The Dangerously Expensive Rental Car Insurance Game

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It is one kind of Russian roulette nearly all of us play.

You would not empty a revolver of all but one bullet, spin the cylinder and aim the barrel at your head.

But most of do an equivalent at the rental car counter when the question is popped about whether you want the optional insurance.

Do you need it? Back into a craggy high desert boulder in Taos, NM and, odds are, the costs will top $5,000 to replace the rear bumper and maybe a fender. And that is a trivial accident. Get into something serious and the vehicle will be totaled and now we are talking real money.

But insurance protection bought at the car rental company is not cheap, either.

At Enterprise Rental Car the going rate for CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) bought online when booking is $11 per day. Many other companies charge more. $20 per day is not unheard of.

At least in Phoenix on weekend days, a Chevy Spark can be rented for $33 per day.

That means the insurance is a big piece of the final price.

Should you say no?

"It is common to get a high-pressure sales pitch for CDW at the rental counter," said John Wetmore, producer of "Perils for Pedestrians" television. "Since I know my facts ahead of time, I can turn down the CDW with confidence."

That's because Wetmore believes he is amply covered by his personal car insurance and also by coverage provided by a credit card.

Is he right? Probably because he has looked into what coverage he has.

The rest of us may be playing a version of Russian roulette, however. In a poll conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 42% of us said we were "thoroughly confused or had only a rough idea about insurance coverage when renting a car."