When You Need Car Travel Insurance, and When You Don’t

You may not need to purchase rental car insurance if your personal auto policy provides coverage.

Kim Porter
Written byKim Porter
Kim Porter
Kim Porter
  • Co-authored the book “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook”

  • 13 years writing personal finance content

A former chief copy editor at Bankrate and past managing editor at Macmillan, Kim specializes in writing easy-to-understand, actionable personal finance content.

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Katie Powers
Edited byKatie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated May 2, 2024

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Reviewing your car insurance needs is one thing to add to your “to-do” list before heading out on a road trip. Your car insurance policy covers your car in all 50 U.S. states and Canada, even if you drive through a state with higher or lower insurance minimums.[1]

If you’re planning to rent a car, you may decide to buy rental car coverage in some cases.

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How does car insurance work when you’re on a road trip?

Most auto insurance policies include a “broadening clause” that essentially converts your auto coverage into the minimum coverage for a particular state where you travel temporarily. So, you shouldn’t need to buy a new policy or change your coverage to drive legally in other states on a road trip.

Your policy will also cover any friends or family members joining you on the road trip as long as you give them permission. This is “permissive use” and applies to non-travel car usage as well.[2]

If you don’t have a personal auto insurance policy, you should purchase rental insurance for your road trip.

Road trip insurance when driving your own car

A good auto policy will cover common road trip problems like flat tires, collisions, vehicle damage from severe weather, and more. Depending on the details of your specific policy, it may already include coverage that protects you and your passengers. Because a road trip naturally means spending more time on the road, it may increase your chances of having car troubles.

Even if your policy has a broadening clause, your coverage levels depend on the state where you’re driving. If you only have your state’s minimum-coverage requirements, your policy won’t cover your vehicle in an incident.

Adding coverage or increasing your coverage levels can help protect your finances. Here are the different types of coverage you can look for.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/169fdfde11/liability-coverage.svg

    Liability coverage

    Liability car insurance pays for the other driver’s injuries and car repair bills if you cause a car accident. It also pays for legal expenses if the other driver sues you. Every state, with the exception of New Hampshire, requires you to have a minimum level of liability coverage.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/5285c4cd74/uninsured-or-underinsured-motorist-coverage.svg

    Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage

    Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage pays for your and your passengers’ medical expenses if another driver causes an accident and has insufficient car insurance to pay your bills. Some states require this type of coverage, but it’s optional in others.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/fc58ba8be2/robber.svg

    Collision and comprehensive coverage

    Often sold as a package, collision insurance pays to repair your own car when you’re in an accident, regardless of fault, while comprehensive coverage pays for a host of other issues, like theft, falling objects, and run-ins with animals. These coverages are optional.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/e30eeeebc5/personal-injury-protection.svg

    Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage

    PIP insurance covers lost wages and medical expenses for you and your passengers after an accident, regardless of fault. Some states require drivers to carry PIP.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/100x100/9997698e9e/emergency-roadside-service.svg

    Roadside assistance coverage

    You may be able to access roadside assistance through your car insurance company, your credit card benefits, or a third-party company like AAA. It covers the costs of services, like towing and flat tires, if you have a problem while driving. This type of coverage is optional but can save the day in a road trip emergency.

Road trip insurance when driving a rental car

If you’re driving a rental car on your road trip, your own car insurance policy will extend coverage to you and anyone listed on the policy for the same limits. You don’t have to buy additional insurance, but you may have some gaps in coverage if you have a liability-only policy.

Rental car companies require you to pay for any costs associated with the rental vehicle and your passengers following damage from a collision, vehicle theft, or vandalism. For this reason, some people with personal liability-only insurance choose to purchase rental car insurance from the rental company.

This optional protection comes in the form of a collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver, which means the rental company waives some or all of your financial obligations for the car. But CDWs have limitations because they usually don’t include bodily injury coverage for you and your passengers and damage to other cars and property.

Driving a rental car when you don’t have insurance

You must have some form of insurance to drive legally in most U.S. states. So if you’re renting a car and don’t have your own auto policy, you’ll need to get coverage in some way.

Some of your options for rental car insurance include:

  • Credit card company: Some credit card companies offer a type of rental car insurance coverage as a benefit to their cardholders. The protection usually comes in the form of a CDW that you can use on rental cars. Some cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, offer primary coverage for rental cars at home and in foreign countries, while others may offer secondary coverage.

  • Temporary automobile insurance: A temporary car insurance policy from a major insurer can provide various coverage options with different coverage limits to choose from.

  • Car rental company: You can pay for a CDW from the car rental company, though you may need additional protection through temporary auto insurance.

  • Other forms of insurance: Homeowners insurance or renters insurance can protect you financially if someone steals personal belongings from your car, while health insurance can pay for your medical care.[3]

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Does your car insurance cover you in Mexico?

If you live in the U.S. and drive into Mexico, your regular auto insurance policy won’t cover you. You’ll need to purchase a separate temporary car insurance policy tailored to driving over the border.

Many major auto insurance companies, such as Progressive and GEICO, offer temporary coverage for trips ranging from one day to several months. These policies should include a minimum amount of liability insurance, and you can add protection for property damage, roadside assistance, collision coverage, and more.

You’ll also need to bring the following documents with you on your trip:

  • Government-approved travel document, such as a passport or passport card

  • Vehicle registration

  • Car insurance policy for driving in Mexico

  • Valid U.S. driver’s license

  • Vehicle registration

  • A temporary vehicle importation permit

  • A letter of permission from your auto lender (if you lease or finance your car)

Does your car insurance cover you in Canada?

In short, yes. Car insurance policies from major U.S. insurers cover you if you plan to drive your car into Canada.

You’ll need to carry the following documents with you on your trip:

  • Government-approved travel document, such as a passport or passport card

  • Vehicle registration

  • Standard auto insurance ID card

  • Valid U.S. driver’s license

  • A Canada Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card, which you can request from your insurance company

You’ll typically need to show your passport, vehicle registration, and a copy of your standard auto insurance ID card at the border.

The Canada Non-Resident Inter-Province Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card comes into play if law enforcement pulls you over or you have a car accident. It shows that your insurer has pledged to meet the minimum legal insurance requirements in Canada.

Travel car insurance FAQs

It’s important to secure sufficient coverage before you set out on a road trip if you don’t think your existing coverage is enough. The following information should answer your remaining questions about car travel insurance.

  • Does travel insurance cover vehicles?

    It depends. A travel insurance policy usually protects you against costs associated with medical emergencies, issues with airfare and hotel bills, and lost or stolen personal property. Some travel insurance plans allow you to add car rental insurance to the plan for an additional cost.

  • Does personal car insurance cover a rental car when you’re traveling?

    Yes. Your personal car insurance policy extends coverage to your rental car when you’re traveling in the U.S. Check the details of your policy or contact your insurer for more specific information.

  • How can you get insured to drive a car in any country?

    A personal auto insurance policy from the U.S. won’t cover you abroad, except when you’re driving from the U.S. to Canada. But some companies sell global auto insurance policies that may work in one or more foreign countries.

Sources

  1. Progressive. "Do I need multi-state car insurance?."
  2. Insurance Information Institute. "What is auto insurance?."
  3. Insurance Information Institute. "Rental car insurance."
Kim Porter
Kim Porter

Kim Porter is a writer and editor who's been creating personal finance content since 2010. Before transitioning to full-time freelance writing in 2018, Kim was the chief copy editor at Bankrate, a managing editor at Macmillan, and co-author of the personal finance book "Future Millionaires' Guidebook." Her work has appeared in AARP's print magazine and on sites such as U.S. News & World Report, Fortune, NextAdvisor, Credit Karma, and more. Kim loves to bake and exercise in her free time, and she plans to run a half marathon on each continent.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

Featured in

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