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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Are you heading out of town in advance of the next storm?  Or maybe you’re planning a trip for spring break.  If you’re renting a car, how much thought have you given to the insurance?  As 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan finds, you may not be covered the way that you think.

While vacationing with his family  Joe Earl got into a rental car fender bender when he backed into a pole.  He says, “Definitely didn’t anticipate that in part of the vacation budget.”  The rear bumper of his rented Chevy Impala caved in and the tail light was broken.  It  would cost $651 to fix.   Earl says his car insurance covered most of it and his Discover card picked up his $500 deductible.  The fender bender wouldn’t cost him a penny. According to Earl, “It is free but it definitely take a bit of documentation that you have to fill out.”

Visa, American Express and Discover Cards do offer some protection, although if your own car insurance covers you.  You must turn your claim in to them first MasterCard only offers the protection if you have a platinum card or above.  While most credit cards cover cars, none covers “trucks,” “pickups,” many vans or SUV’s with more than 8 seats.  If you wreck one of these you’re on your own.

Earl says, “You don’t ever anticipate being in this situation.”  Planning ahead for future vacations he plans to use his Discover card again the next time he rents a car,   He says, “I’m glad I was covered.”

Some cards will cover you too if a rental car is stolen, but not all.  So before renting any car, check to see how your credit card will cover you, and be sure to read the fine print regarding exclusions before you decline any additional coverage.

Finally, some people run their debit card as a credit card because they see a Visa or MasterCard logo, but debit cards usually don’t qualify for that free rental car insurance.  Also, if you use a debit card to rent a car, companies often place a hold on your money which can mess up your plans, so I always recommend using a credit card in a situation like this.

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