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.

Question:

I borrowed my friend’s car and got in a minor accident, which was my fault. Will my friend’s insurance policy pay for the damages to the other vehicle?

Answer:

Yes, most likely. 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. In your case, 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 you haven’t done so already. (If your friend's insurance gets maxed out, your insurance policy would be tapped as secondary coverage. But because you said the accident was minor, this probably won't happen.)

In the meantime, here’s some basic information about what kinds of drivers and vehicles are usually covered by liability policies and optional insurance policies. Liability coverage is generally similar from policy to policy, though optional coverage varies greatly. (To learn more about the different types of automobile insurance coverage, see Buying Insurance for Your Car.)

Liability Coverage

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, though a few states allow owners to forego 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 and exclusions.

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

  • the insured’s spouse or life partner
  • 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 period when additional vehicles are acquired), and
  • any vehicle the insured is temporarily using when his or her own vehicle is unavailable. (So, additional liability insurance might not be necessary when renting a vehicle in the United States.)

Optional Coverage

Collision, comprehensive, and other optional coverages that the insured chooses 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 other policies do not. Policies differ significantly regarding the applicability of optional coverages when insured vehicles are driven by third-parties not listed on the policy. Accordingly, owners should check their policy or contact their agent when someone not listed on the policy will be driving their vehicle. (To learn more about optional car insurance, see What Kind of Car Insurance Do I Need?)

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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