Before leaving on a road trip to the South recently, I called my car-insurance company to check whether I should get any added coverage on a rental car. I don’t rent cars often, and I’m wary when I do. Rental companies are notorious for pressuring you to buy add-ons that seem essential to your financial well-being in case of an accident. I like a bargain, but trying to decipher the meaning of rental contract at the counter is anxiety-producing.
I always need a reminder about the “collision-damage waiver” provision. Should I accept it or decline, and who is waiving what? It turns out that accepting it, and paying $10 to $20 a day, means that the rental company will waive its right to make me pay for collision damage. That would be a relief. However, my insurer told me that the collision coverage on my 2014 Mustang would extend to a rental car. Credit-card companies often offer collision protection as well. Decline the collision-damage waiver, I was told.
After doing a few price comparison searches online, I found that Alamo offered a rate significantly below other major companies. For an eight-day rental, I could save about $200 over the competition. I was skeptical about the price but told myself Alamo might have some geographical dominance that gave it a price advantage.
I arrived at the Alamo rental-car desk at the Atlanta, Ga., airport alert and rested after spending the night at an airport motel. There was no line at the counter, and the clerk was smooth and efficient. I said I wanted to add my wife, Carol, as an additional driver, which I couldn’t do online. I was irritated Alamo imposed a $9.99 a day fee. I didn’t recall paying a fee when I rented a car from a different company a year ago.
I declined the collision-damage waiver, which I had also done online. I declined “optional extended protection,” whatever that was. When the clerk handed me the contract to sign, the bottom line was $280 more than the online price. The additional driver accounted for $80 of that sum.
“What’s the extra $200 for?” I asked as I showed him my online estimate.
“That’s for liability insurance — $25 a day,” the clerk responded.
He pointed to the contract, which said: “I acknowledge that unless I accept supplemental liability insurance at the beginning of rental, Alamo provides no liability protection or any other kind of insurance which covers me or the rental vehicle.”
I had never encountered this before with a rental car company. I recalled nothing about liability insurance on the online form. That probably explained why Alamo’s online price had been so much lower than the other major car rental companies. A liability lawsuit, long shot though it was, could be extremely expensive. I hadn’t thought to ask my auto insurer whether liability coverage would be provided on a rental as well as collision.
Should I pay an additional $200 for peace of mind? Should I interrupt everything and try to reach my insurer? Should I go with my hunch the $100,000-$300,000 liability coverage on my Mustang would carry over to this rental as did the collision coverage?
I went with my hunch, which proved to be correct when I got around to calling my insurance company after the trip. I saved $200 while enduring only mild, occasional anxiety for the next eight days.
Even so, I wasn’t thrilled to get an estimate at the airport counter that was $280 more than I had been given online, nor happy that the clerk had automatically added the liability coverage to the contract. Did he think I wouldn’t notice the discrepancy between my online estimate and the final price or wouldn’t object?
I guess the experience was a useful reinforcement of the buyer-beware principle.