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Battle plans for the road trip from hell

The freedom of the open highway beckons at this time of year, but a variety of hazards can turn a vacation getaway into hell on wheels.

You’ve put time into packing snacks and planning car games, but have you prepared your auto insurance for a road trip? Sure, your liability insurance rescues you if you crash into someone else, but are you ready for these other problems?

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1. Have car insurance? Prove it.

road trip insuranceConfirm that your car insurance is up to date and make sure you have your insurance ID card, in case you're pulled over by the police. Many states require drivers to show proof of insurance.

2. Do you already have rental car insurance?

Plan to rent? Don't wait until you get to the checkout counter to decide whether to buy insurance from the rental car company. A third of consumers mistakenly think car insurance always automatically covers a rental car, according to a recent National Association of Insurance Commissioners survey, but that's not the case.

"The rule of thumb is the coverage you have on your car insurance extends to the rental car, but there are exceptions," says Elena Ahrens, Nevada Division of Insurance assistant property and casualty chief.

There might be coverage limitations through your policy on longer-term rentals, such as a week, a month or more, she adds. Call your car insurance agent to check on whether your policy provides sufficient coverage. If it doesn't, consider purchasing a low-cost rider to cover rentals. Ask about limits and any fees that might not be covered. For instance, would your policy cover loss of use, the rental car company's loss of rental revenue, while the car was being repaired?

Next, check to see whether the credit card you plan to use offers insurance coverage and ask about limits. Get the details in writing. If your car insurance and credit card provide adequate coverage, don't waste money on duplicate insurance from the rental car company.

3. Don’t turn a flat tire into an insurance claim

Towing and roadside assistance is a common option on auto insurance policies, but it may not be your best financial bet. Even a small towing claim goes on your claim record. That by itself won’t push your car insurance rates up, but a string of small claims might.

It’s better to buy roadside assistance from another provider and keep your insurance record out of it.

4. Is your stuff covered?

What happens if your golf clubs are stolen from your car? Forty percent of consumers mistakenly think their car insurance will cover the cost to replace them, according to the NAIC survey. But car insurance covers only the car, not personal belongings inside.

Typically, renter's or home insurance covers theft of personal items, but policies have limits for valuables, such as jewelry and golf equipment. You may need to purchase extra coverage to protect the full value of such items.

Call your agent to confirm your level of coverage, advises Nevada Insurance Commissioner Brett Barratt.

5. Enjoying the wildlife – until you crash into it

Spotting wildlife is one of the thrills of a road trip, but crashing into a large animal can spell the end of your vehicle. If that happens, the damage is covered only if you’ve purchased comprehensive car insurance.

Deer-vehicle collisions peak in the fall during mating season, but they can occur any time of year.

"The best advice is to slow down in areas where deer are prevalent," says Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "If you see one deer, others are likely to follow across the road."

Rader says it's best not to swerve to avoid animals, because it increases the chance of hitting another vehicle or leaving the road. 

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