Vehicle insurance, car insurance, or auto insurance in the United States and elsewhere, is designed to cover the risk of financial liability or the loss of a motor vehicle that the owner may face if their vehicle is involved in a collision that results in property or physical damage. Most states require a motor vehicle owner to carry some minimum level of liability insurance. States that do not require the vehicle owner to carry car insurance include Virginia, where an uninsured motor vehicle fee may be paid to the state, New Hampshire, and Mississippi, which offers vehicle owners the option to post cash bonds (see below). The privileges and immunities clause of Article IV of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of citizens in each respective state when traveling to another. A motor vehicle owner typically pays insurers a monthly fee, often called an insurance premium. The insurance premium a motor vehicle owner pays is usually determined by a variety of factors including the type of covered vehicle, marital status, credit score, whether the driver rents or owns a home, the age and gender of any covered drivers, their driving history, and the location where the vehicle is primarily driven and stored. Most insurance companies will increase insurance premium rates based on these factors, and less frequently, offer discounts.
Insurance companies provide a motor vehicle owner with an insurance card for the particular coverage term, which is to be kept in the vehicle in the event of a traffic collision as proof of insurance. Recently, states have started passing laws that allow electronic versions of proof of insurance to be accepted by the authorities.
Consumers may be protected by different levels of coverage depending on which insurance policy they purchase. Coverage is sometimes seen as 20/40/15 or 100/300/100. The first two numbers seen are for medical coverage. In the 100/300 example, the policy will pay $100,000 per person up to $300,000 total for all people. The last number covers property damage. This property damage can cover the other person’s vehicle or anything that you hit and damage as a result of the accident. In some states you must purchase Personal Injury Protection which covers medical bills, time lost at work, and many other things. You can also purchase insurance if the other driver does not have insurance or is under insured. Most if not all states require drivers to carry mandatory liability insurance coverage to ensure that their drivers can cover the cost of damage to other people or property in the event of an accident. Some states, such as Wisconsin, have more flexible “proof of financial responsibility” requirements.
Generally, liability coverage purchased through a private insurer extends to rental cars. Comprehensive policies (“full coverage”) usually also apply to the rental vehicle, although this should be verified beforehand. Full coverage premiums are based on, among other factors, the value of the insured’s vehicle. This coverage, however, cannot apply to rental cars because the insurance company does not want to assume responsibility for a claim greater than the value of the insured’s vehicle, assuming that a rental car may be worth more than the insured’s vehicle.
Most rental car companies offer insurance to cover damage to the rental vehicle. These policies may be unnecessary for many customers as credit card companies, such as Visa and MasterCard, now provide supplemental collision damage coverage to rental cars if the rental transaction is processed using one of their cards. These benefits are restrictive in terms of the types of vehicles covered.