Guide to low-risk car rental

Car rental contracts operate in favour of the rental companies, but you can reduce your risks.
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  • Updated:21 Apr 2008


Insurance for all major companies (Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty) and many smaller ones excludes damage to the roof caused by driving under something too low, underbody damage and damage caused by total or partial water submersion (and offroad driving).

If you have such an accident, insurance won’t cover it and you could be up for thousands of dollars in repair costs. The cost of repairs resulting from your failure to maintain fuel and fluid levels (brake fluid, oil, coolant) is also a standard exclusion.

Other common exclusions include:

  • Single-vehicle accidents
    Such as hitting an animal or tree. Thrifty is one of the bigger companies with this exclusion.
  • Gazetted (officially mapped) dirt roads
    Accidents on these roads (unless the vehicle is a 4WD) are excluded by Europcar Thrifty and Hertz, of the bigger companies.
  • Other dirt roads
    Accidents that occur on other dirt roads, including driveways and park access, can be a hazy area. Budget and Avis, for instance, cover travel only on "roads that are properly formed and constructed as a sealed, metalled or gravel road". However, they couldn’t tell us whether or not this includes some gazetted roads that have fallen into disrepair and can no longer be considered "properly formed".

Hertz, while it doesn’t cover gazetted dirt roads, does cover 'short' access roads to parks and accommodation. Other companies specify that access roads and drives only up to a certain length are covered or that unsealed roads can be covered if travel has been authorised beforehand. Check the terms and conditions carefully before hiring if you know you’ll be using unsealed roads or access drives.

Other less obvious exclusions with some companies are:

  • Hail damage, falling trees and other 'Acts of God'.
  • Tyre, windscreen, headlight and interior damage.
  • Accidents that occur when reversing.
  • Roof or underbody damage whatever the cause (if you roll the car, say).

If you’re involved in an accident that’s not your fault, most companies will retain your excess, then refund it when they obtain funds from the at-fault party. This can be highly inconvenient and cost you interest when they deduct it from your credit card.

It gets even worse — we found one company that charges an excess for not-at-fault accidents!

Check the terms and conditions of various companies and make your choice accordingly. Most companies have a copy of the T&C on their websites, so you have the chance to compare them. Saving a few dollars a day could cost you thousands if you have the wrong kind of accident.


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