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Bent fenders

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WHEN is auto insurance not insurance? When it's the so-called ``collision damage waiver.'' The $9 or $10 per day a car-rental agency will charge to spare you from having to pay the cost of any fenders you might bend is more than any state would let an insurance company charge. The waiver makes a joke of ``discount'' rental rates. Arguably, in case of accident the waiver should let you leave the hassles of repair estimates, claim forms, and so on to the rental agency. If you lack other insurance, you could be liable for a $3,000 deductible - or even the entire value of the car. So the waiver can be worth it.

But most renters who own a car are already covered for collision damage. Rental agencies tend not to point this out; nor do they mention that if you decline the waiver, they may put a charge for a deposit of several hundred dollars on your credit card. And it gets worse. You could pay for the waiver and still get stuck if you had an accident in which the rental agency decided you were at fault.

Car renters of America, unite! For the time being, paying for the waiver may be the line of least resistance. But state attorneys general and insurance authorities should be given the word that this is a rip-off consumers will not stand for.

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