Car renters stuck with storm damage

By Gary Stoller, USA TODAY, 2/2/2006

Car-rental giant Hertz has changed its contracts to make customers responsible for damage from acts of nature.
It told its best customers last month that they'll be responsible for auto damage from natural causes such as windstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. In the past, it was the rental firm's responsibility. Avis and Budget are moving in the same direction.

Hertz informed its #1 Club Gold members of the policy after quietly implementing it last year for the rest of its customers. Hertz says it's not the first company to make the change, which it says was underway before Hurricane Katrina.

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I wonder if the credit card companies will be doing this as well?
You had to wonder when something like this was going to happen.. I was expecting to read someplace about storm chasers in particular! :lol:
I'm actually surprised to hear that... I thought that if you refused the LDW, all damage was your responsibility anyway.


I won't be surprised if the comprehensive coverage starts excluding this as well. A set of nice hail dents on some cars can cost thousands to fix. Business=making money, insurance business included. If they're losing thousands from fixing a single storm-damaged car, they'll do something about it. If I owned a rental company I would!

But company spokesman Richard Broome says the catastrophic storm shows why customers should be liable. Renters were aware of the approaching hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast last summer and returned vehicles before it struck, or drove them to safety.

Regardless of the convenient legal loopholes that may currently exist for chasers in insurance contracts, the principle of the matter is that we frequently take cars into situations where they are likely to be damaged. We SHOULD be liable then. If we were ever taken to court for damage, they would almost certainly rule that there was willful negligence (IE core-punching a supercell to catch a tornado), it wouldn't matter what the insurance contract stated -you'd be paying for it all in the end.

I hate to keep bringing this up, because I know there a few options for chasers coming in from outside the Plains. A rental car is convenient, but if something happens to it in and around a storm, even more now than ever you're taking a chance of getting hit with the full repair cost, as well as fines and legal fees if they have to take you to court to get the insurance contract nullified for negligence.
No such thing as taking someone to court to "nullify a contract for negligence". If a contract excludes or limits liability in the case of some driver behavior or environmental calamity, then the rental company could go after you for the damage. Notably, if you damage the vehicle committing a crime or driving in Mexico, most rental companies proscribe those behaviors in their contracts. I've seen limitations on what sorts of roads you can drive on that are worth keeping in mind, but never anything specific about "storm chasing" or "core punching". TTI several times in my limited chasing experience, I've been stopped on the roadside, and stared open-mouthed in amazement as car after car drives on into an obvious hail core or RFD blast. At least we know (hopefully) what we're getting into!

When asked my trip purpose, I say, "Nature photography trip." When I ask for a second key I give as the reason that we may be doing photography in rather remote areas away from towns, may be hopping in and out of the car in a hurry, and don't want to lock ourselves out by accident.

I suspect that the first time or two you return a rental looking like a golfball, you're ok. But thereafter, you'll have a lot more trouble renting. The companies share claim information, I'm pretty sure.
My car insurance covers me when I am driving someone else's car, including rentals. So many people are likely uneffected by this. Kick in whatever coverage my Amex adds and I am set.

Reminds me of my car racing days a few years ago. My dad had this track in IL rented out for the day. The only problem was that his race car wasn't working. So we were left at the race track just me, my dad, and the rental car.....
well it says "california and wisconsin have laws prohibiting such rental car practices" (maybe Kansas could join in?)

.......and furthermore if you don't have comprehensive coverage back at home it (your company) wont help you - you will be stuck paying their insurance rate! has anyone ever checked "their coverage rates?" its like $20 a day isnt it? (correct me if Im wrong)
correct..around $20 a day depending on the rental company

You might have insurance on your own insurance company...but you take a claim for a "totalled" rental car and see if you get renewed the following year.
Most folks have a deductible and therefore will still pay some portion of the damage to the car. The rental insurance is spendy but probably worth it. A couple hail dents or a cracked windshield can be spendy. I've never rented a car to chase but did rent one on a vacation. Someone caused a huge door ding and I scuffed to the wheel cover parking to close to an oddly shaped curb. In this case, my $100 investment in the rental insurance saved me considerable hassle and probably some money.
What it all comes down to is a matter of principle. While today's written laws and policies can be skirted around to avoid paying for this type of damage, and it's true (at least for the time being) that most of the time no one is going to get hit with repair costs, we're getting into a gray area of ethics when you're talking about renting a car for chasing. What goes around comes around, especially in business. While there may not be consequences now for returning a damaged car, if you do damage a car, you're costing other people money who, one of these days, are not going to just let it go.

I worked on a huge website about insurance and (involuntarily) learned a ton of stuff about the industry. Insurance is about risk - that's the bottom line. When you purposefully drive a car in the vicinity of a supercell, there is a much greater risk for damage than the family taking their car on vacation, for instance. Today both types of renters pay the same amount for insurance, but as we are seeing, that is starting to change. Yes, hail can be avoided, but it is unrealistic to plan to avoid it entirely. Chase for long enough and you WILL get a few nice dents. In fact it will probably happen every year for most of us (raises hand). Hail isn't the only thing - there are flooded roads, muddy roads (and the likelihood of getting mud inside the car from shoes), wear and tear from driving 15,000 miles or more (that alone is taking ~ 1/12 out of the life of the car), and the wear on the *inside* of the car from practically living inside it for weeks. Don't even get me started on those Kansas towns with the huge drainage dips on cross-streets that you don't see until you've done a bottom-scraping General Lee across them (remember that one, Kurt, Nick?). :shock:

Also, as mentioned, your *own* insurance is going to go up if you make a huge claim on a rental. I'm just saying there is no way chasers can keep putting thousands of dollars of combined wear and tear and damage to a rental car, while only paying a couple hundred dollars, and there not be long-term consequences. You may get away with it now but it can only go on for so long. I've chased for 12 years and I know what my car has to go through on an average chase trip. I personally think renting a car for chasing is taking a huge gamble. I'm not knocking anyone who does, like I said sometimes you have no choice - but I guess I'm trying to say it is more of a risk to your personal finances/insurance risk category than it we are making it seem.
May I ask in this thread...which minimal car insurance for rental cars do I have to get? With the basic insurance which doesn't cover damage from acts of nature its a big risk in chasing.

I've noticed prices around $20 per day, would this be enough?
Which rent a car companies would anyone recommend me?

I usually get the damage insurance that covers damage to the rental which is usually about $20 per day. There are often other options including medical but my own insurance will cover it. My own insurance will cover rental damage (which is more likely) but I'd rather pay the extra fee than risk my rates going up for both my and my wife's car.

The extra damage waiver is expensive but necessary. I have had to use it for hail dents. Over all, considering my rentals each year, I have probably come out about even in extra payments verses potential car damage costs.

As for companies, I would stick with any of the big names (Hertz, Budget, Avis etc.) There are usually agencies in many cities which should help trading a car if there is mechanical difficulty or if a long chase takes you away from the rental location. With drop off fees, you could leave a rental car in a different city. That would be difficult if you rented from a local company with only one or two offices.

Before I rent, I do research on the current available vehicles and will often check out the same model at home so that I know what to expect.

Marko, you may be a different situation. Since you are coming from another country, your own insurance may not provide coverage at all. Then getting the rental company insurance would be mandatory. You may also have to get the additional medical coverage. Think of the situation where you skid into somebody. There is only minor car damage but the person you hit now complains of backpain and sues you for their medical bills. Less likely than hail damage but still a risk.

Bill Hark
I usually get the damage insurance that covers damage to the rental which is usually about $20 per day. There are often other options including medical but my own insurance will cover it. My own insurance will cover rental damage (which is more likely) but I'd rather pay the extra fee than risk my rates going up for both my and my wife's car.

Definitely a smart thing to do; the $20/day total coverage fee is really very little, when compared to the astronomical expense of being liable for a vehicle written off by ice grapefruits falling from the sky.

When I rented from Enterprise last year, I told them to apply any extra insurance they had (except medical) to my rental agreement. Just having the peace of mind was worth it.