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International Car Rental Insurance: Not Trouble-Free

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When traveling in the US, I rarely purchase the insurance offered by car rental companies. By paying with a major credit card, you will typically have all the insurance coverage you need and save $20 to $50 a day in unnecessary charges. I do suggest calling the card company in advance to verify your coverage limits.

This doesn’t fully apply when renting a car internationally. I recommend calling your credit card company before every trip to specifically check that they will cover a car in the country you will travel to. Adding additional car insurance coverage to a travel insurance policy is another economical option. It’s okay to have duplicate insurance; just verify that at least one policy will accept being secondary.

Still, even after taking these precautions, things can go awry. They did for me on a family vacation to Ireland this summer.

As usual, I declined all insurance coverage and used my MasterCard World Elite card. I verified with MasterCard that I was covered in Ireland for a vehicle with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of up to $50,000. The MSRP of the Nissan Rogue I was renting was $26,000 to $34,000, well under that limit. Because I am a worrier, I also purchased a separate $40,000 vehicle policy from my trip insurance company.

When we arrived in Dublin, Rebecca at the Hertz counter asked why I didn’t want their insurance. When I told her my credit card would cover it, she said American credit cards don’t extend to cars in Ireland and she wanted proof. After much hassle, I had my credit card company email proof that the coverage extended to Ireland for $50,000.

She then told me that $50,000 wasn’t enough; I needed $65,000. I argued about this and finally said it didn’t matter because I had an additional $40,000 of primary or secondary coverage with my travel insurance company that would more than cover a problem.

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Rebecca wasn’t moved. She told me I would either pay her an additional $584 for their insurance or I would need to go someplace else to rent a car and lose the $424 I had already paid to Hertz. She curtly added, “Good luck, because this weekend is a bank holiday and everyone is sold out.”

All of this took two hours at the end of a long day of travel. I had been up for 24 hours. My wife and two children were also exhausted and hungry. While I knew I had met the terms of the agreement and that I was being extorted, the thought of losing my initial $424, plus going back to the terminal to start a probably futile hunt for a different car, was too much. I agreed to pay the extra $584.

As soon as we got back to the US, I filed a dispute (still pending) with my credit card company on both the initial $424 car rental cost and the $584 insurance charge. My grounds were that Hertz violated their contract, which only required me to accept full financial responsibility or to have verified that I had insurance that would cover a loss. They violated the contact by demanding that I prove having coverage in excess of the value of the car and by refusing to accept that proof when I produced it.

The lesson here? Faced with a person of questionable ethics and a situation with limited choices, you may be forced to give in to what is essentially extortion. If that happens, document everything, then file appropriate complaints and dispute the charges. And if you ever rent a car in Dublin, steer clear of Rebecca.

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