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The Thin Line Between Personal and Commercial Auto Insurance

Auto Insurance, Insurance
Thin Line Between Personal and Commercial Auto Insurance

If you don’t operate a fleet of business vehicles — or run a business at all — you may never have given commercial auto insurance a thought. But it’s possible you may need a commercial policy even if you don’t fall into these categories, particularly if you use your own vehicle for work purposes other than commuting.

To help you avoid confusion, we’ll explain when shopping for commercial auto coverage makes more sense than getting personal car insurance quotes.

Who needs commercial auto insurance

These examples show how fine the line between needing personal and commercial auto coverage can be, and can help you see which side you’ll likely fall on.

Personal auto insuranceCommercial auto insurance
Grabbing morning doughnuts for co-workers Delivering pizzas to paying customers
Driving friends to a concertTransporting people to a concert as an Uber driver
Taking weekend road tripsRegularly driving long distances to meet work clients or visit job sites
Commuting to the construction site where you're working Hauling tools and equipment to the construction site where you're working

The trouble with transporting stuff

Personal car insurance typically won’t pay to repair damage or treat injuries you sustain while you’re transporting people or goods for money, in large part because the liability and property damage risks are too great. Driving friends to a concert or grabbing food for co-workers back at the office is covered. But if you use your vehicle, say, to deliver pizzas, you need commercial auto insurance.

Rideshare drivers — such as Uber drivers — are a unique case, and a growing number of insurers offer ridesharing insurance. These policies are often cheaper than commercial car insurance.

» COMPARE: Car insurance quotes for personal auto insurance

It’s not where you drive, but why

There’s no limit to how much you can drive under a standard auto policy, as long as it’s for personal reasons.

But if, for example, you’re a sales manager and regularly use your car to visit stores within your region, or you’re an account representative and frequently drive far and wide to meet — and possibly transport — clients, you probably need commercial coverage to account for the high liability risk your company could face in the event of an accident.

Watch what you’re hauling

Commuting to a job is one thing. Bringing along heavy tools or equipment is another. For instance, a construction worker hauling a trailer, ladder rack, expensive drills and other supplies faces a higher chance for property damage and theft than your average commuter — and might need commercial car insurance as a result.

Talk to your insurer about modifying your policy

Deciding between personal and commercial auto insurance involves many mitigating factors and questions, so you should discuss the issue with your insurance agent or insurer.

You likely need a separate commercial policy if you use your car primarily or frequently for business. But if you only occasionally use it for business purposes, your insurer might be able to modify your personal auto policy, for an added cost, so that it includes your work-based driving.

» MORE: What small-business owners should know about commercial car insurance

Most well-known insurers offer commercial auto insurance. Because it’s typically more expensive than personal auto coverage, getting several quotes is the best way to find affordable rates.

Alex Glenn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: aglenn@nerdwallet.com.