Nobody plans to get into an accident when they’re driving, particularly when they’re behind the wheel of someone else’s car. If you end up in a wreck while you’re driving another person’s vehicle, it may take a little longer for your insurance companies to sort out who’s liable for coverage, although you’re ultimately covered by your friend’s automotive policy in most circumstances.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Since insurance usually follows the car rather than driver, if you have an accident driving a friend's car, your friend's policy usually should cover it. Your own car insurance acts as a secondary policy in this case.
Insuring Cars, Not Drivers
Although your driving record partially determines your rates when you insure your vehicle, in most states automotive policies are attached to the car regardless of who drives it. Because of this, unless there’s mitigating circumstances that cloud the matter, you’ll be covered by the car’s insurance regardless of who owns it. You’ll need to have the owner’s permission to use his car, as most insurers won’t step up if you take a car out for a joyride and wreck it.
Secondary Policy Coverage
If you have automotive insurance of your own, your policy provides secondary coverage for any accidents you may get into while driving a car you don’t own. Essentially, this arrangement requires the car’s policy to serve as primary insurer, and handle claims to the limits of its policy. Your policy then covers anything not covered by the primary insurers. As with any other claim, your policy will only provide coverage as outlined in your policy when it works as a secondary insurer.
Circumstances of Loan
The owner’s insurance only extends to casual use by other people not listed on the policy, so if you rely on your buddy’s ride to get around town, you may not be covered. If you frequently use the car, such as borrowing it twice a week to get to work, or if you’re loaned the car for an extended period, like borrowing it for a summer, the car’s owner may need to list you on the policy as a driver. Consult with the car’s insurer to determine its limits of casual use.
Considering a Nonowner Policy
If you don’t have insurance and you borrow a car from someone with skimpy insurance coverage, you’ll be personally on the hook for any damages that occur in an accident when you’re driving. If you’d like to protect yourself beyond the measly policy on the car, you can purchase a nonowner policy.
In this case, you’ll name yourself as primary driver on a policy, but wouldn’t attach a vehicle to the policy. So if you’re in a wreck, this policy provides secondary coverage.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.