Does auto insurance follow the car or the person?

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Auto insurance is a set of coverages that protect you and your car in different situations that can potentially occur when driving. Some of these protections are designed to follow the vehicle whether you are driving or not. But there are a few times when your insurance can follow you when you drive a car unlisted in your policy.

A firm understanding of how your auto policy follows you versus your car—as well as the limitations of the coverages—will ensure you get the most from your policy and stay out of trouble with your auto insurer.

Is the car insured or the driver?

The benefits provided in standard auto insurance policies are limited to vehicles listed in the policy. So generally speaking, the policy insures the car and you as the driver of that car. When it comes to drivers of your vehicle, giving someone permission to use your car (or if they live in your household) means they are covered in most cases.

Depending on the language in your policy, your insurance may extend protections when you drive someone else’s car or limit protections when another driver is using your car..

Adding other drivers

Most insurers require any household members of driving age who are licensed to be named on the policy because there is a reasonable expectation that they could drive your vehicle. Additionally, regular drivers outside of your household are also usually requested to be named in the insurance policy. For instance, if you loan your car to your neighbor every Tuesday and Thursday to drive to their yoga class, the neighbor should be on the policy. When it comes to infrequent drivers, insurers generally extend coverage if you give someone else permission to drive your vehicle.

General rule

Standard auto insurance policies generally let other drivers use the insured vehicle infrequently. That means if you let someone else borrow your car, most of the standard coverages included in your insurance will extend to the other driver while they are borrowing your car. For example, if your aunt visits from out of town and you loan her your vehicle for a trip to the store, an accident that occurs while she’s driving would generally be covered. In these situations, drivers are expected to be occasional drivers, who use the vehicle infrequently.

Exceptions

In rare cases, some insurers write a policy with an excluded driver, someone who is specifically excluded from coverage regardless of whether the policyholder grants them permission to drive their vehicle or not. A driver may be named as excluded due to high risk, like multiple accidents or a DUI conviction. The policyholder agrees that the vehicle will have no coverage in the event of a claim if that individual was driving when the incident occurs. Named driver policies require other drivers besides the main policyholder to be listed in the policy in order to have any protections while driving. This means that occasional use drivers would not benefit from the policy coverages, although this type of policy is uncommon.

If you want another infrequent driver to use your car under your insurance policy, check with your provider to see how that should be handled. Most auto policies include permissive use, which would allow the insurance to extend to other drivers not specifically included in the policy. However, if an individual will be a regular user of your vehicle, the insurer will likely require them to be added to the policy.

If you have a teen driver at home who will use your vehicle, for example, they will likely need to be added to your policy. Keep in mind doing so will likely increase the cost of your monthly premium.

What happens if someone gets in an accident in my car?

If you lend your car to someone and they get into an accident, the protections they have under your insurance depends entirely on how the policy is set up. If your policy allows for permissive use and you have full coverage (liability, collision and comprehensive), then your car will generally be protected under your policy.

If you only have liability coverage, you have no protection for damages to your own car, regardless of who is driving your vehicle. If someone borrows your car and gets into an accident, then your liability would generally extend to injuries or damages to the other party in the accident.

Types of auto insurance policies and coverage options

Auto insurance policies can include liability coverage, as well as collision and comprehensive coverage. Let’s look at each coverage and whether or not it extends to other drivers who are driving your car. Keep in mind that it always depends on the policy language.

  • Liability coverage – This can cover damage to other cars and property, as well as medical bills for drivers and passengers in other cars. But this coverage offers no protections for damage sustained to your own vehicle or any of your own medical bills. If your policy allows for permissive use and you let someone else borrow your car, liability coverage should cover damages to others that result from your car, but not your car or the driver of your car.
  • Collision coverage – This covers damage to your vehicle sustained by a moving accident, such as a wreck with another car. If your policy allows permissive use and someone else was driving your car, this coverage can pay for your car repairs, even if you weren’t driving at the time.
  • Comprehensive coverage – This will typically cover damage to your vehicle from events that do not qualify as moving accidents, such as vandalism or natural disasters. Since many comprehensive claims do not involve a driver, this coverage is more associated with the vehicle and not the specific driver. An exception to this would be if you or someone else is driving and hits a deer, in which case your policy likely covers damages for you, your household or permissive-use drivers.
  • Medical payments or personal injury protection – Some auto policies include coverage that pays for your medical bills if you’re injured in a wreck. Although it depends on the policy, this coverage generally wouldn’t extend to other drivers who use your vehicle when you’re not present.

When car insurance follows the driver

Almost all of the protections provided by car insurance are limited to the insured car. So if you get into a wreck while driving a car that’s not listed in your policy, you typically should not expect your insurance to pay for the damages to that car, even if you have full coverage in your own policy. An exception might be rental cars, depending on your specific policy.

However, your policy’s liability coverage might come into play if you damage another driver’s car in a wreck. If you’re found at-fault in an accident while driving your friend’s car, your own liability insurance might be needed if the damages exceed the coverage limits in your friend’s policy.

In this case, your friend’s policy would be the primary insurance, because they own the car. And if the damages exceed their coverage limits, your policy would act as secondary insurance. So liability coverage can cover you as the secondary insurance, even if you are driving a car besides the one listed in your policy. Different states have different laws about this, so make sure to check your local regulations.

In most cases, car insurance tends to follow the car. The most common exception here is when you rent a vehicle; in most cases, your liability coverage extends in the case of an accident. One of the only other times car insurance follows the driver is if the liability coverage in your policy is needed as secondary insurance in an at-fault accident.

If you are concerned about others driving your vehicle and want to be certain how they (and your vehicle) are protected, check the language in your policy first to see how your insurer handles permissive use and other drivers.