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What happens if you crash a rental car?

2015-10-01 11:06

RECKLESS ON THE ROAD? FORGET ABOUT CLAIMING: Car-hire firms will not cover you if you've been reckless on the road road. Image: Shutterstock

Cape Town - You've sorted out your holiday rental car, signed the documentation though not really listening to the car-hire agent explaining certain clauses.

You hit the road and while distracted behind the wheel the unthinkable happens - you crash the rental car.

Are you aware of responsibility wavers?

What if you've been negligent behind the wheel?

Should you disobey the law and pick-up traffic fines, you will be liable. Car-hire firms will not cover you if you've been reckless on the road road.

First Car Rental's executive head, Melissa Storey, shares advice.

What counts as negligence?

Storey, said: "No insurance company will cover you for gross acts of recklessness or negligent driving either. If they did, insurance companies and car rental firms would not be able to be in business. So, what counts as negligence when driving a hire car?

"Well, it’s the same negligent behaviour you would be hell-bent on yelling at your newly-licenced 18 year old son when driving your brand new Mercedes Benz 500SL. These include, but are not limited to, texting while driving, driving too fast, driving under the influence, talking on the cell phone while driving, to name a few."

Responsibility waivers

Car hire companies do not offer insurance, they offer responsibility waivers. They are not allowed to offer insurance because they are not authorised financial service providers but waivers function the same.

How it works

Responsibility Waivers are legal agreements to limit the claim against a renter in the event of loss or damage to the vehicle, provided there was no act of negligence.

Most rental daily rates include waivers such as theft protection, collision damage waivers or similar.

Storey, said: "Waivers differ from car hire companies so ask the rental agent to explain in detail what you are covered for and always read the Rental Agreement terms and conditions. It is good to know that the top 5 car hire companies (Avis, Europcar, Bidvest, First Car Rental and Hertz) all have very similar responsibility waivers and that they all prescribe to SAVRALA’s (South African Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association) general recommended car rental terms.

"Waivers are not honoured by car rental companies in the case of gross negligence such as driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances or not adhering to traffic, road and driving regulations, etc. (all of which are written into law but are common sense when you are driving a car). This means that the customer will be held liable for the full amount of damage, and in the case of a write-off, the full vehicle value."

Collision damage waiver

Should you be involved in a crash, you would be responsible for a specific amount as indicated on the rental agreement (called drivers responsibility or in insurance terms, it would be an excess).

Storey, said: "This would include damage to the vehicle or part thereof, or cost of the damage repair, whichever is lower. If you decline this option when renting a car, you are liable for the full amount of damages incurred or the specified liability."

What affect do crashes have on the industry?

Storey, said: "We always assess all damage cases fairly, each case on its own merit, and we always try and do so amicably. This is, however, a very difficult process for both the customer and us as a company, when it comes to a negligence case… a case where our customer is responsible for the full vehicle damage value, and in some cases, the full vehicle value due to write-off, which is the worst possible outcome for any car rental company and the customer.

"A very small percentage of rentals end up going to legal due to negligence, which is only 25 cases out of almost 130 000 rentals so far in 2015.

"The reality is, the vast majority (99.981%) of all car rental accidents pan out the way the renter envisaged it; you pay a rental amount, you lower your risk with taking a reduced amount, and in the unfortunate event of an accident, you pay the damage value, if less than your responsibility value, or you pay the ‘renter responsibility’ amount, if the damage exceeded that amount."

Top safety tips for driving a rental car:

  • Drive the vehicle as if it is your own
  • Avoid distractions such as tuning radio stations or reading a map while driving
  • Always use a seat belt – it is the law and can save your life in the event of a crash
  • Stay on main roads and stick to your planned route
  • If you get lost, do not pull over to the side of the road to study your map or directions. Instead, drive to the nearest, well-lit and populated public place (petrol station, shopping mall etc).
  • Always be wary of pulling over, especially if it is dark or if you are unfamiliar with the area.
  • Do not draw attention to the fact that you are a visitor
  • Be alert of pedestrians on the road - 40% of road fatalities on South African roads are pedestrians.


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