Why You Should Be Careful When Lending Out Your Car

Before you let someone borrow your keys, you should know that car insurance follows the vehicle, not the driver.
Lacie Glover
By Lacie Glover 

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Every so often a pal asks to borrow your car, and you lend it. Ever stop to think about who would pay if he got into an accident? The short answer: You would.

Car insurance follows the vehicle, not the driver. Although your friend’s auto insurance might kick in eventually, your policy is primary — and filing a claim could cause your rate to go up. Before you decide to let someone use your wheels, consider what it could do to your finances.

Friends causing car accidents

Generally speaking, your auto insurance policy applies to all drivers listed on your policy. It may also apply to drivers living in your household — spouse, partner, roommates or relatives — who have permission to use your car. Non-household members will generally also be covered by your policy if you give them permission to use your car. Drivers with permission to use your vehicle are called “permissive” drivers.

Suppose you lend the car to a friend, who causes an accident. Your liability insurance would pay to repair damage to the other vehicle and any medical bills, up to your policy limits. Once those limits are reached, your friend would be responsible for what’s left over. Still, the incident goes down as a liability claim against you and could cause your rate to go up at renewal time.

If your friend doesn’t have auto insurance, then he could be sued for whatever your policy doesn’t cover. You might be sued too, since your car was involved. According to Jury Verdict Research, the median jury award for vehicular liability was $50,062 in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available.

Then there’s the damage to your own car. For that, you’ll need to tap your own collision coverage — if you have it — and that will be another claim on your record that could lead to a rate increase. If you don’t have collision coverage, you’ll have to find the money to pay for repairs.

Listing car borrowers on your policy

People who often borrow your car might not be covered, because a regular driver of your car should be listed on your policy. It’s best to add frequent borrowers to your policy, like roommates, to make sure your insurance will pay for accidents.

Adding drivers can affect your rate. A younger person or someone with a spotty driving record could cause your rate to go up, but adding an excellent driver could actually lower it.

If friends don’t have their own insurance, they could buy non-owner auto insurance. If they cause an accident in your car, your liability insurance would still be primary and their non-owner insurance would pick up any remainder. Non-owner insurance doesn’t include collision or comprehensive coverage, so you’d still have to use your own collision insurance for damage to your car.

Driving your car without permission

Suppose a friend or relative takes your car without permission and causes an accident. In that case, his insurance could be primary and yours secondary. But if that person is uninsured, you and your insurance will likely be responsible. Your insurance company will likely assume the relative or friend had permission unless you can make it clear that he didn’t.

It can be hard to say no to someone who asks to use your car. But before saying yes, decide whether you trust the borrower to drive safely, since a single accident could have a lasting impact on your finances.

Looking for the right insurance policy? NerdWallet’s comparison tool can help you find the cheapest car insurance quotes.

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.