Even if you’ve had car insurance for years, figuring out when you are and aren’t covered by your auto insurance can still be a tricky business. One common question that tends to come up is whether your auto insurance covers you, the driver, no matter what vehicle you’re driving, or whether it sticks with the car (or cars) listed on the policy, even when someone else is driving them. More simply put: does car insurance follow the car, or the person?
As with most insurance-related questions, the answer is slightly more complicated than one or the other. But, in general, car insurance tends to follow the cars it covers rather than the driver. So what does that mean for your coverage?
If someone else borrows your car, in a way, they’re borrowing your car insurance too. At least, that is, if they’re driving your car with your permission.
Whenever someone else is driving your car with your permission, yours is the primary car insurance. That means that if your friend, cousin, neighbor, co-worker or other type of pal is driving your car and gets in an accident, your car insurance will cover the damage in much the same way as if you were driving.
If the driver who borrowed your car causes an accident, your liability coverage will pay for damage or injury they caused to someone else. And your collision coverage would pay for damage to your own vehicle from an accident.
There are some exceptions to this, though. If you lend your car out to a driver without a license, or to someone who then drives it under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your insurance may not cover damage from an accident they cause.
If someone borrows your car without your permission and causes an accident, they’re liable for the damage — but non-permissive use can be hard to prove to your insurance provider. And if someone who is listed as an excluded driver on your policy — that is, they’re expressly excluded from your car insurance — drives your car, then your car insurance won’t cover any damage that happens while they’re driving.
Learn more about auto insurance coverage for when someone else borrows your car.
As we mentioned above, car insurance generally follows the car, but insurance is never black and white. There are some cases when certain types of coverage do follow the driver.
When a driver borrows a car and causes an accident, the car’s owner’s auto insurance is the primary insurance, but if the driver has their own insurance, that will serve as the secondary insurance. So if the damage caused in the accident exceeds the limits of the car owner’s liability coverage, then the driver’s own liability insurance may cover the rest of the costs.
That’s why it can be risky to lend your car out to someone who doesn’t have car insurance of their own. Even though your car insurance follows your car, so to speak, if your buddy causes damage that exceeds your coverage limit and they have no insurance of their own, then you could wind up liable for those costs.
Frequent car-borrowers can protect themselves with something called non-owner car insurance. Non-owner car insurance is a sort of stripped-down type of auto insurance, basically designed to ensure you have your own liability coverage. If you’re driving someone else’s car and cause an accident where the damages exceed the owner’s insurance limits, non-owner car insurance ensures you have liability coverage to cover those costs.
A Policygenius expert can help you figure out what kind of auto insurance coverage is right for you, whether you’re a frequent car-borrower or a frequent car lender.
Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius in New York City, and an expert in auto insurance. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic, writing about news and culture. Her work has appeared in The Dodo, AOL, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.
Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.