Gianetta Palmer is a writer for CarInsurance101.com, copywriter, and essayist. Her work has appeared in EverydayHealth.com, Healthline, and The Dyrt Magazine. She is the author of Scrunchie-Fried and writes a lot about car insurance in her spare time.

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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific car insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. She also specializes in automa...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert

UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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For car owners, buying an insurance policy is part of life. Just like rent and groceries, car insurance is an avoidable expense if you own your own vehicle. Not every adult in the country does own a car, however, and people without cars may wonder if they need to purchase an auto insurance policy to protect them whenever they do drive.

You may live with someone and occasionally borrow their vehicle, rent cars while on business trips or otherwise occasionally drive a car that you do not own. If you wreck a car without having an insurance policy of your own, what happens? Do you need car insurance to simply drive a vehicle?

Financial Responsibility

The purpose of auto insurance is two-fold. First, it pays for damages that a vehicle sustains during car accidents and other covered losses. Second, it pays for injuries and damages caused by the vehicle during a car accident. Because vehicles are large, dangerous pieces of machinery, their owners must accept financial responsibility for any damages that they cause. For most people, that means purchasing liability insurance.

The damages that a vehicle may cause are nearly always the financial responsibility of that car’s owner. This means that no matter who is driving a vehicle, the car’s owner is responsible for paying for the loss. For this reason, car insurance follows the vehicle rather than the driver: No matter who drives a car, if the car itself is insured, any losses will be covered.

Not all insurance policies work this way, however, so you will want to be cautious before driving another person’s car. If the vehicle does not carry insurance, you may be held liable for damages that you cause while driving it. The vehicle’s insurance may also exclude drivers who are not listed on the policy, meaning that any accidents may not be covered. Before borrowing someone’s car, you should make sure they understand how their insurance will apply to any potential accidents; this will prevent both you and the car’s owner from potential lawsuits if something goes wrong.

What if the Car I Drive Has No Insurance?

If you drive a vehicle that does not have auto insurance, you may be held personally liable for the damages it may cause, especially if the vehicle does not technically belong to someone else. For example, if you drive a rental car, a self-haul moving truck or test-drive a car at a dealership, you may need some form of insurance.

Some dealerships will not allow you to test drive a car without proof of insurance, although many don’t bother to check. Rental companies will be more strict about this, and if you do not have car insurance, you will need to purchase a policy from the rental company itself. This is usually quite pricey, so if you rent cars frequently, it may be worth investigating insurance options for yourself.

In addition to car damage and possible lawsuits, there is another risk associated with driving a car without insurance. If you’re injured in an auto accident and the car is uninsured, you may be stuck paying the bill for your injuries out of your own pocket. Some medical insurance companies deny claims that are caused by car accidents even if you don’t have any other insurance that will cover the expenses. This an be a major concern and is a good reason to always ensure that a vehicle you drive is insured before you get behind the wheel.

Do I Need Insurance to Drive?

If you’re renting a vehicle or otherwise in a situation where you might be held personally liable for damages, you will need to purchase some sort of insurance. You can use insurance from the rental company itself, and some credit card companies will cover damage to a rental car.

If you’re borrowing a car, however, you may not need to purchase your own auto insurance coverage, at least if the vehicle itself is insured. If you don’t know whether the car is insured, it might not be worth taking the risk of driving it.

On the other hand, if you live with someone who is insured and owns their own car, it might make more sense for that person to add you to their policy rather than purchasing an independent policy of your own. This way, you will be covered under that person’s insurance whenever you drive any vehicle listed on the policy, and there will be no risk of a claim being denied due to an unlisted driver operating the vehicle.

It’s not always necessary to have your own auto insurance policy, but it’s a good idea to never get behind the wheel of a car without some form of protection. You never know when an accident might happen, and you will want the protection of insurance to prevent lawsuits, pay for damages and cover the costs of potential medical expenses.

Can I Buy Car Insurance Without a Car?

Some car insurance providers offer driver-only policies. These policies are generally more affordable than regular car insurance, and they come with limited coverages. The main purpose of these policies is to provide an emergency backup in case you ever need to drive a vehicle that is not adequately insured.

This type of policy will protect you from lawsuits and cover your medical expenses if you’re ever injured as part of an accident. It will usually not pay to repair the vehicle that you’re driving, however, or may have only a limited ability to pay for those damages. You will need to check with the insurance company to determine exactly what can be covered.

You can search for driver-only insurance online or call an insurance company to see what options are available to you. The insurance company will work with you to determine what coverages you need based upon your driving habits and budget.