Two men are arguing over a scratch on the hood of a rental car for an auto insurance claim.

Video: “How to avoid an auto insurance claim due to rental car damage” (Coverage Explained series)

Rental car companies know people are notoriously rough on their vehicles, so they charge drivers for even the slightest damage. But how do you prove damage wasn’t your fault? Follow these simple steps to protect yourself from an expensive rental car damage claim on your auto insurance.

A young woman notices a scratch in the paint a car door while inspecting for rental car damage

Prevention is critical

Today I want to talk about the preventative side of auto insurance.

When renting a car, there’s always the possibility the vehicle was damaged before you got behind the wheel. So let’s talk about the steps you can take to prevent the rental company from charging you for someone else’s carelessness.

The rental car business has changed

Remember the days of old:

You walked inside the rental car office to the check-in desk. The employee told you which cars were available, even down to the color choices. You made your selection, and they gave you the keys.

Then you and the employee headed outside together to walk around the vehicle and inspect it for damage before signing the final papers.

Those days have come and gone.

Now the vehicles are just sitting in the parking lot with the keys already in them. They’re full of gas. All you do is walk out, pick one, load it up, and go.

Avoiding a false rental car damage claim only takes 5 minutes

I strongly suggest you invest five minutes into protecting yourself from a future rental car damage insurance claim.

I know this may seem inconvenient. Maybe you’ve had a long day of traveling and are tired. Perhaps you’re traveling with family and friends in a hurry to get going.

But take just five minutes to walk around the car and document any pre-existing damage.

How to document pre-existing rental car damage on a rental car

Use your cell phone to take photos and videos of the vehicle before you load your luggage or drive away. Make sure to get all of these angles:

  1. The exterior from all four sides. Stand at each corner to cover lots of surfaces quickly. For example, you can see most of the front bumper, the front driver’s fender, one mirror, and the driver’s door from the driver’s front corner.
  2. The hood. Look for dings from rocks.
  3. Each bumper. In bigger cities, parking can be tight and bumping cars is more common. (But, when you drive, don’t bump!)
  4. Around the trunk. The backs of rental cars are notorious for damage because luggage goes in and out so often.
  5. Take close-ups of obvious damage. Look for scratches and scuffs. You probably won’t remember what you took photos of after a long trip. So use your finger to point out damage in the photos to help identify the issues later. You can even use loose change, a dollar bill, or a credit card as a size reference. This really helps indicate the significance of the damage.
  6. The interior dash. Did someone else scuff it up by packing too much luggage in the vehicle?
  7. Rips, tears, or stains on the seats and carpet. Use your phone’s flashlight to inspect the shadows.
  8. Bonus: Take notes in a memo app to help you remember what you saw.

Mention rental car damage to an employee

You may see a rental car employee as you drive out of the parking lot. Don’t be afraid to point out the damage. He will likely say, “Don’t worry about it.”

But I’d rather know beforehand that I’m protected than find out later that I may be charged for damage I didn’t cause.

Keep your proof to combat a future auto insurance claim

I have some auto insurance clients that returned home from vacation. They were back at work, and the rent-a-car company called, saying, “Hey, we found some damage on the car, and we want to know if we should turn this over to your insurance company or if you’re paying for it out of pocket.”

Without photos and videos of what the car looked like before they drove it, they wouldn’t be able to prove the damage wasn’t their fault.

Your phone may even add an invisible time-and-date stamp to the image files. And, depending on your settings, your phone may even record location specifics documenting where you took the photos. All of this information can validate the preexistence of any damage in question.

Avoid frustration and expense

So take just a few minutes to document the car’s condition before you jump in. This small effort can protect you from an unnecessary auto insurance claim.

One thing I do to be a good insurance agent is providing this free information. But part of being a good insured is taking just a few minutes of extra time to do a little due diligence on your part.

I promise it’ll pay dividends in the long run.

Make sure to check out another episode in the Coverage Explained series called “Should I Buy Rental Car Insurance?”

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Pull quote: Honestly, it’s not your car, so you’re not taking quite as good of care of it as you would if it was your own.


About Mr. Insurance™

Mr. Insurance™, Craig Henley, is an independent insurance agent serving greater Springfield, Missouri. He researches a variety of carriers to provide personal insurance (home, auto, umbrella, and more) plus commercial insurance (property, liability, workman’s comp, and much more). Craig is with First State Insurance Agency in Springfield, MO. Website: MrInsurance.net. Email: Craig@MrInsurance.net. Phone: (417) 430-7782. Facebook: @mrinsurancespringfield. Linkedin: @henleycraig.


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