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Can I make son's girlfriend pay for crashed car?

Question: My son’s girlfriend drove his car and got into an accident.  I only carry liability on his car, but she has full coverage on her own car.  Can we use her insurance for this incident?   They’ve since broken up (she had another boy in the car when she crashed it).  It doesn’t seem right that she totaled out my son’s car (I own it), and we end up with nothing but claims against our liability policy.

Answer: A lot of things about auto insurance sometimes don’t seem fair. And paying the bills for your own car while the person who wrecked it walks off scot-free is one of them.

Car insurance follows a car, not driver.  This means your liability coverages pay the costs of the accident the ex-girlfriend was in since she was operating your vehicle. If the costs of repairing the damage to the car she hit or the medical bills of anyone she injured exceed your limits, then it’s possible that her own liability policy may be used as secondary coverage if her limits are higher than yours.

But her full coverage applies to only the insured vehicle listed on her policy, and it does not extend to other cars driven, except for rental cars.  

Collision and comprehensive don’t cover someone else’s car the policyholder drives. Why?  Because the cost of repairs or the amount paid out if the car is totaled can be very different than the one that your premiums are based upon. For example, if full coverage extended to other vehicles you could insure a Hyundai Accent but regularly drive a friend’s high-end Mercedes CLS.

What you may be able to do is see if the ex-girlfriend will pay for your totaled vehicle out of her own pocket.  She was the at-fault for its damages, so hopefully feels an obligation to make things right, even if she and your son are no longer together.  

What the ex-girlfriend should owe you is the actual cash value of the vehicle.  If you approach her and she doesn’t offer to pay this, then you might look into what legal remedies such as suing her in small claims court.

Someday, there will be a new girlfriend

Once your son gets a new car, you may want to place collision and comprehensive on it (if it makes financial sense).  That way if your son, or someone someone else, crashes it you’d be able to make a claim for repairs or its total loss.

Since this accident’s claims will be on your claims history, even though someone else was driving the car when the accident took place, your future car insurance rates may be affected.  If your current insurer does raise your rates due to this accident, make sure to shop around and see if lower rates are available.  Comparison shopping can take only 15 minutes of your time, but save you hundreds of dollars in premiums each year.

You'll want to double-check your insurance policy to see if it covers permissive drivers. Most policies will cover permissive drivers.  In your case, if your son gave her permission, then that still counts as her being a permissive driver even if you’re the technical owner of the car. 

However, there are some policies that only cover named drivers.  These types of policies won’t cover others that operate your vehicle, even if you give an individual permission to do so.  This is why we always advise car owners to check their policy, and ask questions of their auto insurance provider for clarification, before loaning out their car to anyone not listed on the policy.  (See “Who can drive your car?”)

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