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By Jordan W. Charness

Last week, we joined Peter on his summer vacation. He and the family were doing a fair bit of travelling, which included taking several aeroplane trips and renting several cars. Peter had noticed that the rental car forms he was signing changed dramatically from place to place and didn’t look like the forms he signed when he rented cars a few years back. They were virtually all computer-generated and seemed to be missing the fine print. Later, he discovered that the rental terms and conditions were on a separate piece of paper which was folded into a document jacket.

Had Peter bothered to read the few paragraphs that were on the document he signed he would have noticed that the first paragraph advised him to “read the terms and list of prohibited events on the rental document jacket terms and conditions.” In fact, he signed his name right near that paragraph.

There is no such thing as a standard rental contract. Each rental car company has its own set of rules and regulations that you agree to when you rent their vehicles. Not only that, they may vary from province to province, state to state and country to country, depending on local laws. Rule number one is to always read the rental car contract and particularly the parts that are written in bold print. It may be boring but it can make the rest of your trip far less eventful.

The rental terms and conditions vary from company to company, but for the most part, are now written in plain English. The most important parts are even written in bold capital letters so as to catch your eye if you bother to take a look.

The two biggest and boldest paragraphs in the contract are those labelled “LOSS DAMAGE WAIVER” and “DAMAGE TO THE CAR”.

Virtually all car rental companies in all jurisdictions offer you the opportunity to buy additional insurance. There are usually a bunch of insurance products that are all lumped together and you can choose to buy one, all, or none of them. They include personal accident insurance and personal effects protection insurance which covers items stolen from your car. One of the more expensive insurance products offered to you is “additional liability insurance” (ALI) This can cost more than $10 per day of rental. What it does is raise the maximum amount covered in case you have an accident causing personal or bodily damage. Most jurisdictions have a minimum amount of coverage required by law which is paid for by the rental car company. If you want to raise this limit to $1 million instead of the minimum then you may purchase the ALI.

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