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October 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Good Reason for Car Rental Insurance

from the October, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After diving in Bonaire, Undercurrent subscriber Beverly Leo wanted to pass on this warning: Beware of car-rental companies trying to take advantage if you’ve passed on their collision-damage waiver (CDW). “It seems some have a ripoff scheme by claiming renters are damaging their vehicles. Without complete photographic evidence, the dispute goes on and on, and the renter has to either leave the credit card charge open or close the account, signing off on the additional charges.”

Divers renting cars in Bonaire are ideal targets. Because the red-eye lands while still dark, the car rental person goes with a flashlight to mark dents and scratches on the paperwork. When you return the car in the daytime, voila, there’s supposedly a new dent. That’s what happened to the man standing in front of Leo at Budget Car Rental. “He had taken photos of the sides of the rental truck, but he photographed them in the early morning and didn’t photograph the front or rear. He said the Budget employee had written down the areas of the car which he had photographed, but the dent they claimed he caused was on the unphotographed region of the vehicle. That caused us to photograph the entirety of our vehicle and when we returned our car, it was without incident.”

It doesn’t end with the car rental agency – then you have to dispute the claim with your credit card company. Many credit card issuers weasel out of CDW claims, citing fine print regarding exceptions. For example, some credit cards that offer CDWs only cover basic car rentals and don’t include upgrades such as SUVs or trucks, which many Bonaire divers use. Also, it doesn’t extend to car rentals in many countries including Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica.

“Personally, I always purchase the CDW from the car rental company, even though it’s expensive and usually unnecessary,” writes Wendy Perrin, consumer news editor for Conde Nast Traveler. “I know that if I do have an accident, I’m in for a time-consuming headache to ensure my credit card company pays the claim. I’ve had to stop my trip for half a day to get a credit card rep on the phone, get a police report, take the car to the garage and wait for a damage estimate. I prefer to pay extra for the peace of mind knowing I can walk away free and clear if I damage the car.”

If you’re reluctant to pay extra, check with your card company to see if they offer a CDW and if so, exactly what it covers. Ask if it provides for the “loss of use” the rental car company will charge if you damage the car. If you’re not fully covered, most rental companies charge $8 to $11 per day for CDW. Yes it’s pricey but if you’re diving overseas and/or renting a four-wheel drive to cart your gear around, it’s worth it.

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