Even high gas prices can’t kill the vibe of a road trip.
Most Americans (80%) plan to take a road trip this summer, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of AutoNation, an automotive retailer with more than 300 locations in 18 states. Nearly one in five road trippers plan to drive a car that is at least 10 years old. And not everyone is proactive about making sure their car is road trip worthy. Nearly one in six (15%) said they planned to skip a vehicle checkup entirely.
Skipping a vehicle checkup could be a major setback waiting to happen. But neglecting to check up on your car insurance could also be a disaster in the making.
Does Car Insurance Cover Road Trips?
A good car insurance policy covers common road trip problems like car accidents, flat tires and severe weather. Here are some scenarios to consider:
What if I’m driving my own car?
If you are driving your own car, your car insurance policy will cover certain types of problems, depending on what coverage types you purchased.
Here are some of the main types of car insurance and the problems they cover:
- Liability car insurance. If you cause a car crash on your road trip, liability car insurance covers accidental property damage and injuries to others. It also pays for a legal defense, judgment and settlement if you are sued because of an accident. Liability car insurance is required in most states.
- Uninsured motorist insurance (UM). Uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage pay for medical expenses and other costs for you and your passengers if a driver without liability car insurance or insufficient liability car insurance crashes into you. UM is required in some states and optional in others (you can reject the coverage in writing).
- Collision and comprehensive insurance. These are optional coverage types that are often sold together and cover a wide host of road trip problems. Collision and comprehensive insurance covers problems like car accidents, car theft, hail, fire, vandalism, floods, falling objects and collisions with animals (like deer).
- Personal injury protection (PIP). Personal injury protection pays for you and your passengers’ medical expenses no matter who is at fault for the accident. Many states require PIP. It is optional in some states and unavailable in others.
- Medical Payments. Sometimes called MedPay, this covers you and your passengers’ medical bills no matter who caused the car accident. This coverage (where available) is usually sold in small amounts, often between $1,000 to $5,000. MedPay is not available in every state.
- Roadside assistance insurance. If you have a problem like a flat tire, dead battery, empty gas tank or lock yourself out of your car, roadside assistance insurance can help get you back on your way. This coverage may be available depending on your car insurance company. You can also get roadside assistance through other sources, such as your credit card or an auto club.
What if I own a car but I’m driving a rental car?
Generally, your personal car insurance covers rental cars within the U.S. For example, your liability insurance, collision insurance and comprehensive insurance will extend to cover a rental.
But you might have some gaps in coverage. For instance, personal car insurance usually won’t cover “loss of use” charges. If you get into a car accident, your car rental company could charge you a daily fee to cover the lost income while the rental car is in the repair shop. This could add up to thousands of dollars.
When you rent a car, you’ll typically have the option to buy a collision damage waiver (CDW), which reduces your financial responsibility if something happens to the rental car. If you get into an accident or the rental car gets stolen, the CDW lowers the amount you have to pay to repair or replace the rental car. It also covers other expenses like loss of use, towing, administrative fees and diminished value of the rental car.
But before you buy the CDW, check to see how much coverage you have through your own car insurance or credit card.
What if I don’t own a car and I’m driving a rental car?
If you don’t own a car and do not have your own car insurance policy, you will need to purchase rental car insurance.
You can typically get rental car insurance from your rental car company, such as Avis, Enterprise or Hertz. You’ll have the option to buy coverage types such as liability insurance, personal accident insurance (PAI), CDW, roadside assistance and personal effects coverage, which covers your personal belongings if they are damaged or stolen.
But buying rental car insurance from the rental car company can be expensive, and you might already have some coverage in your existing insurance policies. It’s a good idea to look at what your policies cover and only buy what’s necessary from the rental car company.
Here are some policies to consider:
- Credit cards. Some credit cards cover car rental insurance if you use your card to pay for the rental car, but it might be limited to certain coverage types, such as collision insurance. Credit cards often exclude other types of coverage, such as liability insurance and coverage for your own medical expenses.
- Health insurance. If you get hurt in a car accident within the U.S., your medical expenses are covered by your health insurance plan (your deductible and copays will apply). Personal accident insurance from the rental car company can be low. For example, Hertz PAI only pays up to $2,500 for accidental medical expenses per person.
- Homeowners or renters insurance. If you already have homeowners insurance, condo insurance or renters insurance, you may not need to buy personal effects coverage from the rental car company. That’s because these insurance types cover damage and theft of personal items outside of your home. For example, if your laptop is stolen from your rental car, you can file a claim under your home insurance.
- Non-owner car insurance. If you rent cars often, a non-owners car insurance policy is a good way to get liability coverage. But non-owner car insurance won’t cover damage to the rental car or your own medical expenses.
- Travel insurance. Your travel insurance plan might include some coverage for rental cars. For example, some AIG travel insurance plans provide up to $50,000 for rental car damage and $50 for roadside assistance. But they don’t include liability insurance.
- Umbrella insurance. If you cause a car crash that exceeds your liability limits on another policy (such as home insurance), umbrella insurance kicks in to cover the excess amount, up to your policy limits.
Does Car Insurance Cover Out-of-State Trips?
Generally, if you are driving your own car, your car insurance policy covers you in all 50 states and Canada. You do not need to buy another policy or more insurance if you travel to another state.
For example, if you take your car on a road trip from New York City to Seattle, your car insurance policy will cover you from the start of your trip to the end of your trip and all points in between (provided you stay within the U.S. and Canada).
If you are driving a rental car, your car insurance will extend to out-of-state trips. Some insurers will extend coverage if you drive into Canada. For example, both Farmers and Progressive say your coverage usually extends if you drive into Canada. But it’s a good idea to check with your insurance company before you cross into Canada to ensure you have coverage.
Does Car Insurance Cover Trips to Mexico?
Your car insurance has limited or no coverage in Mexico. If you’re planning on going south of the border for your road trip, you’ll need to buy Mexican car insurance.
And if you plan to rent a car in the U.S. and drive to Mexico, make sure you check with your rental car company first. Some rental car companies prohibit driving into Mexico or may restrict travel to certain areas.
How To Prepare Your Car for a Road Trip
Before you embark on your journey, make sure you have everything in order. Here are some road trip preparation tips:
- Get your car checked. It’s a good idea to make sure your car is inspected and roadworthy before you take off on your journey. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and in good condition, fluids are topped-off or changed, the belts and hoses are in good shape and the radiator and cooling system operate properly.
- Assemble an emergency kit. This could include jumper cables, a tire jack, a first aid kit, emergency flares, motor oil, blankets, flashlights, nonperishable food and drinking water.
- Get roadside assistance. Flat tires and dead batteries are going to set you back. If you don’t already have roadside assistance insurance through a credit card, auto club (such as AAA), or vehicle manufacturer, you may be able to add it to your car insurance policy.
- Plan your route in advance. Have printed maps and directions in case you lose service and your GPS is unavailable. It’s also a good idea to know where you’re stopping ahead of time to avoid
- drowsy driving.
- Have your car insurance ready. If you get into an accident, you’ll likely need to show proof of insurance. You can typically download this ahead of time on your car insurance company’s mobile app.
- Have your wallet ready. Check the cost of lodging ahead of time, make sure your credit cards aren’t expired, notify your credit card company that you are traveling and have some cash on hand.
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