Accidents in or with a Rental Car

Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents are very common in rental vehicles and confusion can arise over: who is at fault, who pays for damage, and what steps you should take immediately afterwards.

The below information covers these questions and more.

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What to do if you have been in an accident while driving a rental car

  1. As with any road accident, the first thing you should do is ensure that everyone is safe and out of harm’s way. If someone is injured call 000 immediately.
  2. Report the accident to Police, as you will require a report to provide to your rental company’s insurer. This can be done over the phone by calling Policelink on 131 444 or online at www.policelink.qld.gov.au by downloading and filling out a Report of Traffic Incident to Police form. You can also use the “My Crash” function on the Policelink App on your smart phone which enables you to map your exact location, record details and upload photographs of the scene.  See also: How to report a car accident in Queensland
  3. Take detailed notes and pictures of the scene, whether or not it was your fault and no matter how it occurred. Ensure you record all damage.
  4. Exchange insurance information with the other parties involved and obtain contact information from any witnesses.
  5. If there is damage to your vehicle, call your rental car company as soon as possible, no matter how minor. They can advise you of what you need to do to make a claim and provide any forms that need to be filled out.
  6. Make enquiries to determine whether you have any other cover for damage to rental vehicles such as under your own comprehensive car insurance policy, your travel insurance policy, credit card, or any optional extra rental car insurance that you have purchased. Contact the relevant company and notify them of the accident and ask what exactly they will cover.
  7. If there is damage to your vehicle, be sure to obtain an itemised quote from the hire company for the cost of repairs. If there’s anything in the quote that you don’t understand or that seems excessive, challenge it. Many car companies try to add miscellaneous fees to quotes or attempt to charge their maximum damage liability fee without providing an itemised quote. If extra charges are placed on your credit card before you have had an opportunity to agree to them, inform your credit card company and see if they will reverse the transaction.
  8. If you were injured and were not the at-fault driver then you may be entitled to compensation towards medical costs, past and future loss of income. As time limits apply, it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Will I have to pay an excess? 

If you damage a hire car, you will most likely need to make a claim under the hire company’s insurance policy. This will usually require you to pay an excess fee regardless of fault. Hire car excess fees are generally quite high, unless you have purchased excess reduction insurance through the hire company or another provider.

Reducing your excess

There are several ways that you can minimise the excess you will have to pay, if you happen to damage a rental vehicle.

  • Hire company daily excess reduction fee: Your car hire company may offer a daily fee on top of the standard daily car hire fee which will reduce your excess. Make sure you check what your excess will be reduced to, and what you will need to pay if you have an accident.
  • Stand-alone car rental insurance: Specific cover can be purchased which will pay for either your excess or any damage that is caused while you have a rental vehicle. This can work in conjunction with your rental company’s insurance policy.
  • Supplements in other policies: There may be a clause in another policy or financial product that you already have which covers you for car rental excess fees such as travel insurance, credit cards or comprehensive car insurance.

Do I have any rights if it's proven that I’m not at fault?

In short, it depends on the car hire company agreement. Most car rental contracts stipulate that an excess is payable regardless of whether or not you were at fault and hold you liable for any damage caused to the vehicle while it's in your possession, no matter how it happened.  However, some car rental companies will agree to waive the excess if they are satisfied that you were not at fault. 

Be sure to check the terms of your agreement before signing it.

What’s my liability?

If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving a rental car, liability may arise from various sources. You may be liable to:

  • your car rental company for damage to its vehicle,
  • other parties for damage to their vehicles, or
  • other parties for personal injuries they sustain.

Liability for damage to your rental vehicle

Your liability for damage to a rental car in any situation depends on the terms of the contract you signed. You may be held liable for any damage that occurs to the rental vehicle while it is in your possession. The basic cover offered by most car rental companies will have a set liability amount or excess that you will have to pay which can be up to $5,000 (sometimes more, especially if renting premium category vehicles). This is often payable whether or not the damage was your fault.

Liability for injuries of others

In all Australian states and territories its compulsory to have third party insurance to register a car, including rental cars. This will usually cover you for injuries caused to other people in a motor vehicle accident.

See also - What does CTP Insurance Cover?

Liability for damage to another person’s vehicle

Your liability for damage to other vehicles should be covered by your rental company’s policy. They will normally indemnify you for up to $2 to $5 million subject to payment of an excess. You may also be covered by liability insurance contained in a travel insurance policy or attached to a credit card product.

Exclusions and breaching your contract

Beware of exclusions and actions that constitute a breach of your rental contract that could result in you paying much more than your agreed excess. In some circumstances, you may be fully liable for damages to your rental vehicle and loss of income to the rental company while it is being repaired.

Common contractual breaches and exclusions include:

  • unauthorised person driving the vehicle
  • contravention of any law or road rule
  • driver affected by alcohol
  • driving outside of city limits in WA or NT after dark
  • hail, flood, fire, storm or cyclone
  • driving on unsealed roads

Some policies will not cover damage to windscreens, glass, tyres, wheels, roof or underbody in any circumstances.

Checklist for choosing a car hire company and/or excess insurer

Before choosing a car hire company or excess reduction product read the product disclosure statement and policy thoroughly. Ask yourself the following questions to make sure the policy is right for you and that you can claim under it if you need to.

  • How many drivers will need insuring?
  • What is your liability under the rental agreement? If you choose an alternative rental excess cover product, make sure it covers your liability under the rental agreement.
  • What is your liability in the case of a single vehicle accident? Liability is often higher or not covered at all in many car rental insurance policies.
  • What excess will you need to pay in the event of a claim?
  • What are the exclusions and limitations of cover?
  • What actions may constitute a breach of the rental agreement and prevent you from claiming? (E.g DUI, driving recklessly, driving on unsealed roads or otherwise breaching the law.)

What if you have an accident with someone who is driving a rental car?

If someone is legally driving a hire car, chances are they will be insured to some extent. Most car rental companies will not allow someone to take one of their vehicles without at least basic insurance.

If there is damage to your car, this should be covered by the rental car’s insurance. If you are at fault, your third party property insurance will cover damage to the rental vehicle and the car rental company’s insurance will most likely pursue you or your insurer for repair costs.

If you or the other party are injured in the incident, you may be covered by compulsory third party insurance, which is held by all registered vehicles, including rental vehicles in Australia.

See also - What does CTP insurance cover?

Steps to take if you have accident with someone who is driving a rental car

1: Exchange information with the other party 

Following an accident with a rental car be sure to record:

  • The full name and contact information of the driver and the person in whose name the vehicle was rented (if different);
  • Details of any other applicable insurances they have, such as travel insurance, liability insurance or additional rental car insurance; and
  • The name of the car rental company.

2: Report the accident to police

This can be done over the phone by calling Policelink on 131 444 or online at www.policelink.qld.gov.au by downloading and filling out a Report of Traffic Incident to Police form. You can also use the “My Crash” function on the Policelink App on your smart phone which enables you to map your exact location, record details and upload photographs of the scene. 

See also: How to report a car accident in Queensland

3: Take pictures

Take detailed notes and pictures of the scene, whether or not it was your fault and no matter how it occurred. Ensure you record all damage. 

4: Contact your insurer 

In most cases, once you notify your insurer of the car accident and any damage that has occurred they will take it up with the car rental company or their insurer. You may need to fill out a claim form and submit all of the information that you collected from the other parties.

Next steps - get advice now

It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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Last update on:
May 29, 2018
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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