In California, rental car companies do not automatically provide any liability protection to the renter as part of the standard rental agreement. However, some (e.g. Hertz) may provide the minimum primary liability protection to international customers (driver’s license indicates an address outside the USA) renting in California.
This means drivers need to provide their own liability insurance when renting in California. In general, US residents should already be covered by their regular auto insurance. However drivers will need to confirm that they have the minimum level of liability insurance from their own insurance company. If not, renters will need to purchase liability insurance (LIS or SLI) through the car rental company, or a non-owner liability policy through an agent.
According to California Civil Code Section 1936, the renter is covered for theft (and vandalism damage as a result of theft) as long as the renter has exercised ordinary care. The renter is also covered for vandalism with a $500 deductible in cases other than theft. So purchasing additional coverage for theft and vandalism (assuming the renter plans to exercise ordinary care) is typically not needed.
The other risks (collision damage to the rental, theft when renter is careless, personal accident, medical or having personal effects damaged/stolen) are not automatically covered by rental car companies. The renter does have the option to purchase coverage to protect against the risk. In many cases, the renter already has coverage through their own auto insurance or personal liability policy, their health, life insurance, or even their credit card company.
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