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I have found that in the USA, advertised car rental prices do not include liability insurance. When I arrive to pickup the car, I always have to pay an extra x $/day so I can legally drive. This is not related to all the optional coverages they're trying to sell. In my experience, this $x$ usually exceeds the price for the actual rental, thus I end up paying more than twice the originally advertised rate. How can I tell in advance how much this is going to be — before I arrive to the counter for picking up the car?

On the websites of Hertz or others, there is some information (without quoting prices) about supplemental liability](https://www.hertz.com/rentacar/productservice/index.jsp?targetPage=USHowProtectedAreYou.jsp#Hertz_Liability_Insurance_Supplement_%28LIS%29)), but I can't find anything on the basic insurance required to legally drive.

According to this answer, if I go to a European Hertz page, I will get a quoted price including liability insurance. Indeed, the quoted price by hertz.co.uk is more than twice the quoted price by hertz.com, which is consistent with differences I have experienced between advertised and de facto prices for car rental including the legal minimum of liability. The two screenshots below show the exact same period and location, as advertised by hertz.com (upper) and hertz.co.uk (lower):

Hertz US advertised cars

Hertz UK advertised cars

The US one makes no mention of insurance. The UK one does, only to say that Personal insurance is not included. I guess that means personal accident insurance, not the legally minimum liability insurance. So although it appears to be not explicitly stated, the difference in price between hertz.com and hertz.co.uk is consistent with my experience of legally minimum liability insurance costing more than car rental itself. Is this indeed what explains the difference? Or is there a way to find out the costs if I rent through hertz.com, then purchase the legally minimum liability insurance as I pick up the car?

In case it matters: my license is Dutch, I live in Canada, my wife is French, lives in the US, her license is from the US. Neither of us have any other insurance. In my experience there is no difference between the price quoted for her or for me.

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    Not precisely an answer, but it often makes sense to use a rental car meta-search engine that is written for your home market. They typically allow you to pre-select certain minimum insurance standards and allow you to compare prices between different rental car agencies at the same time. You can then still select a Hertz package, if you then still wish to. It is my experiences that insurance packages added at the time of pickup are more expensive than when booking such packages earlier, as the extra insurance can also come from some European insurance company (but doesn't have to). – DCTLib Mar 13 '15 at 8:44
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    @DCTLib Do you think that Europeans renting a car in the US pay differently for mandatory insurance packages added at the time of pickup, than non-car-owning Americans do? – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 14:45
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    @gerrit It may be the case. Most Americans renting a car do have a personal insurance. If they don't have one, the insurance rate may easily be higher than for Europeans, as this suggest little driving practice. What definitely helps on the meta search engines is the companies compete with each other, so they are likely to tell you the cheapest options for the insurance package that you want. This may not always be the case when booking directly with the car rental company. – DCTLib Mar 13 '15 at 15:13
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    @Tom I'm not talking about the LDW, or supplemental liability insurance. I'm talking about the minimum required so I can legally drive at all. – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 15:36
  • Sorry, but prior to your recent edit you did mention LDW. I will delete my previous comment. – user13044 Mar 13 '15 at 18:28
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In addition to Vince's great answer:

As a foreign driver, I never realized that having just the legal minimum liability insurance is completely insufficient. I was not aware, that this insurance covers basically nothing. Luckily nothing ever happened, but the thought still scares me.

Typically the minimum requirement very very low. In CA it is 15/30/5, which means up to 15k for death or injury of one person, up to 30k for multiple people, and 5k for damage to property.

That kind of money will be spent in a US emergency room in presumably less than a minute. If you have no money yourself means, should you injure or kill someone, he and his family will end up with a big hospital bill and probably loose their house, retirement, college education for kids, all that in addition to the accident.

Of course, you'll loose everything you have, too.

When I travel to the US, I now always rent a car through an international car rental agency and make sure that I have enough insurance. Typically you get around 1 million liability by default, and strangely you get this for the same price (or less) you would pay for the ridiculous 15/30/5 insurance that you get from the rental agency in the US.

I am completely puzzled that the US allows operating a car with effectively no insurance (in addition to 20% of the drivers having absolutely no insurance).

  • This is true, but rather a comment than an answer. – gerrit Mar 14 '15 at 23:36
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First, the different prices you can get usually depend on your place of residence (i.e. not your driver license) and which website you book from. I wrote a detailed answer about the fact that car rental pricing is particularly complex. The liability insurance depends partially on your driver license.

Regarding liability insurance, the coverage provided by the rental company depends in which state you are renting your car.

For Hertz, there is a FAQ entry on the topic, and there are different levels of protection, the worst is in California if you have a US driver license, there is no protection. In other cases, you will get a minimal coverage (primary or secondary), usually what the state forces Hertz to have.

Upon signing the Rental Agreement, Hertz provides primary liability protection. However, such protection is generally no more than the minimum limits required by individual state law. See Financial Responsibility Limits by State.

The limits seems to be listed but Hertz claims it is not forced to respect these limits in all states, so this is more a maximum than a minimum amount:

Financial Responsibility Limits by State

The following chart lists the Automobile Financial Responsibility Limits of the various states. Hertz is not required to provide such minimum protection in all states.

So even if you do not see anything in your booking, there is a minimum coverage. If you are not satisfied, you can purchase the LIS (Liability Insurance Supplement) that covers way more ("USD 1,000,000.00 of combined bodily injury and/or property damage protection"). In Colorado and New York, you also get some coverage in case the driver causing the accident is not insured. In some other states, you may purchase such insurance (Uninsured Motorist Protection (UMP)) on top of the LIS. There is no consistent price across bookings, and you might not be able to book it in advance but most likely you can ask how much it is at the counter. In my memory, I vaguely remember that you could expect a price of 5 to 10 USD per day for such an insurance, but it really depends on every booking.

If you have a car, your car insurance may have a coverage for going abroad (most likely for many countries in Europe, at least, as you seem to live in Europe). If they do not cover rentals in the US in your current contract, they might offer such an option. You can still ask them.

If you want more details about insurances from Hertz, there is a long but very detailed notice.

  • The FAQ entry is on supplemental liability insurance, apparently what is in additional to the legal minimum. They don't talk about the legal minimum liability insurance. The long and detailed notice has lots on optional services, but not on mandatory ones. The problem is that when I arrive, Hertz (or others) tell me that the price quoted online does not include the liability insurance, so they charge me another 25–30$/day "so that [I] can legally drive". That's before even discussing anything supplemental and optional... – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 15:31
  • @gerrit in the FAQ it says "Upon signing the Rental Agreement, Hertz provides primary liability protection. However, such protection is generally no more than the minimum limits required by individual state law. See Financial Responsibility Limits by State." and then in the detailed notice "Financial Responsibility Limits by State: The following chart lists the Automobile Financial Responsibility Limits of the various states. ..." What else do you want? I know however that this is not clear nor clearly advertised (they make money selling insurances as well). – Vince Mar 13 '15 at 15:46
  • And I suppose you can print that when you ask the person at the counter. I am not sure that an office person is required to learn the FAQ by heart. In my experience, I usually spend 15 to 30 minutes just waiting that they play with the computer because they cannot reproduce the rate I booked or they ask the same information they ask online like license number, so I would not expect them to know the details of the whole contract. – Vince Mar 13 '15 at 15:48
  • What else do you want — as I wrote in the question, I want to know how much the mandatory primary liability protection that Hertz (or any other US car rental company) provides upon signing the Rental Agreement costs, as it is not included in the price advertised online. Upon pickup, they always tell me I need to pay an extra x $/day for minimum liability insurance in order to legally drive. And then they ask the separate question if I want any of the optional coverages that are outlined on the website. My question is about the price for the mandatory part. – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 16:03
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    I'm sure I can ask the person at the counter, but I would like to estimate these costs in advance. – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 16:13
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The issue would vary by state, but at least in California, all vehicle owners are required to have minimum liability insurance. Not just the drivers. What I think is happening is that no one can force Mr Hertz or Mr Avis to rent to people who don't have their own liability insurance, that will be responsible first in case of accident. (If you cause more damage than the amount of your own coverage, the victims will go after Hertz, too.)

If European insurance will not extend to the USA, there are a few companies that specialize in short-term arrangements that might be cheaper than the rental agencies.

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    I thought that in the USA, liability insurance is on the driver, not the owner. Either way — to find out if those companies are indeed cheaper, I need a way to find out the price that the rental agency is charging, before I arrive for pickup. My question is, how do I find out this price? – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 23:06
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    I don't see the number, either. Hertz's site does say international drivers have other rules. They also say that in 49 states, California excepted, their liability insurance exists but is secondary to your own. They must have paid the Legislature here (CA) well for that. – Andrew Lazarus Mar 14 '15 at 3:24
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Having rented many cars in the USA in many states and from many rental companies (as a US citizen), I can report that there is NO mandatory insurance required of the renter, only optional insurance. Car rental companies try to pressure customers to buy the insurance by saying that without the insurance you are responsible for the full value of the car. Don't worry. It is rare to have damage to a car, if you drive carefully. Further, many credit cards offer free auto insurance for car rentals. In my experience, in the past it was only the silver/gold/etc. cards that offered free rental car insurance, but now some regular credit cards offer this insurance also. (Check with your credit card customer service.) To take advantage of this rental car coverage (at no cost), all you need to do is use the credit card to pay for the rental and tell the clerk at the car rental desk that you are declining the insurance coverage from the rental company. You will have to initial in several places on the rental agreement, including one place indicating that you are declining the optional insurance. (You might be asked who your insurnce company is. I have no idea why rental companies ask this, but the answer is never verified.) This rental car insurance works worldwide. I have used it in various countries, not just in the USA. In short, using this approach allows you to pay the exact price you were quoted in your reservation, without any extra charge for insurance.

  • I think he talks about liability insurance (when you are responsible for an accident), not the damage waiver (when you break/damage the car) – Vince Mar 13 '15 at 16:40
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    This post doesn't really help. It is illegal in many US states to drive without any insurance at all (personalinsure.about.com/cs/vehicleratings/a/blautominimum.htm). In the US, you mainly insure drivers. In some other countries, you insure only the cars. Thus, for example, a German driver does not bring any insurance along with her and thus needs to get basic liability insurance from the car rental company. The reason why you get asked for your insurance company when renting a car is to make sure that you (claim to) have such a basic liability insurance. – DCTLib Mar 13 '15 at 17:23
  • @DCTLib Having rented cars upward of 50 times in the states, I can say that no car rental company has ever denied me the rental when I asked for a waiver of the optional, extra insurance coverage they offered me. I cannot see how it could be illegal. – Yehuda_NYC Mar 13 '15 at 17:48
  • @Yehuda_NYC I am not talking about the optional insurance. I am talking about the basic liability insurance that is required by law to operate a car. Europeans often do not "bring such an insurance along" when coming to the US, so they need to buy it - almost always from the rental company. – DCTLib Mar 13 '15 at 20:48
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    @Yehuda_NYC Do you live in the USA? Do you own a car in the USA? If the answer to both questions is yes, then you already have the legally minimum liability insurance which includes coverage to rental cars. In Europe (at least where I've rented) it does come with the rental car (so it's always included), and whether the renter already has a car at home or not is irrelevant. – gerrit Mar 13 '15 at 23:04

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