Hear this: you want a rental car contract that does not include collision damage waiver (CDW)–LDW (loss damage waiver) in Europe—or theft insurance. Naturally you want the coverage, you just don't want it from your rental company. Why? Because, as the UK magazine Which? Holiday says:
Most car-hire fees automatically include some kind of car insurance, however, in most cases, these policies protect the company and not the consumer. Customers with damaged cars often have to pay out large excess fees. The article goes on to declare, The excess (deductible) fee that the consumer would have to pay in the event of an accident if they had rented a car from any one of the five most popular car-hire firms in the UK and collected their car from an airport in Ireland, ranged between €779 ($1207) to €1,947 ($3,018).
We've been saying this for years, but it's nice to hear it from another source. When renting a car through a Europe-based company, such as Argus or Nova, or directly from a supplier such as Europcar, the insurance is almost always included, but with a high deductible (excess). In addition, this included insurance, which "protects" the renter from damage and theft, often excludes damage to many parts of the car including the windshield, wheels, roof, undercarriage, tires and interior. When you make a booking online from all the Europe-based companies I've seen, this information is unearthed only after a diligent search and the clicking of several links. And, just as soon as you sign a rental car contract including theft and CDW, it is extremely likely that your credit card insurance will be invalidated, because, except in rare cases, in order for your free, zero-deductible credit card insurance to be in effect, you can't have any other coverage...regardless of the amount of that coverage's deductible.
Most gold, platinum, Amex, and Diners' Club credit cards offer free CDW/theft. Visa's Website contains a fairly clear and straightforward description of what its insurance does and does not cover. Most ordinary passenger vehicles are covered but travelers who plan to drive a nine-passenger van, a Porsche sports car, or a Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Audi, with a sticker price over about $45,000, should check with their credit card company.
The price of a liter of gasoline today in Berlin is about €1.462. I'll save you from the math: that translates to about $7.47 per gallon. You can always find up-to-the-hour prices for gasoline and diesel fuel at Gasoline-Germany.com.
You can expect to get about 35 miles per gallon in a compact rental car in Germany. Thus if you average 100 miles per day on a 14-day vacation you can expect to use 40 gallons of gas at a total cost of about $299.
Sam paid for his auto rental in advance before leaving for Europe. He got an excellent dollar-guaranteed rate and avoided the three-percent foreign transaction charge that his credit card would have imposed had he waited to pay in Europe. When he finished the rental, however, the rental company handed him a bill for the local road/registration tax, a fee of about 10 euros. Since Sam was returning to the U.S. and wanted to get rid of his euros, he paid in cash. Big mistake. You see, there was also minor damage to the car, which the rental car company routinely billed to his credit card a few days later. When the rental company sent Sam the bill in the U.S., he turned to his credit card for reimbursement under their free CDW coverage. In order to be eligible for credit card insurance, however, the renter must pay the entire cost of the rental with the credit card. Since Sam had paid for an item (the road tax) on the car rental invoice in cash, there could be no reimbursement. He had to pay for the damage himself. Fortunately, the car was only scratched and the repair bill was about $630. Had it been totaled or stolen, Sam would have been on the hook for its full value.
It's easy to book rental cars online. Payment is often not required to hold a reservation. Problem is you might get one too many.
Let's say you book Avis online, then call Gemut.com for a quote and find they have a lower price, also with Avis. You book the car with Gemut but, because there was no payment involved with the first booking, you forget all about it. Now, at the rental counter the agent uses your name to call up your booking in his reservation system. Maybe he sees two bookings, maybe he just sees the first, higher-priced booking, and that is the one he uses to print your contract. In your jet-lagged state, you sign the documents that are put in front of you without giving them much scrutiny. When you return to the U.S. you get a nasty surprise, you paid the higher rate.
Of course, Gemut.com will fully refund your second, unused, prepaid booking but you're stuck with a rental that cost more than you planned. Avoid this by canceling all bookings except the one you want, and make sure the rental agent is handed a copy of the voucher you were sent by Gemut.com. (Get an email quote on a European car rental, or, if you prefer, phone Andy at 800-521-6722 x 3).