I'm a resident of Canada, and will be renting a car in the United Kingdom. I've rented a car through RentalCars.com - their "fine print" says I will be required to pay for Collision Damage Waiver insurance when I pick up the car.

In North America, collision damage insurance is optional; is it mandatory by law in the UK?

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    It isn't obligatory. However, it is advisable, and note that you can buy CDW in advance and separately from the rental - and usually MUCH cheaper than the rental agency's price. Just curious, why did you choose RentalCars.com? – Strawberry Aug 11 '17 at 13:17

No, collision damage waiver is not legally mandatory in the U.K., only third party liability insurance is mandatory to be able to drive on public roads.

However, there is no legal requirement for a car hire company to rent you a vehicle without a CDW requirement either.

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    I have collision damage insurance and loss damage insurance through my credit card. As a result, I'd like to avoid paying many hundreds of dollars for insurance I don't need. – Hannah Vernon Aug 11 '17 at 12:47
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    @MaxVernon they aren't a party to that cover however, so they don't have to waive the requirement to take out the cover they will arrange for you. They need cover they can claim on directly, which they can't do with your credit card cover. – Moo Aug 11 '17 at 12:50
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    I once rented a car in the UK through Kayak using a USA credit card that included CDW. The car rental company declined to let me rent unless I paid CDW at the desk. Ridiculous! – user58558 Aug 11 '17 at 14:58
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    @MaxVernon I'm a UK resident in a similar position. I just decline all insurance at the desk. They come out with some song and dance about it but you can just say "no". In fact that is the specific advice my insurer gives me, something like, "we cover everything they offer, so get used to saying no". – Calchas Aug 11 '17 at 19:32
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    @greatone I think it's their scare tactic to put on hold your trip/ plan to force you into buying what you can do without. Should be illegal to do so. Decline. Remember hearing about such Tactics in US also by agencies but on FlyerTalk experts set us right – Alex S Aug 12 '17 at 17:43

I do not expect that it is possible to rent a car in the UK without the legally required insurance (not through any reputable hire company anyway).

However, I have noticed a difference between here and the US which might explain your confusion. I believe that a typical US personal car insurance policy covers you when renting a car so it is sensible for even legal cover to be optional when renting. I used to work for a US company and we were instructed to decline all insurance when renting as it was covered by the company policy. Here in the UK, this is not normal. My personal policy will cover me to drive a friend's car but not a rental. Hence even local customers need the legal insurance. So, it is not usually optional as everyone needs it.

There is also Moo's point that legal required cover is only third party. So, for my own car, I can choose whether or not to have comprehensive cover so that damage to my own car is covered. It will be a business decision of the rental company whether to force further insurance on to you or trust that you are covered in another way. The law might not require them to do so but it also does not require them to rent a car to you at all.

While typing that, I saw your continued discussion with Moo. His further comments are convincing. If you damage the car, they will need to claim against you and they would need to trust that you could and would pay them.

Again, there seems to be a UK / US culture difference here. In one of my of my early visits to the US, I was surprised to find that insurance was optional. I asked what would happen if I declined it and the car was stolen. I was told that they would bill my credit card for the cost of the car. I decided to accept the insurance. I would not expect that conversation here.

Some extra detail and clarification. This my experience:

  1. Legally required cover e.g. third party - no option.

  2. Some level of insurance for the car itself - no option. By some level, I mean that you may be liable up to a limit if you don't choose CDW. I have not seen optional theft cover or optional no damage cover at all.

  3. There may be an optional CDW which removes the limited liability that I just mentioned.

I find this very different from the US where you can rent a car with no cover at all, not even legally required cover.

If your employer has a special contract with the rental company then it could be different. I used to have an employer with such a deal. When I rented a car via the company account, I got a special low price because it did not include insurance. I was covered by the company policy. I don't think that this is an option for an individual that rented car.

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    "So, it is not usually optional as everyone needs it." That's just upsell from the car rental place. Plenty of British residents have comprehensive insurance that covers them in rental cars, including me. They do say something like "if there is a problem, we will take it from your card, and you will have to recover it from your insurer". – Calchas Aug 11 '17 at 19:30
  • I have never seen a British car policy that covers rental cars. Here's an extract from my Aviva policy: Under the terms of section 2 of the policy - Your Liability - Mr. XXXXXXXXXX may also drive a Motor Car which 1) does not belong to them 2) is not a rental car 3) is not hired to them under a hire purchase or leasing agreement Providing they are driving with the owner's express consent. Even that cover, in cars that I do not own, is just third party despite the cover for my car being comprehensive. In my experience, this is a typical clause. – badjohn Aug 11 '17 at 19:47
  • It's a worldwide policy offered by a credit card I have. Comes in very useful. – Calchas Aug 11 '17 at 19:52
  • @Calchas If you can persuade the company to reduce the normal included insurance and rely on your card cover then great. For the companies that have a CDW component, this is certainly an option. However, this does not make such a large difference as the insurance options in the US as this is just declining a small part of the insurance, not all of it. – badjohn Aug 11 '17 at 19:57

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