If I Borrow a Car and Damage Another Vehicle in an Accident, Am I Covered Under the Owner’s Insurance Policy?

Learn what's covered if you damage another vehicle while driving a borrowed car.

By , Attorney · Baylor University School of Law

Drivers occasionally operate cars that aren't their own. Almost all states require car owners to buy liability coverage, which covers damage to the other car if you're at fault in an accident when driving someone else's vehicle, so long as you're not excluded from coverage.

For example, suppose you borrowed your friend's car and got in a minor accident, which was your fault. Your friend's liability insurance will likely pay to repair the damages to the other driver's car. To find out, check the policy and contact the agent. If your friend's insurance gets maxed out, your insurance policy would be tapped as secondary coverage. But because the accident was minor, this probably won't happen.

Here's some basic information about what kinds of drivers and vehicles liability policies and optional insurance policies usually cover. Liability coverage is generally similar from policy to policy, but optional coverage varies greatly.

How Liability Coverage Works

If you cause an accident that damages someone else's car, "property damage" liability coverage usually pays for repairs to the other vehicle. Most states require car owners to have liability insurance, but a few states allow owners to forgo insurance if they can show that they have the financial resources available to pay damages after an accident.

But even when liability insurance is in place, disputes sometimes come up about whether the driver or vehicle in the accident is included or excluded from the policy. Here are the usual inclusions.

Drivers

In addition to the driver named on the policy, liability coverage usually includes any licensed driver who is:

  • the insured's spouse
  • related by blood, marriage, or adoption and lives with the insured, or
  • temporarily driving the vehicle with the insured's permission.

Vehicles

In addition to the vehicles identified in the policy, liability coverage typically covers:

  • any vehicles the insured acquires (owners often have to notify the insurance company within a specific time after additional vehicles are acquired), and
  • any vehicle the insured is temporarily using when their own vehicle is unavailable. (Additional liability insurance might not be necessary when renting a vehicle in the United States.)

What Kinds of Optional Insurance Coverage Can You Get?

Collision, comprehensive, and other optional coverages cover the vehicles identified in the policy when operated by drivers identified on the policy. Some policies also cover spouses and family members who aren't listed, but others do not.

Policies differ significantly regarding the applicability of optional coverages when third parties not listed on the policy drive insured vehicles. So, owners should check their policy or contact their agent when someone not listed on the policy will be driving their vehicle.

Get More Information

For in-depth information about cars and driving, get Nolo's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law by the Editors of Nolo. This guide also has lots of information about general legal topics.

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