When you or one of your employees rent a vehicle for business use while out of town, there comes that time when you’re standing at the rental car counter and the agent asks the inevitable question: “Do you want to buy our loss damage waiver (or our insurance coverage)?”
Most loss damage waiver (LDW) fees are outrageous. Sometimes they cost more than the daily rental fee itself. But are they worth the additional cost? The answer may depend on your tolerance for risk and inconvenience. You must decide if the extra cost is reasonable, considering the potential for an uninsured loss should something happen to the vehicle during the term of the rental contract, and the resulting inconvenience of dealing with the rental company and your insurance company – or perhaps even your employee’s insurance company – to satisfy the rental company’s demands.
First, you should know that the LDW is not actually an insurance policy. It is a waiver of the rental company’s requirement in the rental contract that the renter bring the vehicle back in the same condition as when it left their lot. Most rental contracts make the renter responsible for any damage to the vehicle, including theft and weather-related damage. When the renter purchases the LDW, the rental company is removing that provision from the contract on a conditional basis.
If you don’t purchase the LDW and the vehicle is damaged, here are some of the costs for which you or your employee could be held responsible under the rental contract:
- Cost to repair damage to the vehicle, or the full value of the vehicle if it is a total loss
- “Diminished value” of the vehicle – the difference between what the vehicle was worth before the accident and what it is worth after repairs have been made
- “Loss of use” – the amount of money the rental company loses on rental fees while the vehicle is out of service for repair or replacement
- Administrative or loss-related expenses incurred by the rental company, such as fees for towing, appraisal, and claims adjustment, plus general office expenses for handling the paperwork
Reasons to purchase the Loss Damage Waiver:
- Your policy may not cover damage to the rental vehicle at all.
Your policy does not cover damage to the rented vehicle and related costs, UNLESS the policy has been changed to cover vehicles rented by you or your employees on company business (the “Employee Hired Autos” endorsement), and you have purchased special coverage (“hired auto physical damage” ). (Note: not all insurers offer these coverages.)
- Your insurance company may not pay the entire amount demanded by the rental company.
When your policy covers damage to a rented vehicle, the amount payable by the insurance company is the lesser of the “actual cash value” of the vehicle or the amount “necessary” to repair or replace the vehicle, minus the same deductible that would apply if the damage was to one of your own vehicles. In addition, some policies cover “loss of use” with a daily limit (usually as low as $20 per day) and a maximum limit (usually $600). Because of all these limitations, you or your employee may become personally responsible for:
- The amount demanded by the rental company to repair or replace the vehicle in excess of “actual cash value” or the amount “necessary” to repair or replace;
- The amount of your deductible;
- The amount demanded by the rental company for “loss of use” in excess of the daily and maximum limits payable by your insurance company, if the company offers this coverage at all;
- The amount demanded by the rental company for “diminished value” of the vehicle, even after the repairs are complete;
- The amount demanded by the rental company for administrative or other loss-related expenses.
- Your policy may exclude some electronic equipment.
Your policy may exclude loss to some electronic equipment that receives or transmits audio, visual or data signals. If you rent a vehicle equipped with a GPS receiver, for example, your policy may not cover it.
- Your premium may go up or your policy may not be renewed.
You or your employee are driving an unfamiliar vehicle in unfamiliar territory. If you or your employee has an accident while driving a rented vehicle, and your insurance company pays the claim, it may hold this fact against you – with a premium surcharge or perhaps even non-renewal.
- Your or your employee’s line of credit may be adversely affected.
If you don’t buy the LDW, the rental company will probably ring up an estimated damage amount on your credit card or your employee’s credit card, pending settlement by the insurance company.
- You or your employee may suffer a huge inconvenience.
When you purchase the LDW, you or the employee can bring a damaged vehicle back to the rental company, throw the keys on the counter, and walk away. When you haven’t purchased the LDW, you or your employee may have to spend a significant amount of time dealing with the rental company and your insurance company, and perhaps the employee’s insurance company, as well.
- Your personal auto policy (if you have one) or your employee’s personal auto policy may be affected.
Most personal auto policies cover accidents involving vehicles rented by you or your employee, even when the rental is solely for business purposes. When you purchase the LDW, the personal auto policy won’t be needed to pay for damage to the rented auto. (Note: If the accident is your fault or your employee’s fault, the personal auto policy may become involved if the accident involves injury to other persons or damage to other property. There is nothing you can do to avoid this.) For more information on how the personal auto policy responds to accidents involving rented vehicles, ask us for a copy of an article on that subject.
Bottom Line: We recommend that you buy the Loss Damage Waiver from the rental company.
Recommended Guidelines for Employers
Here are some guidelines for you to consider if employees rent vehicles for company business:
- Instruct employees to include the company name, if possible, on the rental agreement.
- If you have no tolerance for the risk of incurring the potential uninsured losses shown above, or the means to pay those losses, tell employees to purchase the LDW offered by the rental company.
- Tell employees to report any accident in a rented vehicle to you and to their own personal auto policy insurer or agent.
New Option for Purchasing a Loss Damage Waiver
Now there is a new way for you or your employees to cover rental car exposures – a standalone Loss Damage Waiver policy offered by a major insurance company that can be purchased online with a credit card. The web site insuremyrentalcar.com provides options to purchase coverage for a single rental period or an annual term at a cost that is significantly lower than what rental companies charge. The actual policy form can be viewed on the web site and a thorough and easy-to-understand FAQ section provides answers to a number of important questions. This option is available only to individuals (not companies), but you might want to consider instructing employees who rent cars frequently to purchase the coverage on an annual basis and then reimburse the employee for the expense.