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Car rental excess insurance – what you need to know

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
Feb 21, 2017


When you hire a car you will almost certainly face a hard sell from the rental company about buying cover to remove the money you’ll be liable for in the event there’s any damage to the vehicle.

Many companies used to rely on selling customers this so-called excess cover as it was where they made their big margins.

They still do.

It’s just that now, an increasing number of renters realise there are far cheaper options and so the rental companies have to work a whole lot harder to sell their policies (hire firms are also notorious for pulling tricks - here's how to avoid them).

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When you hire a car, you have three options.

1) You can risk it

Basically, take the risk that you won’t do any damage and won’t have an accident, even one that’s not your fault. 

With this option, if the worst happens, you could face a bill up to the excess the company specifies, and that can be hundreds of pounds, £1,500 is not unusual.

More importantly, perhaps, it leaves you open to a dispute and we come across them ALL the time.

Usually, they boil down to the rental company pointing to a ‘scratch’ or other damage, perhaps even cleaning, that the renter doesn’t accept they caused. It happens a lot. 

And the trouble is, it can be hard to stand around arguing and taking photos for comparison, perhaps when you have a plane to catch.

You can be left seriously out of pocket.

2) Take up the car rental company’s offer

If you do, you'll pay a daily amount to have the excess removed, meaning that you should have total piece of mind. If there’s any damage to the car, regardless of fault, you won’t pay a penny.

That’s how the rental company will no doubt sell this to you. And it’s probably true.

Except that you will almost always pay through the nose for the privilege.

Frankly, it’s a mug’s game.

3) Go third-party

Buy a care rental excess policy from a third-party seller that will last all year for around the price of a day’s cover from the car rental company.

The disadvantages of buying excess cover from a third party is that you have to pay out for the damage and then claim it back.

And that fact does create a window of risk – that you pay and the insurer decides for whatever reason it’s not going to meet your claim.

Even so, a third-party policy, known as ‘excess reimbursement insurance’ is by far the best option for a combination of affordability and peace of mind.

We don't currently offer car hire cover, but you can get a great deal on regular car insurance by comparing deals on our online tool.

What to look for when choosing a policy – As with all insurance, don’t buy ONLY based on price:

 

1) Are you covered?

Make sure you understand what is actually covered in the policy. Policies often have all kinds of exclusions.

Damage to windscreens, tyres, undercarriage and the roof are favourite exclusions. So, do check.

There may also be special cover that you should consider that is excluded from car rental companies where you’re going.

For example, hire a car in Iceland and rental companies often exclude ash and gravel damage. And if you’re going to Iceland, you need this cover – check your third-party cover applies.

 

2) Is there still an excess?

Despite the name, there could still be an excess. Check you understand what you would have to pay in the event of a claim.

Look for admin fees, or other terms, that simply mean you have to fork out if you need to claim.

 

3) How hard do they make it?

Always look at the actual claims process and decide if it’s reasonable.

What are you required to produce and collect to make a claim?

Keep in mind that what might seem relatively straight-forward at home might be Mission Impossible if you’re in a foreign country with different police procedures, for example.

Even if making a claim seems straightforward, do check you fully understand what you’ll need to do if you have to make one, as a missing piece of paper can cause weeks of delay and a real headache, especially if dealing with a rental company abroad.

 

4) What do others say?

It’s always essential to see what experience others have had.

Disregard all online reviews that just say how cheap a policy was or it was ‘good value’ and instead focus only on those people who comment AFTER claiming.

The bottom line is that a policy is only as good as it is at dealing fairly with claims.

 

5) Are you in the right region?

If you buy a policy that applies to specific regions, and many do, this can save you money.

But be careful you are covered for the region you are travelling to and hiring a car in. Be wary of making assumptions – the insurer may have different ideas about which countries are in which region.

For example, is Turkey in Europe, is Iceland? Does Europe mean the EU only? In which case, what about Switzerland, or Norway? Check.

 

6) Who is covered? 

Make sure ALL those who will be getting behind the wheel are covered and the policy isn’t restricted to just one named driver.

 

7) Call them

Booking everything online makes the process fast and simple, but it can lull us into a false sense of security .

A slick online operation may not mean a slick back-office one. So, find a question or two and phone the company. Make a judgement about how helpful they are, how knowledgeable they are and how willing and able they are to deal with your query.

This may well be a great indicator of how well they respond in the event of a claim.