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Am I owed a rental car from the day of the accident?

Question: My son was involved in an accident where the other party was at fault.  It has taken over a week for the other party’s insurance company to accept liability.  Does the insurance company owe him for a rental car from the day of the accident until his car is repaired or just while the car is in the body shop? 

Answer:  In general, auto insurance companies only provide you with a rental car during the time needed to repair your car. However, it really depends upon state laws and the terms of the driver’s auto insurance policy and there are some that do allow a rental car from the time of the incident.

If your car is unusable and the other insurer takes responsibility right away, then you can ask for a rental car to start at that point, the insurer will tell you if it’s possible.  If the car is drivable, though, then you normally won't be provided with a rental car until the damaged vehicle actually goes in the shop for repairs.

Typically, state laws will require the other party’s insurance provider to tell your son if they will allow for a rental car and for how long, but the insurer doesn’t have to commit to paying for the rental car until they are reasonably sure that their policyholder was legally liable for the accident and that the driver's property damage liability will be used to cover the claim.

If it took a week for the other party’s car insurance company to find their driver responsible for the accident, then usually they won’t pay for a rental car until now that liability was determined, and your son’s car is to be repaired.  You can contact your state's insurance regulator to get information on what your state laws say on third-party claims and rental cars.

If your son already rented a car because his car was unusable, he can try to negotiate and see if the insurer will pay for his rental car for the entire period of time, from the incident until he gets his car out of the shop.

Remember, an insurer normally only pays a flat amount for a rental car, such as $20 per day (this would be true even if you were using your own rental reimbursement coverage). So, make sure your son abides by the limit or else he will owe out of pocket any extra amount.  The insurance company may also tell him where he needs to rent the car from in order for it to be covered.

Your son should also check to make sure that his car insurance will extend to the rental car. Most auto insurance policies do extend to rentals, especially when the car is a substitute for your car that is in the shop. This will save him from buying auto insurance from the rental car agency, which is something the other insurer won't reimburse him for.

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