What to do when you are in a rental car accident

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Have you ever been in a car accident? Are you worried about that possibility? What about when you travel? Are you stressing over the thought of rental car accident?

Rental Car

Whether you are at home or traveling, a car accident is never a fun possibility, but it does happen, even to the best driver. It’s not the end of the world.

Just like at home, you can take steps to make sure everyone is OK, your claim gets filed, and even see if your credit card will cover the damages.

Now, take a deep breath.

Car accidents happen. The most important thing is to make sure you and anyone else involved is OK. You and your children are more important than a car.

I’ve been in rental car accidents and accidents with my own car at home. I’m going to take you through each step, one by one.

We are going to walk through the following together: 

  • What to do at the scene of the accident
  • Calls to make
  • Forms you will need to fill out
  • What actually constitutes damage according to your rental car company
  • And what that supplemental insurance means after an accident

Visiting Ireland


At the scene of the accident

If you or someone involved is injured call 911 immediately. The most important thing is that everyone is safe. If anyone may need medical attention make sure they get it right away, no matter whose fault you think the accident was.

Cars can be replaced; people cannot.

Request a police accident report. If no one is injured, but damage is done, call the police. Y

ou will need to have an accident report to show your insurance company, even if it is a hit-and-run while your car was parked.

Take notes and pictures. No matter how the accident happened, take notes on what occurred and pictures of any and all damage.

  • Exchange insurance information with any parties involved.
  • Gather witnesses if necessary.
  • Keep this information on hand to relay to the rental agency and your insurance company.

Calls to make and forms to fill out

Fill out an accident report at your rental car agency. Notify your rental car agent immediately when damage is done to the vehicle.

If you are unable to drive the car they may be able to get you a replacement and they will definitely need to make plans to have the car repaired.

Call your insurance company. Depending on your policy, your car insurance company may be able to cover damage done to a rental vehicle.

You will still need to pay your deductible, but it could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, if you are in a bad accident.

Call your credit card company. Many credit card companies now offer rental car damage coverage.

  • Check with your credit card company before you rent to see what the limitations are on renting a vehicle.
  • I once had my rental car for 31 days; my credit card would only cover rentals up to two weeks in the United States, and 30 days abroad.
  • Make sure you pay for your rental car with that credit card. If you don’t, they may not cover you.
  • Also, call your credit card company as soon as possible after your accident. There is a time limitation on claim after the accident. They may not cover you. Call whether you have all of the insurance paperwork and police report or not, just to get it into their system.

Optional rental car insurance. If you bought the optional rental car insurance you may not have to deal with too much of this.

You will still have to fill out an accident report, and you will certainly want to get anyone medical attention who needs it. However, you may not have to deal with your personal car insurance or credit card companies.

Then again, you might. Read any extra insurance you buy very carefully and clarify with the agent what is covered and what is not.

BMW hatchback


Even if you aren’t in an accident, you may have to pay for any of the vehicle’s damage. When are you liable and when aren’t you can be tricky.

To make it simple, just know that any and all things that happen to that car once you leave the lot are your fault. Here are some examples from a few large U.S. rental car companies.

Avis You are responsible for any and all loss of or damage to the car resulting from any cause including but not limited to collision, rollover, theft, tire damage and vandalism, seizure/medical condition, flood, fire, hail or other acts of Nature.

Budget- Budget has the same legalize as Avis (sister companies). They go on to say that if the accident isn’t your fault you should “ensure that you get the other party’s contact information so we may pursue them and/or their insurance company on your behalf for damages. Please note that our pursuit of the other party does not absolve you from your contractual obligation to pay for the damage.”

Dollar Rental Carregardless of who or what caused the accident, the renter and additional drivers are liable for any loss or damage to the rental vehicle, as well as actual towing/storage charges, loss of use, diminution in value, etc.

Yes, this seems like a lot of work, but it can save you a lot of time and even more money in the end if you address a car rental accident correctly.

The most important tip of all is–  always call your rental car company as soon as damage is done to a vehicle, no matter how minor. They can walk you through their process and help you get back to your vacation quickly. 

Rental Car Accident

Photo of car accident on road via ShutterStock.com

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13 thoughts on “What to do when you are in a rental car accident”

  1. Cassie Kifer

    Great tips, Keryn! I was involved in a rental car accident in Arizona a few years ago–what a way to start off a trip! Luckily the credit card I’d used covered the deductable so I didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket. Glad you guys were all okay!

    1. Keryn Means

      So glad it was all OK in the end Cassie. Hope you had a great trip anyway!

  2. Adina | Gluten Free Travelette

    Such a bummer to get in accident in a rental car. I got rear ended in Salt Lake City in a rental and it took almost a whole year to make all the hassle go away. I was in an Enterprise rental and they threatened to take legal action against me for the damages to the car – and all that after the insurance company of the driver that hit me had already claimed responsibility. It was nuts – I really had to go into don’t-get-pushed-around mode.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that different states have different laws and practices when it comes to calling 911 or requesting an accident report. Some will not provide a report if there is no injury and others provide awesome ones with all the details you would need to swap anyway. Either way, definitely ask and it’s really never a bad thing to call 911 just in case.

    1. Keryn Means

      Adina – great info on the different state laws! Thank you! And good grief. I can’t believe Enterprise was so mean! Glad it got resolved in the end, but never fun to have to push back when a big corporation is threatening you. Boo on them!

  3. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    Thanks for the tips. I would have never thought to call the rental agency immediately for something as minor as backing into a pole with no other parties or injuries involved. I also didn’t realize that they charged for days when the car could not be rented.

    1. Keryn Means

      In the end it wasn’t a big deal that I didn’t call, but I found out I should have. They like to know dates, times, etc. It’s just easier to deal with it right away.

  4. Sofie

    Really sorry you got into that accident, but I am glad that it made you write this post.
    We often read a lot about what to check when you book a rental car, but never about what to do when something actually happens.

    1. Keryn Means

      I was feeling the same way Sofie. I’d never been in an accident so had no idea what to do. I figured I couldn’t be the only one.

  5. Florence Lince

    Just a word of caution. If you are traveling outside of the US and have an accident please be sure to know what the rules are in the foreign country you are driving in. In Panama for example if you are involved in an accident NEVER move the car after the accident. If you (God forbid) hurt someone and you moved the car (as we do in the US without thinking about, you are admitting to the local police that the accident was your fault, even if it wasn’t. So you stop; leave the car in the exact spot it had the accident in and then you take pictures; access the damage; help others, etc.

    Some countries only allow you to rent a vehicle with an International Drivers License (you can get them at AAA for like $5). They are only good for one year however. And make sure to check how much insurance coverage you will need. In Nicaragua they had us sign a document that if the car was stolen while we were renting it we had to pay for the car! LOL. They have some quirky rules in other countries so we mostly ride the bus.

    Be safe and happy travels…

    1. Keryn Means

      Very VERY good information Florence. Thank you so much for sharing!!! I plan on addressing International Driver’s Licenses too. We’ve had to get them twice when we were driving around Europe. There are always debates as to whether they are necessary, but personally for $15 per license I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  6. Wandering Educators

    Great tips! Accidents are so scary to begin with, it’s good to know for a rental car. Safe driving!!

  7. Katie

    When we lived in Hong Kong and would return to the US, we rented cars for long periods of time. I’ve had a few scratched paint incidents which Avis considered normal wear and tear. But I have read that taking photos of the car and surroundings are totally key if something more significant happens. I used to keep a disposable camera in the glove compartment back then because I was crappy about keeping my phone charged.

  8. Katie Baird

    These are such great tips. Sorry you had to learn them!

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