Most people realize when they rent a car, their credit card offers them some protection, but few understand what may be excluded. No one wants to find out when it’s too late that their credit card excludes the type of claim you are making. It can mean higher car insurance premiums, or even worse, high out-of-pocket expenses. However, understanding what is actually covered can be a difficult process. What’s worse, there’s quite a bit of variation between different card cards regarding rental car insurance.

First things first, your credit card doesn’t help you at all if you don’t reserve and pay for the car rental with the credit card in question. Also, you must decline the rental car company’s collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver in order for your credit card coverage to be in play. It’s also important to list all drivers in the rental agreement.  However, some credit cards do cover other drivers not listed on the rental agreement, as long as they are an authorized user on the credit card. Check with your credit card rental car insurance information with your card issuer to make sure.

Understanding How Credit Cards Work with Car Rental Claims

In most cases, if you have auto insurance, that will be the primary coverage should an accident or damage occur. That means you’ll first file a claim with your auto insurance company, and then the credit card will cover the costs not covered by your insurance. Typically, your credit card will pay the deductible charged by your auto insurance, towing costs associated with the claim, and administrative fees charged by the rental car company.

According to Upgradedpoints.com, if you don’t have car insurance, then the credit card takes over as primary coverage. Things usually covered under a credit card for rental car claims include collision damage, as well as the loss of use for the rental company. That means your credit card will compensate the rental company for the time lost in renting the vehicle while it’s being replaced or repaired. 

Things Typically Not Covered by Credit Cards

Usually, your credit card coverage will not cover special vehicles with a rental car company. For instance, if you rent a sports car or an exotic car, it will likely be exempted by the credit card’s coverage. Other exemptions would include rental RVs, motorcycles or large vans, such as those carrying 9+ passengers. Trucks would also usually not be covered. 

If you aren’t using a standard rental car company, but instead are using Zipcar, HyreCar or Car2go or similar peer-to-peer rentals, the credit card coverage would be denied.

Many long-term car rentals will not be covered by credit card rental car insurance. This is often when the car is rented for more than 30 days, but credit cards differ in the limits, so be sure to confirm this ahead of time.

Another area that requires some homework is when you are traveling outside the US and plan to rent a car. Certain cards have specific country exclusions.

Finally, the biggies not covered by credit cards that are likely to be important to the average consumer are personal injury and personal liability. That means if you’re injured, you won’t be compensated or covered by the credit card. However, your health insurance should cover this. Personal liability means if you have an accident with the rental car and you injure others, the credit card will not pay for the other party’s hospital or medical costs. This also extends to you doing damage to other property, such as if you were to crash into someone’s mailbox. The credit card won’t cover those expenses nor lawsuits related to such injuries to others or other property.

If you have personal items that are damaged, lost or stolen from the rental car, the credit card will not cover those. However, those things should be covered by your homeowner or renter’s insurance.

Your personal behavior may exclude coverage by your credit card, such as if you are found to be negligent, like leaving the rental car running with keys in the ignition and unlocked. Not surprisingly, the credit card also will deny coverage if damage occurred when you were found to be intoxicated or driving under the influence of drugs.

One thing you may not anticipate being excluded from coverage is if you were driving on an unpaved road or anything considered “off-road.” 

A final caveat, if you are on a work-related trip, you may need to have a business credit card to cover the rental card. Or if you are on a personal trip, you don’t want to use a business credit card as the coverage for the rental car.

Here are exemptions by credit card. Always confirm terms with your credit card beforehand. Also, note how and when you are to notify the credit card of accidents or claims and be certain of the time limits involved.

Not Covered:

Chase: Exotic cars, limos, moped, motorcycles, vans that hold more than 8 people, vehicles with open cargo beds, RVs and antiques. Expenses covered by personal insurance or employer’s insurance. Loss or theft of personal items. Leased vehicles. Injury of anyone or thing inside or out of the vehicle. Violation of rental agreement. Loss or theft of personal belongings. Chase Sapphire Reserve will cover up to $75,000.

American Express: Amex offers a special rental car plan that is a flat fee instead of per day charges. They exclude rentals in Australia, Italy and New Zealand, as well as any country listed under US Treasury Department sanctions.

Citi Card: Liability. Loss of use. This is a potentially costly exclusion.

Chase Freedom Visa: Only covers rentals in the US up to 15 days, and out of the country for 31. Ireland, Israel, and Jamaica not covered.

Visa: Doesn’t cover acts of war or hostility, including terrorism. Damage due to driver’s illegal activities or contraband.