Monday, February 25, 2008

The Rental Car Accident

My car had to go back to the shop on Friday (I think my mechanic is having an affair with it, because there's really no reason that the AC should continue to have problems since it's been almost completely gutted and rebuilt!)

So what to do? Naturally I chose to rent a car. Again.

I got a good deal from Hotwire and luckily I got Avis. In my experience, Avis is the best of the rental car companies (and I rent cars often). As I've said in the past, you are a fool if you rent from Enterprise Rent-A-Car (ERAC). To read of my experiences with ERAC, go here.

However, the prices for rental cars this weekend were the worst I've seen in years. The rental car companies tell me they don't know why - all they know is that they're as shocked as anyone to see economy cars for $99 a day! I got mine at $35 a day (usually the price of a mid-size sedan) and I considered myself lucky.

So Friday morning I toodled off in a tiny 2008 Chevy Cobalt from Avis. (NOTE: Do NOT buy a Chevy Cobalt unless you're OK with zero leg room in the back for the passengers. Although you could fit someone ON the back seat, they cannot have legs).

Saturday I picked up my friend John. We were to grab lunch and go to a local art show. It was pouring rain by the bucketful.

We were on a little road leading out of a mobile home park and restaurant, sitting still, waiting for the massive Toyota Tundra in front of us to turn right.

While we were waiting, I was glancing down idly when suddenly John yelled "Look out! He's backing up!!!"

I looked up in time to see the truck back up ON TO MY HOOD.

My mouth dropped in disbelief. Luckily the driver figured out what had happened and pulled the truck forward immediately, because I was in such shock that I wasn't thinking clearly enough to get out of the car in time (if the truck had rolled over us completely).

We all popped out of our vehicles. The woman who had been driving was a tall, slender blond with spiked hair. She was wearing a gay pride t-shirt, denim jeans, and sneakers. She came running back to me. "Oh my god," she gasped, "is everyone OK?"

"Yes, are you OK?" I asked, and I gave her a hug. She was shaking.

"Yes," she gulped. "I am SO sorry! This isn't my truck - it's my friend's truck, and I'm not really familiar with how to drive it!"

"Thank goodness you admitted it," I said, "because this is a rental and I only have my own insurance on it. Since you've admitted it, your insurance will cover it. Thank you, thank you!"

She (we'll call her "Ellen") nodded unhappily. John told us to wait there, and he would call 911 to get the Florida Highway Patrol out to take the report (The FHP takes reports for minor fender benders).

Rain poured over us, soaking my Polo shirt and making my jeans smell like old canvas. Even taking shelter in the car gave me little comfort, and the car interior was coated in a fine mist of rain.

Suddenly Ellen realized that she didn't have her drivers license. She ran over to my car, stuck her head in the window, and asked to jot down her information. She said she was running home to get the license as she didn't want to be ticketed for not being in posession of it. Ellen also said she had her 4-year old daughter with her.

John and I pointed out that she might get ticketed for leaving the scene of the accident, but she said she'd rather take her chances. We dubiously took all the information she cared to give us, and I jotted down her license plate.

We waited about an hour for the police to arrive. About then, Ellen showed up again with her license and without her daughter. We had just called the FHP and discovered that we had a wait time of up to several hours! So the three of us discussed the potentially long wait and called the local sheriff's office instead. They obligingly sent out a car.

However, when the deputy began to take our information, Ellen suddenly developed 'amnesia' and couldn't remember exactly what happened (obviously she was told by someone to admit to nothing). Luckily I had a witness: Can you imagine what mess I would be in if I didn't have one?!

It was bad enough as it was.

Because we were on private property (and not a public road), all the deputy could do was to take down our information. When an accident is on private property, the police will not assess blame or hand out tickets, which can make it harder to fight a claim.

Ellen might have been worried because her insurance had expired. However, Avis will be going after the insurance belonging to the owner of the truck, who happens to be a relatively wealthy woman who owns her own company in the Tampa Bay Area. I actually know the woman, distantly. We'll call her "Amy".

This morning I ran into repeated snags. First, I had to go to the Sheriff's office to get the information in person. Once I had acquired that information, I called Amy's insurance company (Geico). They told me that the policy was non-existant, so I left a message for Ellen asking her for the correct information.

Ellen text-messaged me, saying "Sorry about the wrong info - not at all intentional. Amy can be reached at xxx-xxxx. if her ins isnt cooperative - please let me know what the estimate is."

(Happily, that sounds as if she's understood that she will have to take responsibility for the accident. I was not looking forward to the time and expense of a small-claim court case.)

So, instead of pestering Amy I tried again, and got a more experienced operator this time. She told me that Geico recently changed some policy numbers and when she did a little searching, she was able to locate Amy's information the second time around.

I spent the next couple of hours filing claims with Geico, with my insurance company (just in case Avis went to them first), and with Avis.

I'm happy to say that Avis and the insurance companies were very professional and nice about the whole thing. I'm just hoping that we can get this solved as quickly as possible. I'm also very greatful that no one was hurt. And now I can add a new experience to my resume: I've been backed over by a Toyota Tundra.

And what can you learn from this experience? Take the car rental insurance that waives your deductible fee even if you have rental car insurance on your policy. If *I* had, I wouldn't have been sweating over this as much as I did ...since my deductible is $500.


Three Score and Ten or more said...

I drove a Chevy cobalt in Finland last year. Not a large car. I've had two accidents (other guy's fault) where Geico was the insurance company. If I ever change insurance it will be to Geico. I have found their claim service to be almost amazing.

Glad the Tundra didn't come up over the driver.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I decline the rental car insurance. ALWAYS DECLINE. The problem is that if you get that and there is an accident, insurance company A tries to get insurance company B to cover the damages.

Not that I care. It is not my car. I just turn it in and it is not my problem anymore. Out of sight, out of mind!

The secret is to choose your credit cards carefully. The credit card I keep for things like car rental and stuff provides insurance. More than enough to cover my deductible. I think it covers up to $2500 or something. So if I want full "walk away and forget it" insurance then I just get the rental policy and ask for a $2,000 deductible. If I get it, then it is all good. I can run the car into whatever I want, get out, call the rental company, and get a new car. Otherwise, I use my existing policy and the credit card deal covers whatever deductible there is. If damages are less than $2500 then the credit card takes care of it all.

Not that this has ever been an issue.

My Tacoma has almost the same ground clearance of the Tundra. In fact, I think it does have as much ground clearance. It has the same tires. It would not have run over the Chevy, unless it was going really fast.

Uncle Joe said...

yes we always get the insurance after losing $600 because my youngest thought it would be cool to "draw a rainbow" with a large rock on the hood of our rental.
she was very artistic when she was 4.

Ed Abbey said...

I kind of find it odd that anybody, even the very unfamiliar, could drive up to a stop light and somehow get it into reverse to back up over the car behind it. I'm guessing she intentionally backed up without bothering to check if anyone was behind her.

Aunt Jo said...

Yea, what Joe said. The funny thing was she lied about it until Joe said, "Boy I wish I knew who drew on the car because I am going to buy them some ice cream!"

She confessed. Hey, she loves icecream!

Anonymous said...

When you rent out a car from priceline online ( ) they offer to sell you an optional collision damage coverage for about $11 a day.This policy is underwritten by National Union Fire Insurance Co of Pittsburgh, PA (an AIG group company).They provide a maximum coverage of 35000 which should be sufficient in most cases and explicitly state that their coverage is primary to other forms of insurance(which means you will not have to touch your primary own car insurance).They also state to that they pay for rental charges imposed by the rental company while their car is being repaired.
I think this deal is pretty good as your visa card coverage will also kick in if the liability exceeds 35000.Just remember for visa card coverage to begin , you should refuse to take CDW/LDW offered by the rental car and make sure the entire transaction is done via your visa card.