Who Is Responsible If Rental Car Breaks Down? Your Essential Guide

PUBLISHED ON Jan, 29 2024


If a rental car breaks down, determining “who is responsible if rental car breaks down” can be a pressing concern. Typically, the rental company is liable for any non-negligent mechanical issues, while the renter could be responsible if the fault lies with their handling. This guide outlines the specifics of liability, steps to follow during a breakdown, and how insurance may influence the situation.

Key Takeaways

  • In the event of a rental car breakdown, responsibility is determined by the cause; mechanical issues typically fall under the rental company’s responsibility, while renter negligence can place liability on the renter.
  • Rental car insurance options like Collision Damage Waiver and Personal Accident Insurance, along with supplemental breakdown coverage, can protect renters from incurring unexpected costs due to breakdowns.
  • Effective handling of a rental car breakdown involves ensuring safety, contacting the rental company, and thoroughly documenting the incident to facilitate reporting and reimbursement processes.

Understanding Rental Car Breakdown Responsibilities

When you’re renting a car, the last thing you want to think about is a potential breakdown. Yet, knowing who bears responsibility in the event of a rental car breakdown is crucial. The responsibilities are generally divided between the renter and the rental company, depending on the cause and nature of the breakdown.

Typically, if the rental car breaks down due to a mechanical issue not caused by your negligence or misuse, it is the rental company’s responsibility to handle the situation. They are accountable for any vehicle damage not caused by the renter and are required to handle the breakdown until the car is safely returned. However, if the breakdown is attributed to your actions, you may be held responsible for damages.

Renter’s Responsibility

As a renter, you must ensure the rental vehicle is driven with due care and responsibility. Negligence, such as failing to adhere to reasonable driving standards or allowing someone unqualified to drive the vehicle, may result in you being held liable for any damages.

If you are responsible for a breakdown, you should promptly notify the rental company and adhere to any procedures specified in the rental agreement, including protocols related to breakdown coverage and repair expenses. Rental companies generally do not assume responsibility for damages caused by the renter’s negligence.

Rental Company’s Responsibility

Conversely, the rental company is obligated to fulfil certain duties when a breakdown occurs. For instance, they are obligated to address a renter’s report of a breakdown promptly. If the breakdown is due to a mechanical failure caused by the company’s negligence, they are expected to assume responsibility for the necessary repairs.

Rental companies, including car rental companies, are responsible for replacing vehicles that have broken down within a year. Typically, it is the duty of the car rental company to arrange for a tow truck to transport the broken-down rental car and provide a replacement vehicle.

Rental Car Insurance and Breakdown Coverage

Rental car insurance coverage

Considering rental car insurance and breakdown coverage options can safeguard you from unexpected costs linked to rental car breakdowns. Rental car coverage, which generally provides coverage for the rental car with equivalent coverage limits and deductibles as your personal car insurance policy, is an essential aspect to consider.

The breakdown coverage for rental cars is included in the rental car reimbursement of your insurance policy. It covers the expenses of a rental car following the approval of a qualifying claim. Renters can also opt to acquire supplementary breakdown coverage for rental cars.

Types of Rental Car Insurance

There are various types of rental car insurance available to protect renters. One such option is the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), a form of elective coverage that protects against damage to the rental car during the possession period.

Another type of coverage is liability insurance, which provides coverage for others’ property damage or bodily injury in an accident where the driver is at fault. Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) provides coverage for drivers of a rental car and their passengers in the event of accidental medical expenses or death during the rental duration.

If you takeout CarInsuRent car hire excess insurance, the policy will cover Towing charges up to US$ 500 in the event of a breakdown or accident. The policy also covers Improper Fuel Use Charges – Up to US$ 500 for tank emptying costs and vehicle towing, when the wrong fuel is refueled into the vehicle by mistake.

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Steps to Take When Your Rental Car Breaks Down

Contacting the rental company for assistance

Should your rental car unfortunately break down, knowing how to effectively handle the situation becomes vital. From ensuring your safety to contacting the rental company and documenting the incident, these steps can help you navigate through this stressful situation with ease.

The primary step involves ensuring the safety of everyone involved. This includes contacting a breakdown service or roadside assistance, either through the rental company or your insurance company. It’s also crucial to report the breakdown to the rental company, providing details from the rental agreement and a comprehensive account of the incident.

Ensuring Safety

When the rental car breaks down, ensuring safety should be your top priority. Maintaining composure, reaching out to emergency services or roadside assistance, and evaluating the extent of the breakdown are critical steps.

You should also activate the hazard lights during a rental car breakdown to alert other drivers and enhance the visibility of your vehicle. Remaining with the vehicle until assistance arrives is crucial to prioritize safety and facilitate a prompt response from the service providers upon their arrival.

Contacting the Rental Company

After securing everyone’s safety, your next move should be to contact the rental company. Having the rental company’s contact details readily available for emergency situations is crucial.

When reporting a breakdown to the rental company, it’s important to provide them with the final repair invoice or receipt that clearly separates the rental costs from the damage costs. If the rental car experiences mechanical failure and becomes inoperable, it’s recommended to contact the Roadside Assistance number provided by the rental company to request assistance with the towing process.

Documenting the Incident

It is vital to correctly document the occurrences of a rental car breakdown. This includes taking photos or videos of the vehicle’s condition and the breakdown circumstances, which will be crucial for reporting and any necessary reimbursement processes. The documentation should incorporate precise details including the sequence of events, actions taken, any pertinent dialogue, photographs or videos if feasible, and comprehensive descriptions of any injuries sustained.

Failure to properly report a rental car breakdown can lead to various consequences such as late fees, additional charges, and penalties for driving without insurance.

Preventing Rental Car Breakdowns

Pre-rental inspection

Although not all aspects of a rental car’s condition are within your control, the likelihood of a breakdown can be minimized by taking preventive measures. These include conducting a pre-rental inspection and performing regular maintenance checks.

A pre-rental inspection allows you to:

  • Identify any pre-existing damage or mechanical issues that have the potential to cause a breakdown
  • Regular maintenance ensures the smooth, efficient, and safe operation of the vehicle
  • Helps prevent costly repairs and unforeseen breakdowns by enabling the early detection and resolution of potential issues

Pre-Rental Inspection

Conducting a pre-rental inspection of the vehicle before you depart from the rental lot is of utmost importance. This includes a walk-around inspection to visually inspect for:

  • dents
  • scratches
  • chips
  • cracks

It’s also important to inspect the car’s engine for signs of leaks, loose belts, or damaged components, as well as verifying that the fluid levels for engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid are at adequate levels. Any pre-existing damages should be accurately noted on the rental agreement.

Regular Maintenance Checks

Regular maintenance checks on the rental car, such as monitoring tire pressure and fluid levels, can help prevent breakdowns. The NHTSA advises to check the tire pressure in the morning when the tires are cold, after at least three hours of rest.

When assessing the oil level, it’s important to use the dipstick to verify that the oil level falls within the range marked between the minimum and maximum indicators. The ‘maintenance required’ light on the dashboard may indicate that the rental car needs an oil change.

Handling Rental Car Breakdown Costs

Handling rental car breakdown costs

In case of a rental car breakdown, it’s essential to comprehend the possible costs involved and how to manage them. This includes understanding any fees that the rental company may impose, as well as any reimbursement options that may be available.

Rental companies could potentially impose fees for refueling the car, administrative or processing fees for handling damage or traffic charges, and fees for not presenting a fuel receipt. The expenses for repairs after a breakdown are usually invoiced to the driver for any roadside assistance, recovery, and repairs.

Rental Company Fees

The fees that rental companies may charge in the event of a breakdown can vary depending on several factors. These can include:

  • Administrative or processing fees for managing damage
  • Traffic or speeding fines
  • Cleaning the vehicle
  • Refueling

The cost of these fees can be affected by factors such as:

  • high demand and limited supply
  • depreciation and vehicle maintenance
  • insurance costs
  • operational expenses
  • taxes
  • airport fees

These fees may be subject to negotiation in some cases, although they are generally set at a fixed rate.

Reimbursement Options

Reimbursement options may be available to help you manage the costs associated with a rental car breakdown. Rental reimbursement coverage in rental car insurance policies helps cover transportation expenses, such as a rental car, while your car is undergoing repairs following a breakdown.

Credit card benefits frequently encompass coverage for:

  • Collision damage
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Natural disasters associated with rental cars

These benefits help to alleviate the expenses linked to a breakdown. Certain rental companies offer reimbursement policies that generally include covering the expense of a rental car up to a specified daily amount for a predetermined number of days.


In conclusion, understanding your responsibilities and those of the rental company in the event of a rental car breakdown is crucial. From ensuring your safety to contacting the rental company, and from conducting a pre-rental inspection to handling breakdown costs, these steps can help you navigate through this stressful situation with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do when your rental car won’t start?

Contact the rental company and inform them of the situation. They will arrange for a tow and provide you with a new rental car to continue your journey.

What happens if hire car breaks down?

If your rental car breaks down, notify the rental company and they will likely send roadside assistance. However, you may be responsible for the tow and repairs, so consider using membership-based services or your own auto insurance to cover these costs.

What do rental car companies considered damage?

Rental car companies consider any scratch two inches or longer as damage, while multiple minor scratches may also be classified as such. Be mindful of any damage when renting a car.

What is rental car insurance and breakdown coverage?

Rental car insurance and breakdown coverage protect renters from unexpected costs associated with rental car breakdowns, providing financial security in case of any issues.

How can I prevent a rental car breakdown?

To prevent a rental car breakdown, conduct a pre-rental inspection and perform regular maintenance checks. This will help ensure the car is in good condition and reduce the risk of a breakdown.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I buy a plan for just one day?

Yes. Insurance for a single day is available.

Can I buy a plan for part of my rental only?

No. We provide a single journey plan. You are covered from the time you pick up the rental car up to the time you return it or on the last date written on your Certificate of Insurance, whichever comes first.

Can I buy a plan when I pick up my rental car?

No. You should purchase a policy before starting your travel.

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