If you're driving a rental car on vacation, watch out: You might not have the insurance coverage you think you do.
Such was my assumption when, on a recent family vacation to Spain, we declined the optional insurance.
But driving on the unfamiliar, twisting and narrow streets of Europe is a very different challenge, carrying a higher level of risk than a leisurely jaunt to the Hamptons.
But something told me to double-check. So I called our car insurance company, and, sure enough, our existing policy covered domestic travel (including Mexico and Canada), but not international.
As I hung on the phone considering my options, the insurance representative noticed we also had a MasterCard with them. After some quick research, he found to our immense relief that our credit card indeed would cover damage to the rental car, though not any injuries or damage to other property.
Armed with that backstop, 10 days later we turned in the Renault and braced ourselves for an interminable wait and the inevitable repair-estimate sticker shock.
To our amazement, after a few moments the agency clerk handed us the bill; it included a "damage to exterior" charge of $153.35. Excuse me? We were expecting 10 times that!
As we headed to catch our flight, counting our lucky stars (and wondering if we had gotten away with something), the realization came to us. The rental company no doubt had in place a practice that, for minimal damage, assessed a surcharge big enough to cover their highly efficient repair costs but small enough so the renter wouldn't challenge the bill.
Plus, imagine the cost and time involved in dealing with insurance companies. The benefit of a speedy resolution to our dings and dents was now obvious.