You need to have proof of insurance when you're pulled over or in an accident and authorities ask to see it. You also need proof of car insurance when buying or registering a vehicle. Your car insurance card or the proof of coverage letter you get from your car insurance company are the most common forms of proof of insurance.

In this article

What is proof of insurance?

Proof of insurance comes in two forms: a car insurance card and a proof of coverage document.

A car insurance card is sent to you when you purchase or renew a car insurance policy. It contains:

  • The name, address and contact number of your car insurance company
  • Names of insured drivers on the policy
  • Your policy number
  • Year, make, model and VIN number of insured car

A proof of coverage document contains the same information that's found on a car insurance card, but also includes:

  • Policy coverages
  • Limits and deductible
  • Names and addresses of any lienholders

While either type of proof of insurance can be used as a valid document of proof, the proof of coverage document is primarily used by lenders to make sure that you are carrying adequate insurance.

How do I get proof of insurance?

When you purchase car insurance, the provider will usually mail you an insurance ID card along with your declaration page and other relevant policy documents.

If you financed your car, your insurer should send a proof of coverage letter to the lender. Make sure to find out if your car insurance company handles this, because you'll need to send your lender proof of coverage if your provider does not.

If you lose your proof of insurance, it's usually quite simple to print out a new card from your car insurance company's website. Many car insurance providers now have smartphone apps that include a digital insurance card. Digital insurance cards are valid as proof of insurance in all states except New Mexico. This makes keeping your insurance information simple.

It is understandable, however, if you are not comfortable handing your smartphone over to law enforcement should they request to see proof of insurance. If this is the case, it is recommended that you keep a hard copy of your insurance ID card in your glove compartment.

When do I need to show proof of insurance?

You'll probably need to show proof of insurance when you are pulled over by the police, in an auto accident or you finance or register a car. We'll go over each situation in depth.

When you're pulled over

Law enforcement officers often request proof of insurance along with your ID when you're pulled over. Police in the District of Columbia and every state except New Mexico accept digital car insurance cards as valid proof of insurance.

When you're in a car accident

If you are in an accident involving another driver, the two of you can exchange insurance information by taking pictures of each other's car insurance cards. Or you can exchange the info on your respective insurance providers' apps.

Make sure the other driver's insurance information is valid before leaving the scene. Some drivers think that using a fake insurance card is an easy way to dodge having an actual car insurance policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Using counterfeit car insurance documents is either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on where you live. Furthermore, it will probably result in problems getting an actual car insurance policy. Insurers tend not to trust drivers that use fake insurance.

When buying a car

A reputable car dealership will not let you drive a car off their lot without showing proof of insurance. If you're trading in one car for another, your existing insurance card or app works fine.

If you don't have insurance at the time of car insurance, you can compare quotes from multiple car insurance companies before going in to buy the car. When it's time to sign for the purchase, you can take a few minutes on your smartphone and buy insurance with the company that offers the best combination of cost and coverage.

When you finance a vehicle

In order to protect their investment, lenders will usually want to see that you have collision and comprehensive coverage as part of your car insurance policy before lending you money for the car. They may also require specific limits and deductibles.

When you register a vehicle

To register a vehicle, most states require you to show proof of insurance as part of the registration process. Your insurance ID card or digital card usually is valid.

What if you fail to provide proof of insurance?

Most states legally require you to provide proof of car insurance to law enforcement upon request at a traffic stop or after an accident. If you do not have proof of insurance, you may face a citation for lack of coverage. If you have car insurance and just don't have the proof of coverage at the time, the penalty may be reduced or even waived if you can show proof in court.

Not being able to show proof of car insurance can also lead to problems if you've financed your vehicle. Lenders usually require you to carry car insurance as part of their lending agreement. Insurance companies notify lenders if your policy is canceled or lapses. In instances such as this, lenders can put "forced-placed" coverage in place. Forced-placed coverage is usually more expensive than a policy you buy on your own. You would be expected to pay for this.

Proof of insurance FAQ

Your car insurance ID card or proof of coverage document are usually more than adequate as proof of insurance. Most states consider digital insurance ID cards as valid proof of insurance.

You can usually download your insurance ID card from your insurance company's website. You can also call your provider to have them mail or fax you a new card.

Depending on what state you live in, using fake proof of insurance is either a misdemeanor or felony. Furthermore, it can cause problems if you bought your car through a lender, as well as making purchasing a real policy difficult.

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