Do I need proof of insurance to rent a car?

Here are the usual requirements for renting a car.

Anna Swartz 1600

Anna Swartz

Published May 15, 2019

Being able to rent a car is a perk of adulthood — it makes traveling a lot easier when you can pick up a rental vehicle at the airport, or rent a car for a road trip. But renting a car can also be confusing. Usually, you’ll be offered a lot of extra insurance options you can add on to your rental, and it’s easy to get confused about whether or not you’re already covered.

Don’t get overwhelmed: If you already have car insurance for your personal vehicle, that coverage will apply to rental cars too. And most drivers will not be required to show proof of insurance when renting a car, although there are some exceptions to this.

If you don’t have car insurance because you don’t have your own vehicle, you can certainly still rent a car. Many credit card companies offer rental car insurance if you use your card to pay for the rental, so even if you don’t have car insurance you may not necessarily need to spring for the rental company’s insurance options.

Let’s break down everything you need to know about renting a car with or without your own insurance.

In this article:

What are the requirements for renting a car?

Most major car rental companies have the same requirements for renting a vehicle. You’ll usually have to:

  • Be of the minimum age to rent a car. With many vendors, that’s 25, although drivers ages 21-24 will likely be able to rent certain cars for an extra daily surcharge.

  • Have a valid driver’s license. All car rental companies will require you to have an up-to-date license. The rental company can also check with your state’s DMV to verify your license, and may deny you a rental if you have recent violations or a recent DUI conviction.

  • Pay for the rental. Generally, car rental companies prefer that you use a credit card for your deposit and payment. Some rental car companies, or specific locations, will allow you to use a debit card, but if you do, this is one of the cases where you may be required to show proof of insurance.

Renting a car when you have your own car insurance

If you have your own car insurance, you likely don’t need to purchase additional car insurance for your rental car. You should check your insurance policy or call your insurer to make sure, but most policies extend the definition of your “covered vehicle” to any vehicle you rent.

That means that the same limits and deductibles you have on your policy will apply to your rental car. Just like if you were driving your own vehicle, your liability coverage covers the costs if you injure someone or damage their property while in your rental car, and your comprehensive and collision insurance cover damage to your rental vehicle.

As we mentioned above, you likely don’t need to show proof of insurance when you pick-up your rental car. An exception to this is if you’re paying for the rental car with a debit card instead of a credit card. In that case, the rental company may require you to show proof of insurance before they’ll let you rent a car. Keep your insurance card handy just in case.

If you also have rental car insurance through your credit card, it can serve as secondary, or supplemental insurance. If you feel like the coverage you have through your car insurance and your credit card is sufficient — and it likely is — then there’s no need to purchase any additional insurance from the rental car company.

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Renting a car when you don’t have car insurance

If you don’t have your own car or car insurance, you can definitely still rent a car. In fact, not having a vehicle is a common reason to rent a car in the first place. As a first step, check to see if your credit card offers rental car coverage.

But the insurance offered by your credit card can be limited, and, depending on your card and where you rent a car, you may not be able to use it as your primary insurance on your rental car. In that case, you might need to purchase at least some of the add-on insurance offered by the rental car company.

If you frequently rent cars but don’t own one, it might be a good idea to look into something called non-owner car insurance so you don’t have to constantly purchase costly insurance from the rental agency to protect yourself.

Non-owner car insurance

Non-owner car insurance is a type of car insurance policy designed for people who drive frequently but don’t own a vehicle themselves. A non-owner policy is much more limited than a standard auto policy — it typically only includes liability coverage, although you may be able to add personal injury protection (PIP), while covers your medical expenses or lost wages after an accident, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which covers you if you’re in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver.

Learn more about non-owner car insurance

Understanding rental car insurance options

If you decide to purchase supplemental insurance from the car rental company, you should understand your options. Most major car rental agencies offer several different types of insurance add-ons.

Collision damage waiver

The collision damage waiver (CDW), also called a loss damage waiver (LDW) isn’t technically insurance. It’s a waiver you can pay for that will help cover the costs if your rental car is damaged. It’s similar in some ways to how collision and comprehensive coverage work in a standard auto policy. If you don’t purchase it, you’ll likely be on the hook if your rental car is stolen, damaged or towed.

Supplemental liability protection

Supplemental liability protection is an add-on to any existing liability coverage you have. It basically raises the limits of your liability coverage, so it’s a good thing to buy if you’re worried that your current limits are too low to pay for damage or injuries you might cause in an accident. It’s usually a daily fee, the cost varies depending on where you’re renting a car.

Personal accident insurance

This is an add-on that covers the costs of medical expenses you or your passengers incur as a result of an accident in your rental car. If you have health insurance you probably don’t need to add this on to your rental car.

Personal effects coverage

This covers the costs to replace any personal items that are stolen from your rental car. If you have renters or homeowners insurance, you’re likely already covered if your belongings are stolen, so you probably don’t need to add on this coverage either.

Learn more about rental car insurance options

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.