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What happens if I (a US citizen) rent a car in, say, the UK, and crash it because I was driving on the wrong side of the road?

Do I have to pay the damages out of pocket? What if I don't have the money? Will my US insurance carrier cover the damages?

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Whether you are liable or not is irrelevant when you are in an accident with a rental. I had bad experiences with Europcar in the past. Where I was hit from behind when standing still in a traffic jam. Tt was clear from the start I wasn't liable and the other party admitting that immediatly (him being a policeman) still it took 1.5 years and a lot of correspondence to get the money back, europcar deducted from my CC (500 Euro). –  andra Apr 27 '13 at 10:07

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If you rent a car, you will always need to have an insurance. Most often it is included it in the rental sum and you're only liable up to some amount, which is in the 500 pound range. You can buy additional insurance to cover even these expenses. They will always give you an offer on pick-up, because that's a money-maker.

This is my experience from renting a car at Hertz in Scotland last year, but I guess you could easily generalize the conclusion.

Anyhow, it is not really likely that you will crash a car by driving on the wrong side of the road. The steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, this will automatically make you realize that you should drive on the left. I would worry more on the round-abouts. But, if you are a confident driver in your own country, I would not worry about the left-driving issue.

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It's a common practice to offer other options at pick up. One of them being to upgrade the insurance. I've it several places, including Scotland. They usually offer to upgrade the insurance, specially if you got some good deal. It's common that special deals have a shorter insurance cover. –  nsn Apr 26 '13 at 7:11
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This matches my experience when renting cars in Australia, Canada, Spain, Germany and Sweden. Driving on the wrong side of the road is actually something that can happen easily, but pretty much only when the road is empty and thus little danger of a crash. –  Michael Borgwardt Apr 26 '13 at 7:28
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The hire company will also add "admin" charges if are involved in any incident. These tend to reflect the amount of grief you put their counter staff through, so a speeding tickets is likely to get you an admin fee of £30-60 but a write off with 3rd party damages would probably cost you £hundreds in addition to the insurance excess –  Colin Pickard Apr 26 '13 at 10:26
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@feklee, perhaps yours from Germany didn't; but almost all Visa and MasterCard cards I've seen in the US of A, include car-rental auto-insurance free of charge (they only cover rentals, and only those you pay with the card, and when you decline rental company's insurance). Here's the FAQ on the policy: usa.visa.com/personal/cards/benefits/…, and here you can see that all VISA credit cards in the US of A market have this benefit: usa.visa.com/personal/cards/benefits/index.html. –  cnst May 4 '13 at 16:48
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I disagree. If you have driven on the left side of the road, it's very hard to suddenly drive on the other side. Particular tricky are intersections when no other car is around. Quite often you find yourself turning into the wrong lane just out of habit. It took me at least 3 months to really get used to driving on the other side. It is a bit easier in a city, because then at least are plenty other cars around so you can just follow them. –  iHaveacomputer May 22 '13 at 2:45

What happens if I (a US citizen) rent a car in, say, the UK, and crash it because I was driving on the wrong side of the road? Do I have to pay the damages out of pocket? What if I don't have the money? Will my US insurance carrier cover the damages?

You are fully liable for any damage you do to a rental car, and in most cases also for damage that others do if you cannot establish that they are to blame. I cannot comment on country or company specific practices but I'd be surprised if this did not apply in the vast majority of cases.

If your travel insurance covers car damage that may be an option. Most travel insurance packages do not do so as standard. I have never seen one which does.

ALL car hire companies offer insurance.
This usually comes at several levels.
The basic level may have a very high "excess" - I've seen $1000 to $3000 quoted. This means that you are liable for "minor" damage but covered for a more major accident.
You can usually get "sensible excesses" - say $500.
And most offer a complete waiver option where you pay nothing for damage.
Read the fine print !!!! I have seen companies that do not cover eg rear end damage or underbody damage in their insurance - ie if you back into something or drive over a small wall or large rock (and I've managed to damage my own vehicle both ways in my lifetime) then you would not be covered.

Your main insurance company at home MAY be prepared to sell you hire vehicle insurance. If you have not arranged this in advance assume that you are not covered. It's almost certain that you will not be.

Not having insurance or having a very large excess is a gamble.
I almost always pay for maximum cover and have never damage a rental car.
YMMV.

Be wary of any company that does NOT offer insurance when you hire a car. Having their old bomb replaced with a newer one may be attractive.

I always photograph the whole exterior of a car extensively when hiring it. I make sure that the photos show all dents, scratches, bumps etc. The company will have a form to fill in initially where you and they mark in any existing damage but they are usually much more casual about this than you should be.


... because I was driving on the wrong side of the road ...

Crossing to the wrong side of the road and having an accident is a real risk.
I'm in NZ - only 4 million population.
We drive on the left.
Every year we have on average several accidents with usually multiple deaths where tourists accidentally crossed the centre line and collided head on with another vehicle. While circumstances vary and an accident may be for other reasons, the majority of these do seem to be due to left/right confusion. The percentages are not vast, but it does happen.

10 years ago my wife and I and a friend spent 6 weeks in the US and in Europe, driving long distances on many days. I mainly sat at a window and took photos and my friend did maybe 70% of the driving. He is an excellent driver, very experienced and capable in tricky situations. In our country he probably often drives faster than many but does not have accidents. He was incapable of completely adjusting to the left/right change. While we did not have many incidents and while we corrected him promptly (as one does :-)) it would not be uncommon to have him make interesting intersection calls. Not a vast number but enough to be of concern. Most people come back alive. Take due care, THINK ahead. Get the feel of how to handle driving into a divided roadway at an intersection - harder than you may expect under pressure.

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I have damaged a rental car - not from driving on the wrong side of the road but crunching it against a curb while turning around in a tight spot. We had declined their extra insurance because my credit card provides that as a benefit. The credit card company said to just send them the proof that I had rented the car as well as the receipts for damages. The car rental people just charged 500 pounds on my card and gave me a receipt. The whole thing was pretty simple and straightforward and I handled it with one Skype call from the UK back to Canada and then a series of emails.

I had a colleague who totalled a car and the car rental people just provided him a new one. Another colleague had a rental car stolen and other than it taking hours to establish that is what happened (it's always hard to find your rental car in a parking lot or remember what colour it is) there was no problem, they just provided him another one.

Insurance on car rentals is super expensive. Know what your credit card offers. Also know the rules - for example you have to pay for the rental with the credit card, not just own the credit card. You have to be the one who rents the car, not just someone who might drive it. They also typically insist you decline all the insurance the car people offer you. Make sure you read and understand it all before you head off on vacation.

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yeap, exactly; most credit card policies I've seen say that they only cover what's not covered by other policies; and, you can only get their coverage if you decline the coverage that's provided by the rental company (which is, perhaps, a funny way of saying that they only cover what's not otherwise covered :). Somehow, so many people don't know about this! –  cnst May 3 '13 at 4:10

Almost all Visa and MasterCard cards I've seen in the US of A, include car-rental auto-insurance free of charge.

They only cover the rentals, and only those for which you pay with the card, and when you decline rental company's insurance. Here's the FAQ on the policy from VISA: http://usa.visa.com/personal/cards/benefits/bft_dmg_waiver_personal.html, and here you can see that all VISA credit cards in the US of A market have this benefit: http://usa.visa.com/personal/cards/benefits/index.html (although, it should be pointed out, that the very same document reveals that none of the VISA debit cards do).

Also, here's an article about the subject from Forbes, which would seem to suggest that you'd be better of with renting a car with VISA instead of MasterCard: http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisbarth/2012/07/27/why-you-shouldnt-rent-a-car-with-a-mastercard/. It also interestingly points out that roughly a fifth of people are probably unaware that most credit cards have this rental coverage. Also according to the Forbes article, some luxury cars and certain countries are excluded (surprisingly, they list that Ireland and Northern Ireland are often excluded, and if you look at the VISA FAQ as above, it's confirmed), and the number of insured days may be capped at 30. Some other exclusions may also apply.

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