Reader Request: Should I Buy Car Rental Insurance When Renting With a Credit Card?

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Dislaimer:  I am neither an insurance agent nor a personal injury lawyer.  Insurance policies vary tremendously, so please read the terms of your insurance policy and talk with your insurance agent when making a decision to purchase insurance.

Million Mile Secrets reader Joey writes in:

I had a question regarding car rental insurance.   Normally I decline all rental insurance and just book on my [AMEX] platinum.  Is this the best route to go?

Keep in mind I have no car so I don’t have any other insurance.  What should I be doing about insurance for the other car in an accident?  Should I be taking the 3rd party insurance from the rental company?

The usual suggestion for folks who own cars (with personal car insurance policies) and who have credit cards which provide either primary or secondary rental car insurance, is to decline the coverage provided by the rental car agencies.  That’s because you are likely already covered for damage to the rental car via your credit card insurance, and for injury or death of another person or damage to others’ property  up to the limits of your personal car insurance policy.

But declining rental car insurance when you have no personal car insurance policy (or if your personal policy doesn’t cover rental cars) makes you personally liable for damage to other vehicles, damage to other property, and bodily injury to others if you’re the reason for an accident.

This is usually the most costly part of a car accident and could cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars!

Types of car insurance

There are actually at least three types of coverage which rental car insurance companies sell:

 Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) InsuranceLiability InsurancePersonal Property Insurance
Insurance CoversDamage to rental car onlyDamage to other cars, property, and injury or death of other personsValue of your stuff in the rental car.
Potential Liability ~$70,000 for average full size or SUV + Reasonable loss of use chargesHundreds of thousands or millions of dollars~$3,000+ for laptops, cameras, GPS, electronics, etc.
Insurance provided if you rent with a US-issued credit cardSome credit cards cover damage to rental cars on primary or secondary basis.

Exclusions apply so read the fine print.
NeverAlmost never.

Sometimes purchases may be covered by insurance on the credit card used to purchase the items.

1.   Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW)

This coverage covers you for damage to the rental car only and any loss of use charges (for example, the car couldn’t be rented while it was in the shop getting fixed) incurred by the rental car company only.  It does NOT cover damage to other vehicles, injuries to persons in the rental car or other vehicle or other property damage (for example, if you drive into a wall).

This is often the most duplicated type of coverage because you usually get the benefits of CDW or LDW insurance when you rent using certain credit cards.  In some instances the coverage with a credit card is primary, and in other instances it is secondary.

Note that there are often limitations on the value of the car and length of car rental when using CDW or LDW insurance via a credit card.  These differences vary by state and credit card, so I can’t list them all here.

You may also have this coverage via your personal car owner’s comprehensive or collision insurance, but read your policy to find out more about coverage, deductibles, and  limits.

Joey doesn’t need to purchase CDW or LDW insurance if he pays for the full price of the rental car on his American Express Platinum card because the credit card provides secondary CDW or LDW insurance for 30 days (some countries are excluded so read the terms and conditions).

However, there will be additional coordination and paperwork if Joey has to file a claim through his credit card insurance versus if he had purchased the CDW or LDW insurance from the rental car agency.

Potential liability if Joey doesn’t have this coverage:  ~$70,000 for the value of a full size car or SUV + reasonable loss of use charges.

2.   3rd Party Liability Insurance 

Liability insurance covers you for damage to other vehicles, bodily injury or death of others or damage to others property.

In my opinion, this is the most important rental car insurance coverage to have because the liability of a serious car accident could be hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars!

I once banged into the fender of a parked car at a Hampton Inn in Minnesota seven years ago.  I left a note with my contact information on the other car, and my employer who was self-insured paid ~$700 to settle the claim for an extremely minor dent that was virtually unnoticeable.  The point – these things can cost lots of money!

Credit card insurance does NOT provide any liability insurance for damage to third parties.  And even the premium car rental insurance from American Express provides NO third party liability coverage.

However, if you have car insurance, the liability insurance coverage along with your deductibles and limits *may* carry over to when you rent a car.  But read your own car insurance policy carefully or ask your insurance agent to confirm if your personal car insurance policy will carry over to a car rental.

Again, NO credit card car rental insurance covers you for the most financially devastating type of liability if you get into a car accident – which is usually the damage to other cars, persons, or property.

I try to save money where I can, but I’ve always paid more to get a personal car insurance policy with much higher limits than the state minimum requirement.  A serious car accident can be very costly!

Joey should purchase the optional supplemental insurance from the car rental agency or look into getting a non-owners  car insurance policy which will cover him for liability towards others when he rents a car.

Potential liability if Joey doesn’t have this coverage:  Possibly hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

3.   Personal Property Insurance

This insurance usually covers you for theft or damage of your personal property (laptop, camera, etc.) in the rental car.

However, you *may* already be covered for the theft or damage to your personal property via your personal homeowners, rental, or umbrella insurance policies.  But read your policy carefully or ask your insurance agent for the specifics of what’s covered, limits, and deductions.

Depending on the personal property which Joey travels with and the terms of his homeowners or rental insurance, he may want to consider personal property insurance.  Or since the maximum out of pocket cost is not as high as going without personal liability or CDW insurance, he could make a calculated decision to not buy personal property insurance.

Potential liability if Joey doesn’t have this coverage:  The value of the stuff he has in the car – laptop, camera, GPS, clothes etc.  Perhaps $3,000 to $4,000.

Bottom Line:  If you don’t have a car insurance policy with 3rd party liability coverage which transfers over to your car rental, you should consider a non-owners car insurance policy if you rent cars often or pay for personal liability insurance through the rental car company.

Otherwise you could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in damages if you get into a car accident.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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50 responses to “Reader Request: Should I Buy Car Rental Insurance When Renting With a Credit Card?

  1. You and your readers should still be cautious about relying on a credit card benefit for the CDW coverage of a rental (if they don’t have their own auto insurance that clearly covers that). If you get in an accident and damage the rental, that rental company won’t hesitate a second to bill you for tens of thousands of dollars right away. Only after that will you have the chance to compel your credit card provider to cover these costs, but that itself could be a fight that takes time, and you possibly lose. Your reimbursement effort with the CC company could take more than a month, but in the meantime a $10,000 CC bill requires payment. And those CC rental insurance benefits often have detailed rules that restrict certain car models from coverage. You gotta read everything thoroughly before relying on this.

  2. Thank you! This post is incredibly useful. I’m a carless New Yorker, often rent cars, and I’m always confused about what to do about car insurance. Two follow up questions:

    – When I read my credit card terms and conditions, what terms to should I look for to check if it covers CDW or LDW insurance?
    – How do I get insured for my rentals if I don’t have a car or insurance? When I make my car reservations (usually with Hertz) I only see an option for buying LDW insusance.

    Again, thank you so much for this super useful post. I’d love to see more info about car rental on your blog.


  3. Insurance is very important for every vehicle and human.So many advantages of insurance.You are discussed a very interesting topic.

  4. @kay it seems the best way is to go with amex platinum and take the 3rd party to cover the other vehicle. I too am a carless ny’er and thats why i asked Daraius the question!

  5. What does “Secondary Coverage” mean? Do CDW and LDW mean the same. I mean will one or the other be sufficient?

  6. Another follow up: are there additional issues when renting a car internationally? If I have car insurance does that usually cover injury to others in foreign countries? Or would buying the rental insurance for injury be recommended when renting internationally?

  7. I live in NYC & don’t have a car/insurance. I recently rented a car at Dollar in Montreal, used my AMEX Platinum and asked to add 3rd party liability. The guy at Dollar said that was not an option, only CDW, LDW, etc. I asked what would happen if I hit another car and he said (in a very unconvincing way) that in Canada every car is supposed to cover itself. I called Dollar’s customer service line and they confirmed that liability insurance was not offered at that location but could not comment on whether I needed it or not – shocking that they wouldn’t have this info. Does anyone know if the guy at Dollar was correct?

  8. Just a word of advice…last year I rented a car from Avis using a free-day certificate. I had to make the reservation with a credit card, but there were no charges on it because the certificate even covered taxes/fees. I declined any additional insurance because my credit card covered me. I ended up bumping into a sign while pulling into a parking spot which resulted in $2,000 worth of damage to the car. For months I went back and forth with the credit card company and they said because I didn’t use my credit card to pay for the car I was not covered. I showed them proof that in the reservation I had put down my credit card number, but they required a billing statement showing that Avis had billed the credit card company which never happened since it was a free rental.

    So a word of caution – If you are using points for a car rental you may not be covered by your credit card.

  9. I am not sure if it’s all AMEX cards, but I suspect so, that offer for a small fee full primary coverage, called Premium Insurance. This is something you have to buy – For example, I have signed up my SPG card and for $17.50 per rental up to 30 days I am fully covered. This is great for long trips, particularly in foreign countries (though some countries are not covered) as it is per rental rather than per day.

    An example: last year I rented a car from a car rental company (which I won’t name here, but it begins with “A”) in South Africa for just over 3 weeks, cost of insurance was $17.50 on my SPG card. I had lost a couple of hubcaps and, worst of all, after completing the damage form at the rental company when I returned the car they subsequently added some extra “damage” after I had left (this is a common thing in some countries – happened in Costa Rica later in the year too, except this car company’s name began with a “B”). Of course their computers were not able to print my receipt and (as they well know) I had a plane to catch.

    The end result was some large amount charged to my SPG card, but when I got home I completed AMEX’s insurance form and they immediately removed the contested amount from my credit card and I never heard another word about it – nor did my regular auto insurance company.

    Best $17.50 I spent. I believe that’s the California price and it is a bit more elsewhere. We do get something for our high taxes … 🙂

    Actually we get quite a lot for our taxes: one thing is gift cards do not slowly decline in value if not used in a certain time.

  10. Great question and well researched article! Thank you for all the time and effort in writing such a concise, easy to understand, response. From a reader whose name I won’t name here, but it begins with “K.” 🙂

    • @n/a – That’s a good reminder to read the terms and conditions for the credit card LDW and CDW coverage for exclusions. And there is additional paperwork and coordination involved when you try to get reimbursed through the credit card insurance.

      @Kay – Check the documents you got initially with the card for a booklet which has the fine print about the terms and conditions of the insurance with the credit cards. Or you may be able to call customer service and have them send you the terms and conditions again. You can either buy a non-owners car insurance policy from an insurance company or buy supplemental liability insurance from a car rental agency. I believe Hertz offers a liability insurance supplement which provides 3rd party liability coverage.

      What other type of information on car rentals would you like to see?

      – The AMEX Platinum coverage is for LDW/CDW and the 3rd party liability will protect you for damage to others. Or if you rent often you can get a non-owners car insurance policy.

      @coolmuke – See this post for the difference between primary and secondary coverage. Different companies have different definitions of LDW or CDW, but usually it includes damage to the rental car and loss of use fees.

      – Depends on the terms of your car insurance policy, but I suspect that a US issued car insurance policy will usually not cover injury to others outside the US (but read your policy to be sure). I’ve always bought insurance when renting a car outside the US.

      @Andrew – Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with the law in Canada about car rentals and car insurance.

      @Lauren – That’s a good reminder that using free days or even coupons could potentially invalidate the credit card car rental insurance.

      – AMEX offers enhanced primary coverage for a fee, but it is not 3rd party liability coverage. It is $24.95 in the rest of the US.

      @Kathie Allen
      – Thanks!

  11. Very comprehensive article, Daraius. A reader just emailed me yesterday and asked a very similar question. I answered with a disclaimer about checking with insurance agent, too, but have just pointed the reader to your post for more information. Thanks!

  12. On our first trip to the UK, we rented a car near Hyde Park – outside the congestion zone, but still well within city traffic. We used a Visa Signature card to book and waived the CDW. To make a long story short, it was my first time driving “on the left” and I got a little too close to a parked truck and my side mirror connected with his. The resulting noise was so loud I thought I’d actually broken my wife’s window (she was riding shotgun to my left). The truck was not damaged in the least and all that had happened to ours was the mirror collapsed with such force it broke the mirror glass. We actually called around to local auto parts stores to see if we could get replacement glass because, frankly, that is all that was needed. In the end, we could not find replacement glass and decided to get on with the trip. The mirrors remained folded in for in-town driving. We called Visa to file the claim and they told us what paperwork we would need to send them once the charge for damage hit the card. When I turned in the car, we pointed out the damage and they gave us an estimate for totally replacing the wing mirror – I think it was around 116 GBP but I can’t remember. The charge never hit my card and I never needed to proceed with the claim. I was very surprised at first, especially given the quote. However I bet when they got it in the shop, they just threw a new piece of glass in there and called it good (we saved the backer piece the glass would hold to which I am sure helped). On our next trip to the UK, we still rented, still declined CDW, but we rented from LHR so no in-town driving. YMMV.

  13. CanadianMillionMiler

    For those who do not own cars with their own insurance policies, sometimes in some states, rental cars already have “liability insurance” already and your credit card could cover the CDW/LDW. Check with them though to make sure and confirm the coverage amount.

    @Lauren – For rental with a certificate, if you get into an accident, when I return the car, I would ask to change the form of payment from certificate redemption to full credit card payment, that way the damage to the rental car will be covered by your credit card (if yours has the coverage)

  14. @Bob: I know that in Germany (and probably several, if not all, EU countries) liability coverage is included on every rental automatically and is built into the rental rate. Our US insurance (State Farm) does not provide liability coverage outside the US so I checked into this for some rentals we had last month in Germany. I would recommend researching the particulars of any rental you have in Europe before you buying extra liability insurance that may not be necessary. Note that I’m talking about liability coverage only, not CDW.

  15. Several association discounts include some insurance coverage. For example, when renting using USAA discounts you receive:
    Primary Liability protection, Up to $25,000/$50,000/$10,000, included.
    Waiver of all Indirect Loss of Use and administrative Fees.
    $5000 limited responsibility for the loss or damage to the rental vehicle.

    AARP members receive similar benefits when using AARP discounts.

  16. @CanadianMillionMiler: It’s true in most states that the car rental company has to have at least some liability insurance (because driving with no insurance is illegal in those states). But usually this will be the minimum required by law, say $25K or something. So if, heaven forbid, you get into a serious accident in which someone is injured or killed, you could be on the hook for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Since I am carless and thus have no car insurance, I always rent with a card that provides the CDW, so I turn that down, but I always get the supplementary liability insurance (even though it kills me how expensive it is).

    • @Jimmy @TravelByPoints – Thanks for passing it along!

      @David – Thanks for sharing. I wonder if they forgot to process the charge to your card, but glad it worked out.

      – True, but the coverage amount is usually the state minimum requirement which may not be enough in a serious accident. – Thanks for sharing. It could be worth becoming a member of those organizations to get the liability coverage.

      – The supplemental liability insurance is expensive, but as you point out the cost of a serious accident can be very expensive.

  17. Daraius,

    To answer your question, I’d be great to see content on a couple of car rental topics: (1) does it make sense to stay loyal to one rental company? (2) how to sort through the multiple discount and coupon codes available for rentals? and (3) what’s a carless New Yorker supposed to do about car insurance?

    I love your blog, maybe those suggestions will spark an idea for another great post! This post and comments have been super useful – probably the most useful blog post this month (and I follow at least 10 travel hacking blogs!)

    Keep up the great work.


  18. RE: Different rules for Nevada (and FL)? I always decline the extra rental car insurance (I’m covered through my credit cards and homeowners/car insurance). I was subjected to an EXTREMEMLY aggressive/hard sell in Las Vegas a few years ago (claiming their coverage rules were different there). I had never experienced anything like it until renting in Tampa a few years. I chalk it up to improperly incentivizing their counter people, but am wondering if their is any “truth” to how FL/NV car rental agencies are allowed to operate?

    • @Kay – Thanks for the suggestions! This post should address #3 since Joey is from New York as well. For #1, I don’t think it makes sense to stay loyal to a rental car company because for most folks the price difference is significant. For #2, I’ll write a post in a few weeks.

      @deb b – It could be that Las Vegas and Florida see lots of tourists who don’t know better, and the aggressive tactics work. I always sign up for the rental car companies loyalty program and enter my credit card and drivers license online and set my profile to decline the coverage so that I don’t waste time in the airport and can go straight to my rental.

  19. thanks for this article. i had been declining insurance in my NYC car rentals thinking my CC had it covered. if i’m getting this correctly, I can use my CC for the CDW/LDW coverage, and just take the Supplemental/Additional Liability Insurance? In NYC that’s like $15 a day generally.

  20. Just one add’l note- for renters with cards that do provide coverage it is advisable to request a copy of your coverage details prior to traveling, particularly out of the US. AAdv plat goes up to 50k, so keep that in mind versus your rental vehicle type. Also, in the EU some behind-the-times rental companies still require proof of self-coverage if theirs is declined, though IMO this is a more a dated sales tactic than a true concern for them.

    I’m not aware of any US ins companies that provide coverage on int’l rentals, and the advise on liability coverage on top of any CDW/LDW provided by your card is rock solid.

  21. Darius, I don’t have full coverage insurance on my personal car, only liability insurance (no comprehensive and collision). If I rented a car using credit card that has secondary coverage (no primary), would the credit card company cover the damage to the rental car in the event of the accident?

  22. Superb article, cutting through the confusion sown by insurance companies and car rental agencies.

    Non-owners liability insurance can be a real hassle to obtain. The policy I had when I was commuting took many calls to insurance companies and agents before finding an agent who understood it and could put together the policy. There is little online to help, this requires old-fashioned telephone legwork. It was absolutely worth the initial trouble to have the coverage I needed at a very reasonable annual costs vis-a-vis the per day charge from rental agencies.

  23. Hey I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog. You have good views, Keep up the good informative info.Good Quality and very informative Blog! Keep post!

  24. Hey,
    I have a strange situation. I am an American citizen (born in US and lived there for 28 years), & I am a Swedish citizen (currently
    living in Sweden for the past 12 years with my family).

    I still visit America and still have an American bank account, with a Visa card.
    This Visa card has rental car coverage : “Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver – Receive auto coverage for damage due to collision
    or theft.”

    I don’t have any American auto insurance and my Swedish auto insurance doesn’t cover any rentals.

    I usually pay for my travel flights with my Swedish Credit Card because I prefer the other insurances included with, like
    cancellation insurance, doctor bills, emergency home transport, etc… My Swedish Credit Card WILL pay me back the deductible
    for out of country car rentals (up to $1500), but doesn’t cover actual car insurance.

    I am not overly concerned about covering every single possible situation, but just like to have pretty good insurance. From what I
    have read States require the rental companies to automatically provide at least the minimum required liability coverage at no
    charge to you. I will be renting in Georgia.

    If I pay the car rental with my Visa which has “Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver”, do I need to buy any other insurances to
    protect myself while renting a car in Georgia?

    To me it seems like I have most situations covered: Liability which the rental company has to provide, CDW which my Visa card
    provides, Deductible coverage, which my Swedish Visa card will provide.

    What problems might I run into if I get in an accident, if I don’t buy any other policies?


    • @Scott – Most states require rental car companies to provide a base level of liability insurance, but there are some states which don’t. However, the base level of liability insurance may be to low if you get involved in an expensive accident. You can buy the additional liability insurance from the rental car agency to reduce this risk.

  25. for NY state, the minimum liability that rental car companies have to provide is 250,000 and it extends to Canada.

  26. There are travel insurance brokers (seen in the pages of all the popular series of travel guide books) who will cover auto liability, collision and CDW at a reasonable rate. It will give you better protection at a much lower cost than insurance through credit cards, and can be easily purchased on line form a reputable broker.

  27. @Andrew – I know this is a bit after the fact, but yes, ALL rental cars in Canada are already covered by the Rental Car company for the renting province’s mandatory minimums (which are BTW much higher than those in the USA: most province minimums are CAD$200,000 rather than the usual $25K/50K in most of the USA). So you don’t need to purchase it to be covered for that amount. However, I’m surprised that a higher Liability option was not available (usually coverage up to CAD$1 million), as I still see it offered as an option at most Canada locations.

    FWIW, all USA states except California ALSO require the rental companies to cover their vehicles with Liability Insurance for the state minimums. Technically, you are still covered by liability under the law, by the company’s Liability insurance for the state minimums in 49 states. California is the exception, as Liability there follows the driver, not the owner. (A tip: USAA banking members get liability for their rentals even in California as part of their member discount & perks, which can save a lot of dough.)

    However, as has been said here, many 3rd party claims exceed these minimums, sometimes for vast sums of money. And even if you’re confident an accident will not be your fault, if something happens in a “no-fault” jurisdiction, you may be partly liable anyway.

  28. Hey there my personal beloved! I would like to point out that this post is awesome, excellent authored are available with around very important infos. I must appear more articles like that .

  29. Tips. Privileged my family I recently found your internet site unintentionally, for gob smacked the reason why this particular chance failed to took place prior! I actually saved as a favorite it.

  30. How or where can we obtain liability coverage for driving in Europe?

  31. I use the Amex Premium Car Rental Protection coverage for $24.95. It provides $100,000 for damage to the rental vehicle. Our liability extends from our auto policies, but at certain times we have not owned vehicles, so we purchased an auto insurance policy with Non Owned Auto Coverage. That way, whether we rented a car or borrowed a car, we’d have liability coverage.

    As of 4/30/2014, here is the info from the American Express site on Premium Car Rental coverage:

    What It Offers


    One flat rate of $24.95 per rental period, not per day ($17.95 for California Residents)

    Coverage is primary for theft and damage to a Rental Car. You won’t have to first file a claim with your personal insurance company which can help reduce the risk of having your personal auto insurance premiums increase*.

    There are no deductibles.

    There is no cost to enroll and your Card will automatically be billed a premium when a Card on your account(s) is used to pay for a car rental until your enrollment is terminated.


    Coverage is worldwide, except for vehicles rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand**.

    Coverage is for up to 42 consecutive days (up to 30 consecutive days for Washington State Card Members).

    Coverage automatically extends to your other eligible Accounts when you enroll one of your American Express Card Accounts (e.g. excludes Corporate Cards).

    Covers most vehicles typically available from a Rental Company.


    Up to $100,000 of primary coverage for damage or theft of a Rental Car.

    Up to $100,000 of Accidental Death or Dismemberment coverage ($250,000 for California Residents)***.

    Up to $15,000 for excess medical expenses per person.

    Up to $5,000 for excess personal property coverage ($15,000 for Florida Residents).

    Note: Liability is not included.

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  36. @millionmilesecrets
    mandatory liability insurance outside of the US costs more than the actual rental. anyway to offset this expense?

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  38. HI, If I use a 25% off coupon code when I rent a car, will that invalidate my coverage from credit card?

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