What happens if someone drives your car and they get in an accident?
Last updated: June 2022
Contrary to popular belief, car insurance typically follows the car — not the driver. If you let someone else drive your car and they get in an accident, your insurance company would likely be responsible for paying the claim, depending on the coverages in your policy. The claim would go on your insurance record and could affect your car insurance rates in the future.
A number of factors may come into play, though, when determining whose car insurance applies if someone else drives your car and gets in an accident.
How does my car insurance cover other drivers?
In many states, your car insurance would be considered the primary insurance if someone else wrecks your vehicle, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). That means the coverage you've chosen on your policy would help cover the injuries or vehicle damage the driver caused.
So, if someone else driving your car is at fault for the accident, here's how your policy's coverage may help:
- Auto liability coverage: This coverage may help pay for another person's medical bills or damaged vehicle that resulted from the accident. Your liability coverage would not pay for your friend's medical bills or repairs to your own car.
- Collision coverage: If you have collision coverage, it may help pay for your vehicle repairs. Keep in mind that you'll have to pay your deductible (the amount you're responsible for paying before insurance kicks in) first.
- Medical payments coverage: If the driver of your vehicle is injured in an accident they caused, this coverage may help pay for their medical bills.
It's also a good idea to understand a few exceptions regarding how your insurance may work. First, you shouldn't just assume your insurance will cover the accident and any damage. For example, some policies don't cover relatives living in your home, unless they are specifically named on your policy. Other policies may provide coverage, but on a more limited basis. Second, if the driver of your car isn't found at fault for the accident, you may not need to worry about your insurance taking a hit. This is because the at-fault driver's insurance may pay for your friend's injuries and repairs to your car.
Keep in mind that laws vary by state, so it's important to read your policy documents carefully to understand what's covered. If you have questions about your coverage and how it helps protect another driver, ask your agent to help clarify.
What is permissive and non-permissive use?
Whether your insurance will kick in when another person gets in an accident in your car may depend on if you gave them permission to borrow it. This is referred to as "permissive" or "non-permissive" use.
Most car insurance policies will cover drivers you've listed on the policy, or anyone whom you give permission to drive your car, says Nolo.com. This means your insurance will likely cover another driver in the event of an accident, as long as they had your permission to drive your vehicle. Remember though, some states may provide reduced coverage when other people drive your vehicle.
If a friend or family member takes your car without your consent, you may not be held accountable for damage if an accident occurs. For example, if a friend borrows your car without your permission and causes an accident, your friend's insurance may be considered primary coverage. However, if your friend doesn't have insurance, you may still have to file a claim with your own insurance company to help cover the accident. Or, if a thief takes your car for a joyride and crashes into another vehicle, you likely won't be liable for damage and repairs to the other vehicle. But, you may have to file a claim with your insurer to cover your vehicle's repairs.
Be sure to read your policy's terms and conditions, or talk to your agent, so you understand what's covered in your state. You may also want to talk to your agent about whether you can exclude drivers from your policy.
Can the other driver's car insurance become involved?
If your insurance company will cover a permissive driver's accident in your car, you may find that there are additional wrinkles. For instance, what if the accident caused extensive injuries or damage, and the cost of the claim maxes out the limits —the maximum amount your insurer will pay toward a covered claim —on your policy?
In this case, your friend's car insurance policy may be tapped to help cover the remaining costs. So, if your friend causes an accident that results in $15,000 in vehicle damage and your policy's property damage limit caps out at $10,000, their policy might then be tapped to pay the $5,000 difference. Keep in mind, this is assuming the person driving your car isn't an uninsured driver.
It's also possible that, even when your policy limits are high enough to cover a claim, your insurance company may seek reimbursement from the driver's insurance. Your insurance provider might pay the entire accident claim, but then reach out to your friend's insurance company to recoup some of the costs. Whether this happens will likely depend on your policy's terms and conditions, coverages and your state's laws.
What else should drivers without a car or car insurance consider?
If you're a licensed driver who doesn't own a vehicle, you likely don't have a need for a long-term car insurance policy. But, what should you do if you need to temporarily borrow someone else's car? Here are some points to keep in mind:
- The car owner's insurance policy may help provide coverage if you get into an accident.
- You may be responsible for certain types of damage, depending on the coverages the owner's car insurance policy includes. For instance, if their policy doesn't include collision coverage, you may have to pay for the repairs to their car if you cause an accident.
- You may be responsible for costs that exceed the coverage limits on the owner's car insurance policy.
If you're planning to lend your car to a friend or family member, or borrow one from someone else, remember that it's a good idea to review both of your insurance policies first. Your insurance provider can also help answer any questions about your policy before you decide whether lending your car makes sense for you.