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If you only need car insurance for a short time, you may already be covered by another policy or have several options for purchasing limited coverage.
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byFabio Faschi, PLCS, SBCS, CLCS
Fabio Faschi, PLCS, SBCS, CLCS
Property & Casualty Insurance Expert
Updated April 21, 2021|7 min read
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Whether you’re driving for just a day or plan to commute on a regular basis, you need to have car insurance before you get behind the wheel. Car insurance is only legally required in 48 out of 50 states, but regardless of which state you live in it’s a good idea to have auto insurance — going without could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars if you get into an accident.
Short-term and temporary car insurance is not generally available in the United States, although you have several options if you only need to drive for a short time. Car insurance policies in the U.S. are typically set to six months or one year, but if you’re renting or borrowing a car that you don’t own, there are plenty of ways to ensure you’re still covered.
Short-term and temporary car insurance is not generally available in the U.S.
If you’re just borrowing a car from a friend, you’ll be covered under their car insurance policy, so you don’t need to worry about getting your own
If you own a car but don’t plan to drive it that often, you can lower your coverage or opt for a pay-per-mile insurance policy
Short-term and temporary car insurance describes coverage for you and your car when you only need it for a short period of time, like for a few days or weeks. However, short-term policies aren’t typically offered in the U.S. — most insurance companies will only write policies for six months or a year — but there are ways to get insured for less than the standard timeframe depending on your circumstances.
If you’re borrowing a car or taking turns on a road trip with someone else, you’re typically covered by their car insurance policy, and you don’t need to buy your own insurance before you get behind the wheel. If you frequently borrow cars that aren’t yours, you may want to look into what’s known as a non-owner policy.
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As mentioned, short term and temporary car insurance are typically unavailable in the United States, however you likely wouldn’t need it anyway. Below are instances when you may think you need temporary car insurance, but are actually already covered.
Family members who live under your household, including your spouse and any kids who have their driver’s license, are covered by your car insurance unless they’re specifically excluded from your policy.
In fact, many car insurance companies require you to list everyone of driving age in your household on your policy. If one of them wants to “borrow” your car, they don’t need to get any additional insurance.
If you’re unsure whether a family member is covered, check your car insurance policy and talk to your insurance company. Note that adding additional drivers to the policy may increase your rates, especially if these drivers are younger or inexperienced. If your rates seem too high, Policygenius can help you compare quotes and policies online.
If you have permission to borrow someone else’s car, you’re typically covered by the owner’s car insurance policy. You’ll be what’s known as a “permissive driver,” meaning you’re covered by their insurance because they gave you permission to drive. Make sure you confirm with the policyholder that their plan actually covers you, and be safe when driving the car. Although their car insurance will pay any damages you’re liable for, causing an accident can still raise the car owner’s rates, even though you’ll be the one driving.
You might not be covered by the car owner’s policy if you have been classified as a high-risk driver. That can happen if you have a DUI on your record or your license is expired, which can exclude permissive driving.
Additionally, if you’re a regular driver of the car, the auto insurer may request that you be added as a named insured, even if you don’t live with the person whose car you’re borrowing.
If you own a car, your car insurance policy may already extend to cover your rental car. Typically, your car insurance applies to any cars you rent, meaning that if you cause an accident while driving a rental car, your car insurance will cover the damage you’re responsible for just like if you were driving your own car. The rental car company may also offer you rental car insurance, whether or not you already have your own car insurance policy. However, rental car insurance may limit the amount you can recoup for damages you owe, and not every type of loss or damage may be covered in every circumstance. But there are some good reasons why you would want to supplement your auto insurance with a rental car insurance policy:
The rental car insurance may have a lower deductible, meaning your obligation for a given claim could be lower than it would under your personal policy if you cause an accident with your rental
You can purchase higher coverage limits, which could come in handy if you’re driving in a dangerous or unfamiliar location
If you don’t have comprehensive or collision insurance on your personal car insurance policy, adding it to your rental car insurance could ensure that you don’t owe anything if the rental is damaged or destroyed by a covered peril
If you don’t have your own auto insurance policy, at a minimum you need to purchase liability insurance from the rental car company.
You’ll have the option to purchase rental insurance whether you’re renting a car or a moving van, such as a U-Haul. But before you spring for the rental car coverage, check the benefits of your credit card, especially if you pay an annual membership fee. Many major credit cards come with rental car insurance.
If your child has their own car, it will have to be insured whenever they’re driving it. But if they leave their car at home for the semester and they have a separate policy, they have the option to cancel their policy and reinstate it when they come home for the holidays. However, this could cause the premium rates associated with that policy to increase, offsetting any savings you might receive by canceling the policy for a period of time. That’s because having continuous coverage will lower your rates over time.
If your college-aged child is on your car insurance policy but they’re not driving any of your vehicles while they’re away at school, you should let your insurer know because you may be eligible for a discount.
Non-owner liability insurance, also just called non-owner car insurance, covers drivers who want the protection of a car insurance policy but don’t own a car. It’s a good option if you plan on frequently borrowing cars or driving rental cars, or if you’ll be borrowing a car from someone who doesn’t have have car insuranceIt’s important to note that non-owner policies are not a short-term or temporary insurance policy. They have the same policy periods as traditional car insurance policies, which are typically six months or one year.
Non-owner auto insurance also typically only includes liability insurance — coverage for when you cause bodily injury or property damage to someone else or their vehicle. This coverage won’t reimburse you if you need to replace or repair a car because it was stolen or damaged by a covered peril.
If your interest in a short-term or temporary car insurance policy is because you own a car but don’t drive often and want to save money, you should look into usage-based insurance. Usage-based auto insurance, also called pay-as-you-go and pay-per-mile insurance, assesses your premiums based on how you actually drive, instead of how people like you are statistically likely to drive. Typically it works by tracking your driving with an app and setting your premiums based on your driving behavior. Some companies offer only usage-based policies, while others offer usage-based discount programs on standard policies. If you drive safely and infrequently, your premiums will be much lower than someone who drives more, as long as you don’t get into any accidents.
If you plan to leave your car in storage for a period of time, see if your insurance company can reduce your coverage to just comprehensive coverage. “Comp only” coverage, also called car storage insurance, covers damage that can happen to your car when you’re not driving, such as damage from falling objects, fire, theft, and vandalism.
Some insurers might only allow you to reduce your coverage to comp only if your car’s been in storage for at least 30 days, but once you qualify, comp only coverage will reduce your premiums significantly since you’ll only be paying for what you need. Just make sure to reinstate your coverage before you start driving again, because hitting the road without liability coverage is illegal in most states.
If you only need car insurance for a short time, you may be tempted to cancel your car insurance before the policy period ends. However not having coverage for a period of time may cause your rates to increase next time you purchase a policy, since you’ll have a lapse in coverage. You should only cancel your car insurance if you’re selling your car or if you’re switching to a new policy.
However, if you do cancel your car insurance policy and you paid for the entire policy term upfront, you’ll typically receive a prorated refund for the months you paid for during the period but didn’t use. Depending on your insurance company though, there may be a surcharge for canceling a policy before the policy term is up.
Car insurance policies typically have term limits of either six months or one year. You generally can’t get car insurance for only one day, but you likely wouldn’t need to anyway. If you’re renting a car and you have your own auto policy, your policy will likely extend coverage to the rental car or you can buy rental car insurance from the rental company. If you’re borrowing someone else’s car, you’re typically covered by their policy.
It’s a common misconception that car insurance follows the driver and not the car, but this is actually untrue. If you drive someone else’s car, you’re usually covered under their car insurance policy under what is called permissive use. That said, if the car owner is a family member or friend whose car you’ll be using frequently, or someone you live with, you should be added to their auto policy as a named insured (some insurers may already require this).
Car insurance is required in order to legally drive in almost every state. If you won’t be driving your car for an extended period of time — like if you’re studying abroad — you shouldn’t cancel your car insurance policy altogether. You can, however, decrease your coverage to comprehensive coverage only if you’re leaving your car in storage. This means your car will be protected against hazards like falling objects, fire, and theft. Make sure to add liability coverage back to your policy before you begin driving again.