If you're traveling internationally, should you spring for the extra car rental insurance?
Determining whether that friendly agent is offering you an optional policy for your protection, or just for the commission, can be a trick. In the U.S., it's usually an easy call. If you already have personal auto insurance or are renting with a major credit card, you're probably covered.
But it gets a little complicated once you cross the border. Here are three easy questions you need to ask yourself before you sign on the dotted line:
1. What are the country's insurance requirements? If you rent an economy car in France, certain companies only accept Visa Gold and American Express. In Australia, the basic rental rates usually includes collision and damage waiver. When in Italy, theft insurance is mandatory. Most Italian rental agencies offer a discounted comprehensive policy, but it's only available at the rental counter.
2. What is my liability if I'm involved in fender-bender (or worse)? A simple accident in some countries could land you in jail, require a large deposit on your credit card or delay departure until the matter is settled. If you bend fenders in Ireland and don't have the proper insurance documentation you'll need to pay a deposit of 2,000 euros. Get into an accident in Germany without collision coverage and you'll pay a 750 euro deductible.
3. Where am I driving? Drivers outside the U.S. can transverse multiple international boarders in hours. Unknowingly, laws can significantly differ from country to country.
I learned this lesson when I took a weekend jaunt from Vienna to Prague.
Renting a Mercedes Benz in Vienna was no problem. Getting it out of the
Czech Republic was another matter.
In attempt to make a Monday-morning meeting in Vienna, I left Prague at 12 a.m., more than enough time to get to the city and prepare for the day.
It turns out that many former Eastern European Countries have a high incident of auto thefts, and that the Benz was a hot car. So when I arrived at the main border crossing, the Czech Guard turned me away.
Thinking that it was no big deal, I went to a secondary crossing, where again I was turned away.
With time running short, I pleaded and begged for permission to cross, only to be met with a monotone "No!"
With the Austrian boarder two feet away, I pondered making a run for it, although the guard's large rifle made me think otherwise. The guard told me I could leave the car there and walk across the border.
Finally, I found a small town on the map about 120 kilometers away with a border crossing. In a last ditch effort, I drove through the rural winding streets, coming upon a sleepy guard. I approached him with my passport in hand, and was promptly waved through.
The moral of the story: be well-informed. Rental rules are in constant flux, so it's best to know before you go.