Don’t wait until you’re standing at the rental car counter, hot and tired with three kids and five suitcases, to find out what your rental company offers in the way of insurance. Call ahead of time. Not only does this allow you to shop around, but if something doesn’t sound right, you can call back to verify the information with another rental agent.

Calling ahead also gives you time to get all the terms of the offer or contract in writing. Once you have their policy in your hand, call your own insurance agent if you have any questions. And remember, if it’s not in your contract, it doesn’t count. The agent’s verbal promises mean nothing. Get everything in writing.

  • How much collision insurance do they offer? How much will it cost? Is there a deductible? What does the insurance cover and what does it exclude? For some companies, collision covers the whole car — period. For others, certain parts of the car — like windshields and tires — are excluded.

  • How much liability insurance do they offer, if any? How much does this cost you? Is there a deductible? What are the exceptions to the policy?

  • Are there any other types of insurance the company offers — for instance, medical? How much does it cost and what does it cover? What is the deductible? What are the exceptions?

  • Under what circumstances would the rental company refuse to pay off on the policy? What if you — or one of your drivers — are at fault in an accident?
  • Who is covered to drive under the policy? How much does it cost to add additional drivers? Can your teens drive?

  • Is your entire trip covered? What if you cross state lines or international borders? Is there a time limit to your entire trip? Is there a time limit to driving abroad?

  • What does the company offer in the way of roadside service coverage? If your personal insurance gives better coverage, you may want to use that instead.

  • If you have an accident, what do you do? Who do you call and when? Get a name and phone number. Also, will the company automatically provide you with another car if you need one? Remember, just to be on the safe side, call and report your accident to your personal insurance company back home from the hospital or hotel.

  • Check over the car before you leave. If there is any damage to the vehicle — dents, scratches, broken equipment — have the agent note that in your contract and get a copy. Go through your paperwork and check the fine points of your coverage again before you leave the rental counter. Signing up for rental insurance is like buying fast food — you don’t want to be five miles down the road before you realize you didn’t get what you ordered.

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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