We’ve all been there, at the checkout counter of a car rental agency. In a hurry, anxious to get wherever it is we’re going. All the questions we’re asked are pretty-straightforward. Address, no problem. Length of rental, easy. But then comes the one that often throws me for a loop, digging up quasi-deep questions about myself.

Do you want renters insurance?

My first thought is almost always something along the lines of “This trip and this car are already costing me so much money. I’m not going to spend any more.” Followed by “I’ve never gotten into a car accident, this is just a commercial from the culture of fear." Followed by “Besides, I already have car insurance, right?”

This post is an attempt to clear up those gray areas of self-doubt for myself, and anyone else who encounters them.

To start, I phoned my car insurance provider -- a major carrier that often advertises on TV, especially during football games -- and simply asked them whether I was covered when renting another car.

The answer was welcomed. Because my personal policy already includes comprehensive, liability and collision insurance, any car rented for fewer than 30 days will have the same coverage automatically extended to it. I also have uninsured motorist protection, and that will also carry over to my rental. In other words, if I get hit by a car driven by someone without insurance while driving my rental, I’ll still be covered -- minus the deductible.

The one big element not covered when renting a car is “loss of use.” That means if the car needs to go to the shop for repairs stemming from an accident of which I was apart while renting it -- I would have to pay the daily rate for each day it was out of use. You can get insurance against this for a few dollars at the rental counter if you're so inclined.

Obviously different drivers will have different situations. If you don’t have any pieces of the big trinity of auto insurance -- collision, comprehensive or liability -- then whatever you’re missing will almost certainly not be extended to the rental car.

The upshot is that you should definitely check with car insurance provider before throwing down for insurance on your rental. Chances are that you’ll have most if not all of your coverage extended and don’t have to pay the full price of insurance on the vehicle.

If you’re interested learn more about insuring cars rented for even less time, check out this piece on covering your ZipCar and RelayRides vehicles.

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