the situation than you think.

In case of a collision with another driver, it’s best to be armed with the knowledge of how insurance coverage and the legal system will work together to help you move on from the incident. In this post, we’ll cover some of the things you should keep in mind before driving off in your rental car.

What To Know Before Driving a Rental Car

There’s never a good time to be in an accident, but driving a rental vehicle could make it more confusing and difficult. In fact, the Journal of Advanced Transportation reports that rental vehicles experience higher collision rates per registered vehicle compared to their non-rental counterparts.

An accident taking place while you were driving your rental car may or may not be due to any fault of your own. However, when you sign up for a rental car, you’re more likely to be on vacation or a work trip, and may be unfamiliar with your surroundings and the vehicle itself.

Whether you’re involved in a minor fender bender or a serious collision, knowing what to do in such situations is crucial. Consider the following tips:

1. Before you press the gas pedal, understand the insurance coverage you may already be carrying on your rental vehicle.

If you do not purchase insurance offered by rental insurance, your own insurance may still cover you. Before you take off in your rental car, you should review your “regular” insurance policy that you keep on your everyday driving vehicle, and confirm that the coverage you have in place will extend to cover you in case of a rental car accident. In most cases, liability insurance, as well as collision and comprehensive coverage, will extend to a rental car. Check your policy for details on this. If you can’t find it in your documentation at home or online, call your insurance company to enquire about your current coverage levels. In most cases, if you have good insurance on your own vehicle at home, you can decline the insurance from the rental company and expect your own insurance to cover you. But make sure to check!

2. Check on your deductibles.

You should also understand your deductibles. Deductibles are the amount you’ll be expected to pay out of pocket if you are in an accident. Amounts beyond the deductible may be paid by your insurance company (within certain limits). If using your own auto insurance policy in the event of a crash in your rental vehicle, your same deductible will apply. If you purchased insurance from the rental company, it will likely differ.

3. Decide whether you’ll purchase specific rental car insurance from your rental car agency.

 A classic question when you’re signing up for a rental car is: “Should I buy insurance at the desk?” The answer to this question depends on whether you have good coverage of your own (as discussed above). If your “regular” car insurance doesn’t cover you when you’re driving a rental vehicle, or if you’re uncomfortable with the deductible presented, you may compare options regarding purchasing coverage from the rental car agency.

If you are renting a car and do not own a vehicle, then you should absolutely purchase insurance to cover you in the event of a crash.

Enacted in 2005, the Graves Amendment is a federal law that prevents rental car companies or those involved in leasing rental vehicles from being blamed in a collision, or, in legal terms, taking on liability for the accident, just because they own the vehicle. To impose liability on a rental car agency or leaser, a renter must be able to show that the rental company’s negligence (or intentional act) actually caused the accident. In other words, make sure you are covered by insurance!

4. If you get in an accident while driving a rental vehicle, take stock of any injuries or discomfort.

If you’re involved in any car accident, the first thing you should prioritize is your safety. If all individuals involved in the collision are able, they should move to a safe location nearby, like a roadway shoulder. Examine yourself and your passengers for injuries or discomfort, and keep a record of anything out of the ordinary. If you believe you may have experienced a head or neck injury, you should seek medical care.

Call 911 if you believe any individuals involved in the collision may have experienced a life-threatening injury. If possible, keep record of the names and identification numbers of the officers responding at the scene, and obtain a copy of the police report.  

You should also take pictures of the scene of the accident, preferably quickly and before vehicles are moved off the road. Obtain photo evidence of any skid marks in the road, the positioning of the vehicles’ tires, and the state of the vehicles immediately after the wreck, including any damage (or lack of damage) to the body of the vehicles.  

Last, keep a copy of the rental contract and any insurance you purchased with the vehicle.

5. Know what steps you should take if you’re in a collision with a driver of a rental vehicle.

When you’re involved in a vehicle collision, even if injuries aren’t present, you should contact local law enforcement. Next, you should exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver. Make sure to create a record of the individual’s full name, phone number, email address, their insurance company and policy number, their driver’s license number, their license plate number, and a description of their vehicle, including the make, model and color. Taking a picture of their driver’s license, insurance cards, and plates is a great backup method to your written notes.

6. Reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney.

As discussed, the nature of the rental car industry means that many accidents will take place outside of the home state of the driver. Even though you may not be familiar with the traffic laws (or other laws) of the state you’re visiting, they may apply to you if you are involved in a car accident in that state.

When you’re involved in a car accident in another state, it’s important to reach out to a personal injury attorney who has extensive experience with rental car accident cases.