Car Rental Booking – Caution

A few quick tips on booking a car rental for another country.

Shady Rental Agencies

If you start with a general Google search for car rental in your destination country or city, you’re likely to get a lot of hits on various rental companies with names that give the impression they’re based right where you want to pick up the car. They often offer very low prices. However, many of them are unregulated third party companies based thousands of miles away, making it very difficult to resolve any issues you have with them. I once spent several months dealing with my credit card company to get a bogus charge reversed from such a company. Better to deal directly with the car rental company itself, or book through a respected travel booking website.

Collision Damage Protection

Even when reserving a car through a well-known travel booking website like Orbitz or Travelocity you need to be vigilant. In particular, be very careful with their “collision damage protection.”

I recently made a reservation for an Avis car with Orbitz that was fully cancellable and would only be charged to my credit card only upon pickup. I checked off the “add collision damage” protection during the checkout process. I assumed that would give me Avis’s collision damage protection. When I received the confirmation email I found that 1) the protection was a trip insurance policy through a third-party insurance company, and 2) the insurance premium had been charged to my credit card immediately.

The problem with this is that if I did have an accident, I would still have to pay Avis’s standard “excess” fee until it was settled with the insurance company. I would have to handle the claim with the insurance company

Fortunately when I called Orbitz customer service to complain, they were very helpful and cancelled the insurance policy. They issued a credit for the amount charged, but that takes a lot longer for a credit to be processed than the original charge! I then opted to get Avis’s coverage when I picked up the car.

Does Collision Damage Protection Make Sense?

When renting a car in the US, I never pay for collision damage protection. I know my own car insurance will cover it, and there’s extra protection offered by most credit card companies. But I do believe it can make sense to get the rental car company’s own collision damage waiver (CDW) when overseas. Even if you have other protection you might have to pay for the damage or a significant portion of it up front until the insurance claim is paid. You may also want to consider the convenience value of not having to deal with claims that involve people on two or more continents after you’ve returned home.

I once did some significant damage to a car when I hit an “invisible” column backing out of a narrow parking space in Australia. Our flight home was leaving before the rental car company would open their desk at the airport. Because I had paid for a 100% damage waiver I was able to just drop the car off at the airport with a short damage report – no hassles, and no questions asked.

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