Shopping for car insurance that you only need on a temporary or short-term basis is more complicated than you may think. Since car insurance is typically only offered in six-month and one-year terms, it takes a little digging to find the right alternative when you only need car insurance temporarily. Read on for tips on getting car insurance on a short-term basis.

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What is temporary car insurance?

Most states require you to have car insurance to legally drive, even if you only plan to drive on a temporary basis, such as for a day, a week or a month. Unfortunately, six months is the shortest policy term most insurance companies offer.

Few, if any, reputable companies offer policies that last less than six months. Companies that do advertise temporary car insurance often try to sell you a six-month policy when you contact them.

The most common option for getting temporary car insurance is to purchase a six-month policy and then cancel it when you no longer need it. However, if you only need insurance temporarily, there are other alternatives that are cheaper than standard car insurance to consider.

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How does temporary car insurance work?

Canceling your car insurance when you no longer need it can be relatively cheap and easy once your temporary need expires. You can cancel a car insurance policy at any time, and the fees that insurance companies charge for mid-term policy cancellations tend to be small.

You’re still responsible for paying for coverage up to your cancellation date. However, the insurance company has to refund any amounts you’ve prepaid for coverage beyond then, minus its early termination fee.

Drawbacks: Canceling your car insurance without a replacement policy in place may make it harder to get car insurance in the future. Some companies charge a higher rate if you don’t have continuous prior car insurance or reject your application. Some won’t accept you if you have too many prior cancellations.

Alternatives for temporary car insurance

As an alternative to canceling a policy when you no longer need it, there are a few cheaper alternatives for temporary car insurance. The choices include:

  • Non-owners car insurance
  • Broad form insurance
  • Pay-per-mile insurance

Although each of these options are also offered in six-month and one-year policy terms, they tend to be considerably cheaper than standard car insurance. As you consider your choices, compare quotes from multiple companies to make sure you are getting the best rate.

Non-owners car insurance

Non-owners car insurance offers a low-cost alternative to a standard policy for drivers who don’t own a car.

Non-owners car insurance provides you with liability protection in cars you borrow or rent, with some exceptions. You can usually add underinsured motorist coverage and personal injury protection to a non-owners policy.

Drawbacks: Non-owners car insurance does not cover damage to a vehicle you drive. Non-owners car insurance also does not cover you in a car you borrow frequently from the same person or a car you rent for business.

Broad form insurance

Only available in 11 states, broad form insurance provides you with liability coverage in any car you drive for personal use, including those you own, rent or borrow on a regular basis. This allows broad form policies to provide a little more protection than non-owners policies.

Drawbacks: Broad form insurance is only available on a limited basis and does not cover damage to any car you drive, including a car you own.

Pay-per-mile insurance

If you have a car that you don’t drive frequently, pay-per-mile car insurance may be a better choice than canceling your car insurance altogether.

With pay-per-mile insurance, a per-mile usage fee is added to a relatively low monthly base rate. The less you drive, the lower your price. If you don’t drive at all, you only pay the base rate.

If you don’t drive often, pay-per-mile insurance is usually considerably cheaper than standard car insurance. A pay-per-mile policy also keeps your insurance status active, which may make it easier to get standard car insurance in the future.

Drawbacks: Pay-per-mile insurance is typically only available to car owners, and only in six-month and one-year policy terms. If you don’t own a car, a non-owners policy or broad form insurance may be a better choice for you.

When would you need short-term car insurance

The best alternative for temporary or short-term car insurance depends on your specific circumstances. Here’s a closer look at common reasons to get temporary car insurance, as well possible solutions for each situation.

Temporary car insurance for students

If you’re off at school without your own car, you usually still need auto insurance to legally drive any cars you borrow or rent.

The easiest solution is to have a parent add you to their policy as an “away at school driver,” when possible. This alternative extends your family’s coverage to you in cars you may occasionally borrow, including a parent’s car when you visit home.

If you only borrow other people’s cars occasionally, the vehicle owner’s car insurance may also already cover you, as long as you have their permission and a valid driver’s license. However, if someone you live with lets you use their car on a frequent, ongoing basis, they may need to add you to their car insurance.

Rental car insurance

If you frequently rent cars and don’t have your own insurance, it may be worth springing for liability coverage at the rental counter.

Liability, often offered as supplemental liability, is one of four to five insurance coverages rental car companies offer. Liability, also known as third-party insurance, covers injuries and damage to others in an accident you cause.

If your credit card offers a collision damage waiver (CDW) for rental vehicles, you won’t need to purchase one from the rental company. A CDW generally covers the car for damage and theft, including revenues the rental car company may lose while the car is out of service.

If you rent cars frequently, it may be cheaper for you to get liability coverage with a non-owners car or broad form policy. However, neither of these alternatives cover rental cars used for business.

Adding a driver to your policy temporarily

The best alternatives for temporarily adding a driver to your car insurance depends on your situation.

If you plan to let a friend or family member visiting you for a few weeks or less borrow your car, your existing policy typically covers them, as long as they have your permission and a valid driver’s license.

Make sure they know where to find your proof of insurance and registration documents, in case they get into an accident or are pulled over.

If you plan to let someone living in your home for more than a few months regularly use your car, it’s best to add them to your policy as a named driver. Doing so may increase your rate, particularly if the additional driver is a teen or has prior tickets and accidents. However, this is still better than not being insured.

There are no legal restrictions on temporarily adding and removing drivers from your policy, but your insurance company may have its own limitations on this practice.

Temporary international car insurance

Car insurance requirements vary in other countries, but it’s generally best to purchase car insurance in any country where you plan to drive, even temporarily, when you travel internationally.

Most American car insurance policies cover you and your vehicle anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.

If you plan to drive your own car in Mexico, you need to get Mexican tourist auto insurance from an insurance company licensed in Mexico. Unlike standard American car insurance, Mexican tourist car insurance is available in daily, weekly and monthly increments, as well as six-month terms.

You can purchase Mexican car insurance in advance online or in person as you approach the border. Most American insurance companies can help you line up Mexican car insurance with a reputable provider.

Most rental car companies in foreign countries offer some form of liability coverage, CDW for the vehicle and coverage for injuries you and your passengers may suffer in a car accident.

At minimum, it’s best to purchase the rental company’s liability coverage in most foreign countries, including Mexico, and any other coverages that may be required by law.

If you don’t have travel insurance, consider adding the rental coverage for medical treatment, which is usually optional. Even if you have health insurance, your provider may limit or exclude coverage for medical treatment outside the U.S.

The CDW that most credit card providers offer covers vehicles in most foreign countries. If your credit card offers a CDW, you don’t need to purchase one from the rental car company as long as you are the rental’s primary driver and you are not renting the vehicle for more than 31 days. (The cutoff is 15 days for cars rented in the U.S.)

Temporary car insurance FAQs

With the exception of rental cars, getting car insurance for one day only is rare. Insurance for rental cars lasts as long as the rental period, which can be as short as one day. You can cancel a standard six-month or one-year policy one day after it begins, but doing so may leave you with higher car insurance rates in the future.

If you qualify for car insurance, you can typically have your policy take effect immediately or on a future date. Most companies require an initial payment to activate your coverage.

Car insurance is typically offered in six-month and one-year terms. You can cancel a standard policy after three months, but going without car insurance for any length of time may require you to pay more for car insurance in the future.

If an insurance agent offers you a one-week car insurance policy, verify their license status on your state insurance commissioner’s website. Car insurance is typically offered in six-month and one-year policy terms. Since exceptions are rare, it’s best to make sure that a vendor offering a one-week policy is legit.

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