Question: I just added my 17-year-old son to my policy and will purchase a third car for the family. What is the difference between full-time and part-time drivers? Is the amount of time he drives looked at, or does it have to do with the distance or annual mileage he’ll drive the car? 

Answer: In general, auto insurance providers will look at the amount of time that your son drives a car to determine if he is a full-time or part-time driver, and, since he is a household member, they will also take into account how many cars there are in the house compare to drivers.

Car insurance companies have their own definition for what they refer to as occasional drivers, and it’s based on state laws and underwriting guidelines. 

For example, one insurer says that an occasional driver uses the car less than 25% of the time, or puts on less than 25% of the annual mileage. In contrast, a primary (principal) driver uses the vehicle 50% or more of the time. Other insurers say that an occasional driver doesn’t operate your cars more than once a week.

A driver, such as your son, who has regular access to your vehicles and can operate them frequently, would be considered by many insurers to be a primary driver. If you had more drivers than cars, then some insurers would allow your son to be labeled as an occasional driver. 

If with your new car, you’ll have three cars and three drivers in your household, then normally a car insurance company will assign each driver to be the primary driver of one car each. 

This means you’d be assigned the primary driver of the car you use most, your wife to her car and your son to the third vehicle. And with some insurers, in some states, you would be assigned as an occasional driver to the other cars in your household; thus, everyone is a principal driver of one car and occasional driver on all others. Make sure to find the cheapest insurance for your teenager.

Buying your son the right car can help, but adding him to your policy will increase your rates since he is such a young driver. 

If he is only using one car, you can see if your state and insurer will allow you to exclude him from the other cars and be rated only on the one he will be using.  If you don’t (or can’t) exclude him and he doesn’t qualify as an occasional driver to lower rates, then make sure you’re getting all the discounts possible, such as a multi-car discount and good student discount, to save money.

— Penny Gusner contributed to this story.

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Our team is made up of regular people with insurance policy needs, just like you. We just happen to know a little more about insurance than the average bear.