I damaged my rental car — can’t I just fix it myself?

I damaged my rental car from Enterprise when I hit a guardrail. I’d like to have the repairs done myself to save money. Is that a problem?

This question came to us from one of our readers, and it’s a fairly common one.

The reason behind this question varies. Some may think they can save money by having the repairs done themselves. Some don’t want to risk an increase in their premium by filing a claim with their auto policy. And others may not have any insurance coverage.

In this particular case, a body shop estimated he could save about half the cost by having the repairs done himself, rather than turning it in to the rental company (good sales pitch). He asked what our advocates thought.

That was a smart move. He considered the consequences, which could be substantial, according to Laura Bryant, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings.

“The rental contract is very clear and specific,” says Bryant. “Customers need to tell us as quickly as possible so that we can address the issue right away. Customers fixing rental vehicles on a case-by-case basis simply is not permitted.”

If the repairs are not done properly, the fallout could get worse. If the next driver renting the vehicle is injured because of a faulty repair, “then the customer is liable for that as well,” according to Bryant. That liability could be substantial.

You could also end up paying twice for the same repair.

“If the repair is not done properly or completely, then it needs to be done again. Enterprise always passes on its discount — not only is the overall cost lower when we manage the process, but then the customer doesn’t have to pay for renting the vehicle during the actual repair,” says Bryant.

Now let’s rewind to before the accident occurred and ways you can save money.

We’ll start with insurance. Accidents happen unexpectedly — having adequate insurance coverage can reduce your liability and out-of-pocket expenses.

Review your insurance coverage and options before walking up to the rental counter. A high-pressure sales agent and a lengthy contract can create confusion. If you have adequate coverage, buying it from the rental company becomes an unnecessary expense.

The agent may also try to talk you into purchasing a collision-damage waiver (CDW) or loss-damage waiver (LDW). This is not insurance, but rather a waiver of liability. It’s an agreement between you and the rental company that you are not responsible for the expenses if the car is damaged or stolen. This does not cover injuries or damage to another vehicle or property, but usually includes the “loss of use” charge that some rental companies like to tack on.

CDWs and LDWs come with restrictions that can cause the waiver to become void (such as negligent driving). Again, if you have the necessary coverage elsewhere, this may be a costly expense you can skip, if you so decide. It can end up doubling the cost of your rental.

Most auto policies cover rentals in the United States. There is one caveat — whatever coverage you have on your personal vehicle will be the coverage you’ll receive on a rental. If you don’t have collision or comprehensive insurance, then your rental won’t either, and if you own a lower-priced or older vehicle, then your insurance may not cover the full cost of the damaged rental.

For international travel, get the specifics from your insurance company on whether coverage is available, and find out what that country’s regulations are.

Your credit card is another option for rental insurance. Credit card companies usually do not cover damage to property, other vehicles, injuries, or liability, but they do cover the rental car itself. Not all cards are equal. A handful of companies offer primary coverage, but most offer secondary.

To give you a quick rundown: Secondary coverage kicks in after payments are made by your auto policy. It typically covers your deductible or other gaps in your policy. With primary, it covers theft or damage to the rental vehicle without having to submit the initial claim to your auto policy. Look for any restrictions such as the type of vehicle you can rent, the length of time, or countries that may not be included.

You can find frequently asked questions about car rental damage claims on Elliott.org.

Online travel agents offer optional insurance coverage if you book the rental through them, or you can purchase rental insurance through a travel policy. There is also an online site, InsureMyRentalCar.com, that sells rental insurance for 50 to 70 percent less than the car rental companies. Coverage must be purchased at least one day in advance.

A rental car is the property of the rental company, and you are borrowing it. In this case, Enterprise has the prerogative to choose where the repairs are done and to ensure the quality of the repairs. If this decision is left up to the renter, this could result in substandard work that could affect the performance and safety of the vehicle.

Bottom line: If you damage a rental, notify the rental company — it’s the right thing to do.

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