Can I drive an uninsured car on my insurance policy?

There are certain types of conditions where you can drive an uninsured car on your insurance policy such as if the vehicle was just purchased, if it is a rental car, or if it is a temporary replacement vehicle. Still, driving an uninsured car can be dangerous under certain circumstances and can result in major financial damage if you get into an accident.

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A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 13, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • It’s important to comply with state-mandated insurance laws when you own a vehicle
  • Under state law, it’s the vehicle owner who’s held accountable when they don’t carry automobile insurance
  • Failure to comply with compulsory insurance laws can result in fines, loss of licensure, and vehicle impoundment

Driving an uninsured vehicle can be dangerous. Not only do you have to worry about getting into an accident without a policy to compensate you for your damages, but you also have to worry about paying legal fees if you’re taken to court for third-party damages.

This is one of the prime reasons why a majority of states have compulsory insurance requirements.

Carrying your own insurance coverage protects you while you’re driving vehicles that you own. It’s also possible that your policy will provide you with protection while you’re driving a non-owned vehicle with unknown insurance status.

Finding the right car insurance policy is important and it can be challenging as well. The best way to find the policy that meets your insurance needs (and budget) is to compare car insurance quotes from different companies.

Enter your ZIP code into our free online quote comparison tool to do just that and start saving today.

Does personal car insurance cover more than listed vehicles?

An auto insurance policy is full of different terms. The terms must be understood if you really want to translate the language of the policy.

A term that’s defined thoroughly is “covered autos.” As you might assume, a covered auto is a listed vehicle that’s stated on the car insurance declaration page of the policy, but that’s not all your policy covers.

Under the provisions of a Personal Auto Policy, there’s coverage provided for owned vehicles and other private passenger cars that meet certain conditions.

Here are some of the unlisted cars that your policy will cover you driving:

  • Newly acquired vehicles purchased after the policy begins
  • Replacement vehicle that is replacing a vehicle listed on the policy
  • Rental car insurance coverage
  • Temporary substitute autos used when your car is being repaired
  • Trailers owned by the named insured that can be driven or towed

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Does insurance follow the car or the driver?

As you can see, an auto policy provides a lot more coverage than you might initially think.

Definitions help you to understand policy provisions, but they don’t necessarily help you solve the biggest riddle in the insurance marketplace: Does insurance follow the car or the driver?

It’s a difficult question to answer simply because insurance can follow the car, the driver, or both depending on the scenario.

Your insurance works very differently if you have a liability loss as opposed to a physical damage loss.

You have to understand how coverage works to fully understand if your coverage is going to kick in when your friend borrows your car. Or if a family member does too.

How does liability coverage work?

Liability insurance, which pays for third-party damages and medical bills, will always follow the driver regardless of whose vehicle is being operated at the time.

Liability is made up of bodily injury liability coverage and property damage liability coverage. The former pays for injuries, the latter pays for vehicle damages or damage to other property.

The only rule is that the vehicle being operated must be considered eligible as a covered vehicle at the time of the loss.

This means that you will have liability coverage when driving a temporary substitute, a replacement vehicle, a trailer, and a newly acquired vehicle.

Coverage isn’t afforded in the following scenarios:

  • You have regular access to the car and aren’t a covered driver
  • You are a registered owner but don’t have the car under your policy
  • The trailer isn’t in your name (you’d need car insurance for trailers)
  • The vehicle is owned by someone living in your household

Remember, liability insurance only pays for other people’s damage and medical expenses when you’re the at-fault driver, not yours.

Why does liability insurance follow the driver?

Liability insurance follows you as a driver because it’s designed to protect your assets. Since your assets are still at risk when you’re driving a non-owned vehicle, the company must afford you coverage when you’re in other cars.

Your liability insurance will be deemed secondary and the car’s liability insurance would be deemed primary.

This means your coverage technically kicks in if the primary car insurance company will not pay for a claim or if the vehicle doesn’t have liability coverage at all.

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How does physical damage coverage work?

Physical damage isn’t quite as simple as liability coverage when you’re driving a borrowed car. In most cases, comprehensive coverage and collision coverage are tied to the insured vehicle listed on the policy.

Collision coverage pays for your damages from an accident you caused, while comprehensive coverage pays for damages related to incidents that are not collisions, such as damages related to weather, natural disasters, and theft.

When you’re loaning your car to someone, you’re also loaning your physical damage coverage, but if you’re driving another vehicle your full coverage will more than likely not apply.

Some policies have wording that states that physical damage coverage will carry over to someone else’s vehicle when it’s on the policy.

This depends on the reason why you’re borrowing the vehicle, if it’s a household vehicle, who owns the car, and whether or not it has insurance.

How will medical payments and uninsured motorist coverage extend?

Like liability coverage, both medical payments coverage and uninsured motorist protection will follow the driver and not the car.

If you’re injured in an accident while borrowing an uninsured vehicle, you have peace of mind in knowing your medical payments or uninsured motorist coverage will kick in to help cover medical treatment expenses.

Uninsured/uninsured motorist coverage is a requirement in many states and even if it isn’t, you might consider purchasing it. Our study covering facts about uninsured motorists found that the state with the most uninsured drivers is Mississippi, where 29% of drivers don’t have insurance.

In the majority of states, at least 10% of drivers are uninsured. This isn’t just a problem for them — it could cause a damaging financial situation for you as well.

If you don’t have this type of coverage, you should think carefully about how much it will cost you if you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured driver.

What are the penalties for driving without car insurance?

The penalties for driving without insurance can be steep. As more and more people are caught driving without compulsory insurance, the fines just get to be harsher.

Here are some of the most common penalties enforced all throughout the nation:

  • Fines of up to $1000
  • Imprisonment
  • Suspension of registration
  • Suspension of license
  • Impoundment of vehicle
  • Community Service
  • Reinstatement fees

It’s the vehicle owner’s job to insure their vehicle. If you’re given permission to borrow a car, always ask if it’s insured. If you get pulled over by a police officer and you can’t show proof of insurance, you’re in for a huge hassle, including a potential driver license suspension or worse.

If you have a lapse in auto insurance coverage for any reason, you could also find yourself paying much higher insurance premiums down the road.

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What’s the bottom line?

If you’re in an accident, your liability coverage will protect your assets and wages but your physical damage may not apply. Be sure to review your insurance and see if coverage applies. If you’re confused about anything in your policy, talk to an insurance agent.

No matter what type of insurance policy you have, saving money on car insurance is important to everyone. Plug your ZIP code into our free quote tool to compare car insurance quotes from multiple insurance providers and start saving today.

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