Car Rental Made Quick and Easy

Loss damage waivers? Airport surcharges? Avoid speed bumps in the car rental process with our guide to car rental contracts.

Man Setting Car Alarm on Car

by NEA Member Benefits

 Key takeaways

  • Loss damage waiver (LDW) or collision damage waiver (CDW) is the biggest moneymaker for the rental companies.
  • If you own a lower-priced vehicle, and you have an accident in a higher-priced rental model, your insurance may not cover the full cost.
  • It’s a smart idea to discuss in advance with your rental company items like personal accident insurance, mileage, gas and more.

Sometimes you’ll get the “hard sell” from a rental agent who wants you to purchase additional coverage and services before you sign on the dotted line. One of the hardest sells you’ll encounter is for loss damage waiver (LDW) or collision damage waiver (CDW). That’s becauseit’s the biggest moneymaker for the rental companies, who can charge $10 to $15 a day for this extra coverage against possible damage to the vehicle.

Salespeople will share scary tales about the costly consequences of failing to sign up for this coverage, but remember that personal car insurance usually covers both liability and collision in a rental car. If you’re not sure whether you’re covered, check with your insurer before you travel.

“Knowing what kind of insurance you have allows you to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with confidence,” says Des Toups, managing editor of, an online car insurance comparison service. He recommends taking a few minutes to read the front page of your insurance policy to see if you have collision and comprehensive coverage that extends to rental cars.

If you don’t want to use your personal auto insurance, or if it’s a business expense that will be reimbursed, then you might consider purchasing the waiver, especially if it’s a short-term rental. Some credit card plans also offer collision insurance on rental cars.

One caveat, Toups says, is that if you own a lower-priced vehicle, and you have an accident in a higher-priced rental model, your insurance may not cover the full cost.

What you need to know before you sign a car rental contract

This primer reviews standard items in a rental car contract and what you should consider when you encounter them. It’s a smart idea to either phone your rental company in advance to discuss or take the time at the counter to go over these individual items.

Personal accident insurance (PAI) and personal effects coverage (PEC). This covers bodily harm or damage to your personal goods, and it’s likely already covered by either your auto insurance or your homeowners insurance. Check to be sure.

Deposit or refundable charge. This charge, which can total hundreds of dollars, usually is covered by using a credit card that’s authorized for that limit. You should find out whether this affects the spending limit on your card, because that may affect how much you can charge for other things on your trip.

Airport surcharge and drop-off charges. There’s often an extra convenience fee for renting a car at the airport. To avoid it, take public transportation or a courtesy shuttle to your hotel, then rent a car there. There’s usually an extra charge for dropping off the car at a different location, even if it’s in the same town.

Additional and underage drivers. Spouses typically are included in the rental contract, but other additional drivers or drivers under a certain age (usually 25) can be included in the contract at an extra fee. Not registering them could void the contract and risk loss of insurance coverage.

Gas. The per-gallon charge if the rental company fills up the tank upon your return is well above the market price. Many companies offer a prepaid option that’s more in line with the market price, but you still may end up paying extra if you return the car with gas in the tank. The best option: Fill up the car yourself before returning it, but avoid the overpriced gas stations at the airport.

Mileage. Contracts often are for unlimited mileage, but you should stick to any restrictions. Excess miles are expensive.

Contract duration. Return the vehicle on time. Getting back even an hour late can cost one-third of the daily charge. Also, find out whether there are any early-return penalties in case your trip is cut short.

Taxes and other charges. State and local sales taxes, airport fees and other charges will be added to the quoted rate, so be sure to make your decision about which car to rent on the basis of the bottom line.

Interstate travel. If relevant, find out if there’s an extra charge for driving outside the state you’re renting in and whether roadside assistance is offered in the other state(s).

Car condition. Inspect the car when you pick it up, and make sure any scratches or other damage are noted on the contract. When you drop off the vehicle, make sure the rental agent inspects the car and confirms that there’s no additional damage.


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