It was my birthday and it had been raining all morning. We were stuck in the house, and the kids were starting to go a bit nuts.
No, this wasn’t winter in Vancouver – it was early July in the south of France. It’s not supposed to rain in the summer in the south of France!
And especially not on my birthday. 👿
Fortunately, by lunchtime it was starting to clear up, so we were able to plan an outing.
One of our favourite places in southern France is anywhere along the peaceful, tree-lined banks of the Canal du Midi. The canal is great for walking or cycling, birding or boat-watching.
We decided to take the kids for a stroll, so we quickly consulted the map for the closest access to the canal and set off in our brand new rental car.
As we neared our destination, we had to turn off the highway onto a smaller, rural road through the vineyards that led to a narrow, one-way bridge over the canal. There was no parking at this point, so we decided to go a little further on and then turn down an even smaller road, this time unpaved, that led to the banks of the canal.
We had only driven a few hundred meters along this road when we were startled by a sharp explosion, much like the sound of a shotgun.
What was that???
Don’t know, but I think we had better get out and see….
Of course, this was about the time in the afternoon for our youngest daughter’s daily meltdown-before-naptime routine, so she promptly amped up the volume as I got out to check the car for anything asunder.
Hmm…..no problems on the driver’s side, but on rounding the back of the vehicle, the worst of my worries came to fruition: a completely flat back tire with a huge gash in the sidewall.
We’ve only had the car a week, and here we are disabled down a muddy side road with a driver who hasn’t changed a tire….ever….and a 2 year old whose world view does not reach beyond her personal requirements.
Ah, well, at least the vineyards and river are beautiful….
…and we have good insurance.
For many car rental insurance policies specifically do not cover tire and windshield damage. And to be honest, I wasn’t even sure that our policy covered it, as we had never rented a car under the French leaseback system before.
I knew that the insurance was comprehensive and had no deductible, but I am always wary of the exclusions hidden in the fine print and was expecting the worst.
However, a quick call to the emergency number was all it took to find that I just needed to take the car into the local dealership and they would replace the tire.
I would have to wait a few days for the tire to be shipped in, but the dealership assured us that the spare was just fine, so our travel plans weren’t interrupted. And when I went back 3 days later, they even did an all-round inspection and minor servicing while they replaced the tire.
I didn’t even see the bill.
And there we have one of the major advantages of a long-term car rental in Europe under the French leaseback system: fantastic insurance at no extra cost.
But what if you aren’t renting for three weeks or more? What if you aren’t renting in Europe? How can you get insurance with no Excess or a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?
How to Get Great Rental Car Insurance on the Cheap
First, a short explanation and a couple of definitions. Most car rentals come with one of two types of insurance packages:
- Insurance that requires you to pay a deductible if you make a claim (the “Excess”)
- this is most common in Europe, with Excess charges usually around €500-1500 if you have to make a claim
- Insurance that offers no insurance unless you purchase a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW; sometimes called a Loss Damage Waiver, or LDW)
- this is most common in North America, and since you are liable for the full cost of any repairs, the waiver can be expensive (e.g. $20/day)
Car rental companies are happy to sell you a CDW or package with no Excess at the time of rental for a princely sum that sometimes even exceeds the price you are paying for the rental itself.
This can be a total shock to first-time renters or to those who have forgotten to arrange insurance from another source before leaving on holiday.
In fact, it can be enough to make the renter think about taking the risk of not even getting the coverage.
After all, what could happen to the car anyway? I haven’t been in an accident in years and I’m a great driver….at least as good as any Formula One champion…
But following that line of thinking would be a HUGE mistake.
I personally have a great driving record, but I have needed to make an insurance claim with a rental car on at least three occasions, and for every single one of them having proper insurance saved me hundreds of dollars.
Once was in my younger years in Canada on a friend’s stag night (don’t ask – I wasn’t driving, but I had rented the vehicle).
The second time was on holiday in Canada a few years back when a stone cracked the windshield – a $700 bill for the insurance company.
The third time was the tire this past summer.
So you NEED good insurance, but where to get it without paying through the nose? Fortunately, there are a few options:
- Credit Cards – some credit cards offer free insurance for car rentals when you pay with your card. This is definitely a cheap option (free is usually a pretty good deal 😆 ), but there are often some exclusions, such as tires and windshields, weather-related incidents, etc. It is rarely comprehensive, and thus it should be investigated thoroughly before relying on it. Personally, I have never relied on this option.
- Travel agents, banks, automobile associations, independent insurance companies – these often offer car hire insurance at lower rates than the rental agencies themselves. Again, check the fine print to make sure it is comprehensive.
- Online car insurance brokers – these offer the best deal in my experience. The policies they offer are comprehensive and flexible, and are they are very cost-effective. Below we’ll take a closer look at 3 of the top sites.
Get Your Rental Car Insurance Online
We first bought rental car insurance online through insurance4carhire.com the year that we got the cracked windshield. The claims process was hassle-free, and we received our refund very quickly. It was an excellent experience, and I do not hesitate to recommend them. They have different policies depending on where in the world you will be renting.
We would have continued to use them, but the following year when we needed insurance, they were only offering coverage to residents of EU countries. This is not helpful for all us expats living in the rest of the world.
Fortunately, we found icarhireinsurance.com, who still had no limits on where the renter lived. They had similar prices to insurance4carhire, so we used them for a few years. However, I recently discovered that they, too, have now restricted sales of their policies to EU members.
What gives??? I’m guessing the government has stepped in with yet more regulation of our lives, but let’s not go down that road…
The good news is that it took me a bit of digging, but I have finally found an online insurance agent that does not have restrictions on where you reside: worldwideinsure.com.
We are going to use them the next time we rent a car. Some of the benefits are:
- Coverage for Europe, North America, or Worldwide
- Comprehensive policies that include damage to tires and windshield
- Coverage periods from 3 to 99 consecutive days or annual policies that cover multiple trips (max 31 days per trip)
- Great prices with the option of cheaper (basic) or only slightly more expensive (deluxe) cover
- Anybody can buy the insurance regardless of their country of residence.
At the time of writing, the most expensive (deluxe) package that worldwideinsure.com was offering was an annual policy for worldwide coverage to a limit of £50,000 for only £55/year.
This is is an absolute steal considering that a CDW in North America is usually $15-20 per DAY from the rental agencies.
Insurance Sorted, Police to the Rescue
Birthday luck must have been with me that day along the Canal du Midi. Just as we were starting to pull our hair out trying to read the French instruction manual in order to find where the tools were stored, a police car came down the road.
We flagged them down and pleaded our case in pidgin French, and they helped us change the tire.
Or maybe I should say that one of them helped me change the tire while the other chatted up my wife with his serviceable English skills.
Anyway, they were incredibly polite and helpful, and the whole episode was turned from a minor crisis into a memorable travel experience.
An experience that cost absolutely nothing due to the excellent insurance that we were carrying.
How about you? Can you offer any tips or tricks for getting the best rental car insurance at a great price? Or maybe you have a disaster story that will shock our readers into taking action to ensure they don’t make the same mistake. Share your wisdom with our community by posting in the comments box below.