There are several insurance coverage issues when you drive a vehicle that you do not own especially when traveling. Here are some examples:
1. Even if you decide that your predominate means of transportation for traveling will be by either airplane, train, or bus, when you finally reach your destination you will probably want to rent a car.
2. You may know somebody who will let you drive their car temporarily while you are visiting.
3. You may want to drive to your vacation destination. You have a perfectly good drivable insured vehicle, but you may still decide to rent a car before you leave home so you do not put any additional wear and tear on your own vehicle.
4. You may be an employee who is the custodian of a vehicle you use everyday that is either owned or leased by your employer and you want to drive that car on your vacation.
5. You may be required to drive that company owned car on a business related trip within the scope of your employment.
6. Your employer will pay for you to drive a rental car while you are within the scope of your employment on a business related trip.
I cannot tell you in any case whether or not you have insurance coverage without reading your individual insurance policy with all of the conditions and exclusions to determine which insurance coverage is primary, what is supplemental or excess, and where there is no coverage at all. For example, if you are an employee on a business trip driving your employer’s vehicle or a rental vehicle within the scope of your employment, worker’s compensation may come into the equation also. However, I will point out some important things that you should be aware of that many people overlook and let you know what you need to ask so you can find out the correct answers from the appropriate people and also make sure that you have all of the proper documentation so there is no misunderstanding or confusion.
The best, easiest, fastest and most reliable way to determine what type of coverage you have on a non-owned or rental vehicle is to call and ask your insurance company (or agent) or ask your employer if you are driving a company vehicle. Also, call and ask your credit card company if you plan to use it to rent a vehicle. Find out if they offer some type of insurance coverage when you use their credit card to rent a vehicle and if so, specifically what type of coverage and what the limits are.
FIRST, for employees driving your employer’s vehicles, not all company vehicles are insured by an insurance company with an insurance policy. Some company vehicles are Self-Insured. Employees driving company vehicles need to know because different rules apply. Your employer should let you know this on the day they give you the keys, but if they don’t you need to find out. Also, you need to know if your company insures anybody other than the employee to drive your company car and are you allowed to drive the company car outside of your state or outside of the country.
I was an Insurance Claims Adjuster for 17 years in Los Angeles. All of us adjusters as well as the appraisers and managers drove company cars. The company made it crystal clear to all of us that the only people who had permission to drive the company owned cars were the employees and their spouses. We were allowed to drive the cars for business and personal reasons including going on a vacation and we had permission to drive the cars out of the state of California if we wanted to. Employees did not have permission to allow their licensed teenage sons or daughters, nor their friends, neighbors, parents, siblings, cousins, other relatives or anybody else to drive the company vehicle.
In summary, as adjusters we had 4 basic responsibilities: 1st was to confirm or deny coverage. 2nd was to investigate the claim and determine liability, and how much liability was attributed to the claimant(s) and how much to the insured. 3rd was to determine the amount of damages including bodily injuries and property damage and 4th was to either deny the claim and prepare for litigation or attempt to negotiate and settle.
If there is no insurance coverage, then the rest is irrelevant.
The driver of a vehicle must have permission from the vehicle owner to drive a vehicle. The simplest way to illustrate this is even though you may have full insurance coverage on a car you own, if somebody steals your car, then the car thief gets into an accident while driving your car, (obviously without your permission) and causes bodily injuries, death and / or property damage to a claimant(s), there is no coverage for the car thief on your insurance policy.
SECOND, for people planning to rent a car, make sure that you give the names and licenses of all the people who will be driving the rental vehicle to the Rental Car Company. You are also normally suppose to let them know if you are planning to drive the rental car out of the state or out of the country. Do not assume that when you drive either your own vehicle or a rental vehicle out of the country that the insurance will automatically transfer. You may not have any insurance coverage once you drive across the boarder into another country. This is something you need to find out from your insurance company.
There may have been people tell you that your personal car insurance will automatically transfer to a rental vehicle. This is not always true. If you look on your insurance policy you may see the terms “Non-Owned Vehicle” and “Temporary Substitute Vehicle”. Some insurance policies make a clear distinction between the two. Others make you read the fine print to try to understand the difference.
Remember to always ask your insurance company if there is anything that is not clear and you do not understand. Insurance policies of different carriers are written differently. But in general, usually what it means is when your vehicle is not drivable or is not safe to drive, out of service, broken down, in a repair or body shop, in for servicing or maintenance and you rent a vehicle as a temporary substitute to replace your own insured vehicle for a limited time, that is normally when coverage will transfer from your vehicle to the rental. You still have to ask if your insurance requires you to rent the vehicle from a Public Automobile Rental Agency or if you will be covered and can be reimbursed for renting a vehicle from a friend. Depending on how your policy is written, it may transfer the full policy limits or coverage may be reduced down to the state’s minimum liability requirements. Something else very important to find out is if only liability coverage transfers or if collision and comprehensive damage also transfers.
So on the other hand, that means coverage may not transfer if you rent a vehicle while you are on vacation and there is nothing wrong with your own insured vehicle which is in perfectly good drivable condition just sitting in your driveway at home, or your spouse and kids are driving it at home while you are driving a rental car either on a personal or business trip. Do you really think your insurance company will be covering two vehicles for the price of one? Ask them and find out.
If your own insured vehicle is in good safe drivable condition and you are planning to rent a car while you are traveling, call and ask your major credit card company first because you have a better chance of getting good news from them about rental car insurance coverage while you are on vacation or traveling on a business trip. If you use your credit card to pay for your rental car, there are some major credit card companies that will provide some type of insurance coverage when you rent a car. In any case, always call your own insurance company and ask them what type of coverage, if any do they provide when you rent a car and under what circumstances and conditions it is transferred so there is no misunderstanding.
THIRD, if you are visiting friends or relatives while traveling and they give you permission to drive their vehicle, what you still need to find out is whether the same coverage limits transfer to a driver other than the named insured or does the coverage get reduced down to the state’s minimum liability coverage requirements if for example, a friend of the insured is the driver.
Do not be intimidated by the long list of exclusions under the Medical Payments Coverage. Commonly known as Med Pay, it applies to injuries sustained by the occupants of an insured vehicle which includes the insured driver and all passengers regardless of liability. It only pays for “Special Damages” like medical and dental bills but it does not pay for “General Damages” like pain and suffering.
You may be covered for Med Pay even if you are a driver or a passenger in a qualified non-owned vehicle. So this is definitely something you need to find out from both your own insurance company and the insurance company of the vehicle you are in. Maybe one could be primary while the other is supplemental or excess. Just be aware that there are rules limiting and rules against duplication of coverage. Med Pay could be worth several thousands of dollars toward your medical expenses.
Now do you want to know the inside scoop behind the secret walls of an insurance claims office? No matter how much you may think that you do not have coverage for something, always ask. Especially in unique unusual circumstances I have personally witnessed fierce arguments between adjusters, supervisors and managers over whether or not to confirm or to deny coverage. Think about it, if you put a defense attorney and a claimant attorney in the same room with the same case or 2 different United States Supreme Court Judges in the same room with the same case, you could get 2 totally different opinions. That is why you should always ask and take action before the statute of limitations runs because you might financially benefit from somebody’s mistake.