16 August 2011

Car rental - Should you buy the insurance?

(Image: Ambro)
If you've ever rented a car then you probably have experienced a pitch by the rental car company's customer service agent to buy the optional insurance coverage they sell, in particular the LDW (loss and damage waiver) or the CDW (collision damage waiver).

For frequent business travelers the pitch is more muted or avoided altogether for renters who belong to programs like Hertz # 1 Gold, and have already indicated their insurance preferences in a customer profile, and can pick up the car directly and bypass the counter.  For less frequent renters, however, the sell-job can range from concise and polite to lengthy and fear mongering.  (Or sometimes concise and fear mongering to lengthy and polite...)

The good part about these waivers is that subject to the limitations of the vehicle you rent, you can return the car with damage and not be subject to the costs of repairs should something happen.  (No, it doesn't cover you if you trash the inside of the car, or if you use a vehicle for a dump run, etc.)  An additional benefit of LDW/CDW is that even if you have outside coverage (personal auto insurance, credit card, travel insurance), the paperwork following a mishap will be relatively swift because the matter is only between you and the rental company.

The bad part is that LDW or CDW coverage is expensive.

A friend and client of mine recently rented a car in Phoenix for 5 days during the spring training period.  When he picked up the car, the agent asked him if he wanted "full coverage".  He answered "yes" (doesn't everyone want full coverage?) but neglected to ask what that would cost.  When he returned the vehicle the total fee for the rental plus insurance coverages was $700.  Lesson learned for him.  ("Full" coverage probably included additional liability coverage and coverage for loss or damage to the contents of the vehicle, in addition to the LDW/CDW.)

Whether or not the car rental company's appeal to you to buy the insurance is pleasant or annoying, you owe it to yourself to come equipped beforehand with the knowledge to decide if you should or should not take out the coverage.  This way you can make an informed and confident decision, not a hasty one under pressure.

When I'm asked by clients as to whether they should buy the insurance I am careful to never give a definitive answer for the simple reason that I am not their insurance agent.  However I suggest they consider what follows below.

First check with your insurance agent

You can also read your policy - it may state it clearly there - but if isn't clear then you should contact your agent to find out exactly what your personal auto insurance covers when you rent a car.  If you rent cars outside of the U.S. and Canada then you need to get details for the coverage you receive - if any - overseas.

If your coverage does extend to rented vehicles, but has high deductibles for damage and/or you do not carry collision insurance at all because your car, like mine, is too old to merit it, then know that you may be exposed.

One other thing to consider If you rent cars fairly often, is to ask your agent if the insurance carrier offers an add-on to your policy to cover rental cars, and which goes beyond the coverage you carry for your own vehicles.

Coverage by your credit card

Some cards have coverage for rental cars, but as a rule it is secondary coverage.  What that means, is that it kicks in when your own insurance does not cover all or part of damage to a rental car.  As with your personal insurance, it pays to know what it will and will not cover.

For example, here is a link to the VISA Signature page that details the benefit of that credit card's program.  This is just the current (August 2011) program of coverage offered by one type of VISA card.  You need to determine whether your credit card provides protection, and if so, exactly what it covers.

The VISA Signature rules are pretty straightforward and common sense, but bear reading.  For example, the benefit only applies for standard vehicles: rare, super-expensive, or vehicles that carry more than eight people are not covered.  Rentals in Israel, Jamaica, or Ireland (both "Republic of" and "Northern") are not coverered.  Also the coverage is only for the vehicle.  It does not cover injuries to the car's occupants or others.

It might seem obvious, but in order to receive the benefit you must use the credit card as the method of payment for the car rental.

Travel insurance

Car rental coverage is either included or can be added as a supplement to travel insurance policies, but usually it is secondary coverage, as with credit card coverage.

One exception to that currently of which I am aware is Access America.  They offer $35,000 colision damage/loss for $9 per day, and it is primary insurance, which means that it would pay first.  You can buy this coverage on a stand-alone basis, or as part of a wider travel insurance policy.

Bear in mind that Access America (or any other travel insurance) is going to have its own exclusions and limitations (for example, they also do not cover rentals in Israel, Jamaica, or Ireland) so read the fine print carefully before buying the policy to be sure that it will apply to the specifics of your use of a rental car.

When should you buy the car rental company's coverage?

Only you can decide this, but I'll give you one example from my experiece where I think it is sensible.

Every year I run the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey, a 178-mile 12-person relay in the Reno-Tahoe area.  My half of the team uses a local teammate's minivan, so rental coverage there is not an issue, but the other half of our team rents a large SUV from Hertz.  Even though the two people that share driving responsibilities have their own insurance and credit card coverage, the six people in the vehicle share the extra cost of LDW (Loss Damage Waiver).

Why?  By doing so it means that if anything happens to the vehicle while they are using it, one person isn't stuck dealing with the bureaucratic aftermath involving the car rental company and other entities.  The couple of bucks extra that each one of the six people in the SUV pays is money well spent.

In conclusion

No one can tell you whether you should or should not take out the car rental company's LDW or CDW policies.  You need to make that decision.  But being well-informed of the coverage you may (or may not) already have, will help you make a good decision when you are at the rental car counter about to pick up your vehicle.

09 August 2011

2011 Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Run

In August 2010, I ran in the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Run from the plaza in downtown Ashland, Ore. up to the top of Mt. Ashland, 13.3 miles and 5600’ (1707 m) later.  Last year my finish was 3:02:20.  Being so close to three hours then, inspired me to give it another go this year with the goal of coming in under that.

I’m happy to report that I made my goal with a time of 2:57:32, not quite five minutes faster.

View of Mt. Ashland from the city
Rather than give the entire blow-by-blow account of the race, I’ll confine this to some observations and include a few new pictures I snapped this year.  For those interested in running the race or anyone who wants to know more about the event, please read last year’s post.

My running of the race was not much different from last 2010.

I ran – no walking - from the start at Lithia Plaza until the third aid station at Bull Gap, about 9 miles into the race.  This is entirely uphill and in some places very steep until approximately 8 miles, but from there to Bull Gap is the only level or at times slight downhill part of the course.  This year I really poured on the speed here to put some money in the bank, knowing I’d need to withdraw it later.

From Bull Gap to the Ski Lodge the road becomes single track and more difficult to negotiate.  I powerwalked twice – once early on and again nearer the end when I felt that fatigue made me clumsy on the steep rutted surface, and powerwalking would be smoother, more comfortable, and nearly as fast as slow-motion running.

Looking back to whence we came:
viewing the valley where Ashland is from the Ski Lodge
I downed some liquids and a few orange slices at the Ski Lodge aid station, then set off on the last, shortest and toughest leg of the run, the ascent of the summit.  I think I may have done this more slowly than last year. 

After the first few semi-level steps one takes upon leaving the aid station. I reverted to walking the steep single track trail to the start of the even steeper scree.  From there it seemed like two steps forward, one step back, rest, and then repeat until I finally made the finish line at the summit.

I can’t say this was any easier for me than last year because it wasn’t.

Looking back toward the Ski Lodge and to where
runners emerge from the forest.
Clearly if I ever want to improve my time further, I’ll need to do better in the last two segments of the run after Bull Gap. But I was happy with this year’s result. After some time resting at the summit, I hopped a ride in a pick-up back to the lodge where the refreshments were, including Standing Stone Brewing’s keg!

Two anecdotes about other runners

From soon after the start as far as the Bull Gap aid station I ran at times with, ahead of, or behind Kathy Morell of Ketchum, Idaho.  (Chico readers will note that she told me she has a niece working at the Hotel Diamond.)  Due to my speed-up on the level-and-downhill portion prior to Bull Gap, I finished there before she did, but that would not be how things ended up.  She made a quick stop at the aid station, took off running a few seconds before I did, and soon I stopped seeing her in the distance.  She smoked the rest of the race, finishing nearly 13 minutes ahead of me (2:44:43).  Kathy is 50, and won the women’s 50-59 division!

Just a few minutes before the  race start, I looked to my right and who should be there but Jen Briggs, a recent former resident of Chico who now lives with her family in Eugene, Ore.  What a surprise!  I had no idea that anyone I knew would be there.  As it was, she, her sister Lori, and brother-in-law John from Colorado were running it, too.  They all did very well, and  less than two weeks from now are running in the Pike’s Peak Ascent which has an even greater elevation gain than the Hill Climb, plus it starts at about the same elevation where Mt. Ashland ends.

2012 ?

Ski Lodge aid station - the final push to the summit in background
I wasn’t planning to make this a same-time next year kind of event.  I made my goal of coming in under 3 hours, and maybe some other year I’d give it another try.  But after I finished, my partner Keith (whose knee injury has prevented him from running since January), mused about the idea of powerwalking the Hill Climb.  (Keith’s powerwalk is faster than some people run.)  Should he decide to powerwalk it then I’ll run it in 2012.  I think Keith just wants to enjoy the free beer after the finish, as well as the $10 Standing Stone Brewing Co. gift certificate that they put in the runner goody bag.

If you are interested in running the Hill Climb, note that the field is limited to 300 runners, and this year it sold out within two weeks of the start of registration.  To go on a list to be notified when registration opens up in the spring, click here.

The numbers:

Total # of finishers: 192
# of male finishers: 107
# of female finishers: 85
Men’s winning time: 1:51:54 (Erik Skaggs, 29, Ashland)
Women’s winning time: 2:11:40 (Stephanie Howe, 27, Bend, Ore.)
# male finishers 50-59: 16
My divisional place: 5
Fastest male 50-59: 2:20:39
All results