In principle there are two kinds of insurance that accompany a motorhome rental in the USA: vehicle insurance and public liability insurance.
This insurance comes into play in the event of any damage, theft or vandalism involving a rented motorhome. CDW, CDR, (or similar) are the acronyms used to refer to this kind of insurance. Basically, the following premise applies:
The renter is required to return the vehicle without any damage and in the same condition in which he/she received at pick-up. He/she is liable in the first instance for any damage to the vehicle. It will be assessed which damage is covered and which is not covered by the rental company's insurance policy. For example, damage deemed not to be covered by the insurance includes anything incurred where the driver is in breach of the terms and conditions laid out by the rental agreement or if he/she breaks the law (e.g. drink driving).
These cases are described in detail on our website in each respective rental company's section under the paragraph 'Insurance Exclusions' which can be found in the section 'Insurance' within the 'Important rental info'. Vehicle insurance is included in the rental rates for a motorhome rental. This insurance reduces the renter's risk in the event of theft, vandalism or any damage to the rental vehicle. However, there is always a certain level of excess payable by the renter in any incident. The excess applies separately for each and every incident. The excess payment is always processed in the first instance, regardless of who is at fault. It is then only reimbursed to the renter once the rental company has received payment from a third party or their insurance company.
The amount of excess which the renter is required to pay in any incident varies from rental company to company. In order to reduce the amount of personal excess the renter can buy an insurance supplement from the rental company. This supplement is already included in some cases when you make your booking with us, but with some rental companies it can only be paid locally at pick-up time. These extra insurance options are referred to as VIP, ELVIP or similar. No matter what, the renter is alway liable for a certain level of excess.
This insurance covers any damage claims brought by third parties for bodily injury and/or damage to their property. Public liability insurance inclusions and and their application in the USA differ from the norms that prevail in most parts of the world. A distinction is made there that certain charges can be brought against the rental company for their vehicles and that others can be brought about against the renter and other registered drivers. This distinction is not made in most countries. The amount of public liability insurance taken out by the rental company differs from company to company. The rental companies are normally insured up to a certain level (in most cases US$1mio or more) in the event that damages are inflicted upon a third party and/or their property. However, the public liability insurance cover provided for those people registered with the rental company as the drivers is often only up to the required statutory limit of the state in question. This limit is normally relatively low and only serves as a minimum amount of protection.
Why do the rental companies only insure their customers up to the statutory limit? If a US resident rents a vehicle in the USA and third party charges are brought against the driver/renter, the level of third party cover provided by the rental company will normally only go up to the minimum statutory level of insurance as taken out by the rental company. Should these charges be higher than these often very low limits, the private third party insurance taken out by the renter (US national) covers any costs beyond that limit. A rental company in the USA does not normally take on the greater expense that would arise by including any possible third party damage insurance to renters in its overall policy, but rather only pays insurance for any third party damage brought against itself. Unfortunately, UK or European-based insurance policies - for example, do not cover such additional liabilities which arise in the USA, meaning that in a bad accident they have a high chance of being held liable for large amounts of money once the statutory level is exceeded.
Where a rental company only offers the minimum required third party cover the renter can - and is advised to - purchase SLI insurance cover with the vehicle in order to increase their personal cover against such claims. Some of the companies offer this in their 'all inclusive options', which are good value for money. Cruise America already provides up to US$ 1million public liability cover in their base rental rates so there is no additional amount to pay at pick-up time for this. Note: passengers are not classified as third parties. Any claims made against the driver by a passenger (albeit unlikely that one of your friends will make a claim against you) while in the USA are not included in the insurance. The following example is necessary to illustrate this case in point where the rental companies' insurance (not even the SLI supplement) doesn't cover the driver:
Several friends are on holiday together and are driving in a motorhome. In an accident one of the friends is badly injured (regardless of whether it is the fault of the driver or not) and this friend (or ex-friend) brings charges against the driver. In this case the driver is not insured.
Vehicle rental companies usually do not offer any additional insurance options that cover this kind of situation. It is therefore strongly recommended that every traveller ensures he has insurance that covers injury (or invalidity) to him/herself including any accidents overseas.