It was one dinged-up rental car. Smashed driver’s-side mirror; sizable dent in the passenger-side aft bumper. And no, it wasn’t my fault—at least, not entirely. The Dublin rental agency never asked about damage when I returned the car, but I spent that night agonizing about how much insurance I had purchased and the potential hit on my wallet. Ten years later, I’m still half expecting a bill.
That incident taught me a lesson: always have comprehensive insurance when renting abroad—especially in Europe, where your personal car insurance is unlikely to be valid and deductibles are high. But rental insurance in Europe is tricky. “There are different rules for different countries,” says Paula Lyons, who runs the website best-car-rental-tips.com. “It can be confusing.”
To begin with, most rental rates in Europe include liability insurance, which covers damage to anything outside the car—but not to the vehicle itself. For that you need a collision damage waiver (CDW). Some companies include a CDW in the rental rate, while others sell it for $15–$30 a day; it may also be offered through your credit card provider. Whether included in the rental rate or acquired separately, a CDW in Europe carries a deductible of around $1,000–$2,000—even if the damage wasn’t your fault. And a CDW doesn’t cover your tires, windows, roof, undercarriage, or interior. Nor does it include theft (also called “loss”) insurance, which costs an extra $5–$12 a day. If your car is stolen and you don’t have coverage, you could be liable for the full value.
As if all that weren’t confusing enough, there’s something known as “super” CDW, also called “extended,” “top-up,” or “excess” CDW. These lower your deductible to nearly zero for an extra $20–$30 per day. Avis’s Super Cover policy, for example, both nixes the deductible and protects against loss. “It relieves any financial responsibility in case of accident or theft,” says John R. Barrows, a company spokesperson.
Finally, a car-rental agent may suggest that you buy personal accident insurance. This provides injury and death benefits for the driver and any passengers. You already may be covered for this by your credit card or travel insurance.
You can buy all of the above coverage from the rental-car company, but it might run as much as $80 a day with advance purchase, or even more if you buy it at the counter. Alternatively, you can rely on the coverage provided by some credit cards, but beware that these policies come with restrictions.
Another option: get a CDW from a third-party insurer; they often charge less than rental companies. Travel Guard, for one, offers a low-deductible CDW for $9 a day. But these still may not cover theft and personal accidents.
“Like any insurance, it can be expensive,” Lyons says. “That is, until you need to use it—then you’re very glad you have it.”