If a car accident isn't your fault, you may be able to claim against the other party's insurance for more than just the damage caused to your vehicle in particular, the cost of hiring a temporary replacement vehicle.
According to accident claims services, insurers don't shout this possibility from the rooftops.
However, recent court cases have established that if you're the non-fault driver, you could be entitled to receive the cost of renting a car while yours is with the panel beater.
The claims manager with Sydney-based Motor Vehicle Accident Claims and Recovery Services (MVACARS), Greg Edmunds, says many people don't realise they're entitled to make a claim for this "consequential loss".
"[Insurers] don't want you to know this," Edmunds says.
"Insurance companies . . . do their best to keep it under their hat the less people who know about it, the less people will make the claim."
Edmunds says that to be entitled to make a claim for car rental, someone only has to show a "reasonable need" for a temporary replacement vehicle.
In 2000 after a dispute between insurers, courts ruled car hire was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of an accident and therefore a recoverable cost, Edmunds explains. This precedent was confirmed by another case in 2007.
However, James Frape, managing director of 1Car1, a car rental company that also provides accident services, says there's still resistance among Australian insurers to the type of service he provides, even though it has become common practice in Britain.
Operations such as MVACARS and 1Car1 can provide vehicles on "credit" to no-fault drivers. They can then chase the at-fault party's insurer to recover the cost of the rental.
MVACARS earns a fee of $100 for handling a claim a fee often waived when the car rental companies it deals with meet the cost themselves to win the rental contract.
1Car1 has its own fleet of cars so its accident service is another way of earning rental on those cars and it does not charge a fee.
Frape of 1Car1 says claims for car rental costs are "standard procedure" for insurers in Britain, from where he hails. However, in Australia the process can still be sufficiently difficult to put many people off chasing their entitlement.
This is where their services come in, Edmunds and Frape say, and this usually starts with a referral from a mechanic or a panel beater.
The service checks whether the other party is insured; if so, it speaks to the insurer to check whether a claim has been lodged. It then ascertains whether the insurer admits fault.
If all these things line up, Edmunds and Frape say there's good reason to believe a claim for car rental costs will be paid out. They then provide a replacement car on "credit" (perhaps after paying a bond).
If there's a risk and claim won't be paid perhaps the other driver isn't insured they let the customer know this and decline the job.
The no-fault driver then has the option of hiring a car on standard terms and taking the matter further personally rather than through the service.
"We try to minimise the claims risk," Frape says. "We're also very good at knowing who's at fault in an accident."
He says that only 1 per cent to 2 per cent of claims fail.
Edmunds says it's rare that MVACARS takes on a claim only to have it denied by an insurer. When this happens, it is usually because something comes out of "left field", such as the other driver being insured but for some reason deciding not to lodge a claim.
However this is the catch with these services. If a claim does fail, the no-fault driver will have to meet all of the car rental costs.
Frape and Edmunds say this liability is made plain at the time a contract is signed. Their emphasis on risk-assessment processes means this outcome is rare and they only take on customers almost certainly eligible for a payout.
People are also made aware that there are limits to how much they can claim for instance, they can't claim a month of car rental for a repair that should take only days.
They're also legally required to "mitigate" their expenses such as taking a free "loan car" from their repairer if one of these is available.
A branch sales manager for NRMA Insurance NSW, Grant Taylor, says NRMA customers with comprehensive car insurance need not go to a third party because they can get all the help they need through their insurer.
"NRMA provides services whether you are at fault or not," Taylor says.
He says the insurer's new Comprehensive Plus insurance includes car rental as a standard feature, whereas it's an optional extra on other policies.
He also suggests people check any limits on the type of car, the daily rental rate or the number of days of car hire insurers or accident services allow.
Edmunds acknowledges people could go through their insurer to have a claim like this made against another party for their car rental costs.
However, he says that if you do, you'll have to pay car rental costs upfront and then claim them back, whereas a service such as his provides a car on credit.
AFTER AN ACCIDENT
If you want to use a claims service to recover car-rental costs, you'll need to be able to provide certain information, including:
* The name and contact details of both the owner and driver of the other car, including their licence number (with expiry date).
* Details of the other vehicle - make, model, year, colour, registration number.
* The insurer and policy number for the other vehicle.
* The details for your own car.
* A description of the accident, including time and place.