Reasonable Doubt: Why car-rental discretion is advisable

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      Now, I’m not a car guy. But I can confidently say that the Renault Clio wasn’t designed by the French for off-roading.

      The tiny hatchback is better suited for the twisting laneways of Paris instead. Yet here we were in this rusted Clio, rattling up a gravel path in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

      A tension hung in the air of our car. The conversation between my travel companion and me had trailed off a ways back. We were now quietly focusing on the road ahead, which meant getting up to the mountain pass, taking switchbacks back down to the valley floor, then out of the gorge—all of this while the gravel beneath us crunched louder and louder, the sun started slipping away, and menacing rain clouds gathered at the cliffsides.

      Kevin Yee

      On top of this, the only signs of life were wandering mountain goats that had their own struggles with the loose rock. We were hours from anywhere on a map.

      As I made the seemingly endless hairpin turns down the mountainside, my thoughts drifted. I turned to a game of "what if?". What if the clouds unleash rain that washes out the roads? What if our poor Clio needed to be towed out? What if we needed to spend the night out here?

      As unpleasant as this train of thought was at first, I soon found comfort. See, I had already thought of these hypothetical scenarios when I got my insurance beforehand. This underlined the importance of carefully considering travel insurance.

      In the next few months, many of us will flock to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Hawaii to escape the cold. And on these winter getaways, renting a car is a popular way to seek out adventure. But there are things to think of before you go. Doing your homework will give you the same peace of mind that I found when I needed it most.

      If you’re planning to rent a car abroad, you’ll have to think of what insurance you need. You’ll have to go through a similar exercise of "what if?”, as I did. Think of where you’ll be going with your car and what could go wrong.

      You could come up with a list of situations that you have concerns about. Maybe they are about getting a dead battery, dealing with the police after a car accident, or getting stuck on a muddy jungle road. If you have concerns—however unlikely the situation may be—you should consider insuring yourself for that. Look for that protection in the policy or find an alternative.

      Understanding and deciding on an insurance policy isn’t the easiest. The wording of policies can put anyone to sleep. It helps to understand how a lot of these are written. I talked about this in my previous article about travel medical insurance, and those factors apply here.

      First, insurance policies often have their own definitions of words and phrases to explain what is meant in later clauses. Second, they lay out what situation is covered and the available money for that coverage. For example, protection against break-ins and theft might be included up to a specified amount. You may be insured from car damage caused in a collision. Also, there may be towing and emergency assistance.

      A third thing to keep in mind as you go through an insurance policy is that they often have a section laying out where the protections do not apply. These clauses are important. For example, the insurance company may not help you if you are driving in restricted areas. And the insurance company may define such restricted areas as remote areas like nature reserves, on unpaved roads, or across borders. If you have in mind to be in such restricted areas that trigger the exclusion, you may need a different policy. You should have a good understanding of all “exclusionary clauses”.

      Every policy is different and needs to be reviewed carefully. If you have questions, ask for clarification and confirmation. Only then will you get the insurance you need (not to mention actually get what you think you are buying).

      As for a final consideration: you may already have other insurance from home. It may be insurance from a health-insurance carrier, such as one provided through your work. Or perhaps your credit card offers some protection abroad. Seeing what you already have might save yourself some money.

      Doing your homework beforehand may feel like you’re only adding to the stress that you’re escaping with the vacation. That said, a little bit of preparation with these tips in mind will go a long way to making sure your next adventure is safe. You want your trip to be memorable—but for all the right reasons!

      A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.

      Kevin Yee is a lawyer who practises general civil litigation and personal-injury law.