Having an accident in a hire car is the last thing anyone needs. But accidents can happen, so here’s what to do if you’re unlucky.

There are four key things to do immediately after an accident:

1) Get everyone to safety

After any car accident, it’s important to get yourself and anyone else out of harm’s way as quickly as possible. Just bear in mind that nhs.uk says not to move anyone if they’re in a lot of pain, or if they’ve broken their leg, or if you think they’ve injured or broken their back.

2) Contact the emergency services

Before you even set off on your travels, it’s worth making a note of the emergency numbers for every country you’re travelling through. Some countries have a different number for each of the emergency services. You might find this list on Wikipedia useful.

If you’re travelling through any of the European Union’s member state countries, it’s a fair bit easier. Just dial 112 from any mobile phone or landline, and you’ll be put directly through to the local police, ambulance or fire service. The number is free to use.

3) Exchange details and record what’s happened

With everyone safe and the emergency services on their way, the next thing to do is exchange your name and contact details with anyone else affected by the incident. This applies whether you’ve crashed into another vehicle or someone else’s property, and whether or not they were on the scene at the time of the accident.

If you hit a parked car, leave your details in a note under their windscreen wiper. If there are other people and/or vehicles involved, make sure everyone at least exchanges car registration numbers, names, addresses and telephone numbers. If possible, take photos of the scene and any damage as soon as you can, and make a note of the following:

  • Colour, make and model of any vehicles involved.
  • Date and time of the accident.
  • Description of the weather conditions, the state of the road and any street lighting.
  • Any damage done to any vehicles and property.
  • Any injuries sustained by drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

4) Call the rental company

Call the rental company (their number will be on the rental agreement) and explain the situation. They should then handle recovery, repairs and replacement of the hire car if necessary, and deal with the insurance companies or anyone else involved in the accident.

Normally, rental companies won’t refund anything you’ve paid unless you cleared it with them beforehand. So if you do pay someone directly, you’re not likely to get your money back from the company.

How does rental car insurance work?

Hire cars usually come with a basic package of Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection and Third-Party Liability cover. (A ‘waiver’ isn’t actually insurance: it means the company are waiving their right to make you pay.)

Collision Damage Waiver

If the rental car’s bodywork gets damaged during your rental, your Collision Damage Waiver will cover it. It won’t cover damage to other parts of the car, though, and you’ll have to put some money towards the cost. The bit that you pay is called the excess, and it’s usually between £500 (about €600) and £3,000 (about €3,500). Most of the time, they’ll just take this out of the deposit you left when you picked the car up.

Theft Protection

If the car gets stolen, your Theft Protection will cover the cost of a new car. Again, you’ll have to pay some money towards the cost.

Third-Party Liability

This pays for damage to other people’s property: if you bump into someone else’s car, for example, or knock down their garden fence.

There’s plenty of other cover and insurance available too. You can buy it while you’re booking your car, before you pick it up, or when you get to the counter at the start of your rental.