One of the worst things about renting a car, especially for infrequent travelers, is that moment at the car-rental counter – or next to the car, if you’re renting from Enterprise – when the rental agent tries to sell you on purchasing a “collision damage waiver”: optional coverage that spares you from having to pay your own insurance policy’s deductible in case of an accident.

If you own an insured car yourself and rent with a major credit card – some MasterCards excepted – you should know you probably don’t need it. But if you haven’t checked beforehand, you might be uncertain enough to spend needlessly, and some rental agents might seem eager to stir that anxiety. An Enterprise agent, while renting me a minivan because the smaller car I’d booked wasn’t available, once warned that “vans aren’t covered under most credit-card policies.” I had to call my card issuer to check. It turned out that the exemption applied only to big vans, which aren’t considered passenger-car rentals.

The best way to be sure what’s covered is to read your card’s contract terms carefully and ask about anything you find confusing. But second-best may be this new study by CardHub.com, which reports that 20 percent of renters always buy the waiver, and that another 20 percent sometimes do, even though every Visa, American Express and Discover card includes rental-car protection. Some other highlights of its findings:

  • All four major card networks provide some form of rental car insurance coverage, though MasterCard does not provide coverage on all of its cards.
  • American Express received CardHub’s highest score (90%) for its rental policy. Discover ranked second (88%), MasterCard third (79%), and Visa last (74%)
  • All four require cardholders to charge their entire rental car purchase on their credit card and decline supplemental insurance/Collision Damage Waivers (CDW) offered by the rental company in order to be eligible.
  • All four exempt coverage for rental of exotic, expensive, or antique cars; trucks; vehicles with open beds; and off-road vehicles
  • Visa is the only network that does not cover accidents occurring on dirt and gravel roads. However, MasterCard only covers them if those roads are “regularly maintained.”
  • All card networks exclude rentals that exceed certain time limits. Coverage may not extend to every country overseas – checking beforehand is key.
  • Minivans may not be a problem, but some SUVs are. CardHub says American Express excludes coverage for some popular models, including Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Toyota Land Cruiser, Lexus LX450, Range Rover, and full-sized Ford Broncos.

Look here to see CardHub’s whole study and its methodology. One small warning: CardHub says, “American Express, Discover and MasterCard responded to our questions and confirmed the accuracy of our data. Visa declined to clarify issues regarding its policies despite multiple attempts to contact the company.”

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