Question: I just added my 17-year-old son to my policy and will be purchasing 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 upon 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; while 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 on a frequent basis, 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 as 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 each would also be assigned as occasional drivers to the other cars in your household; thus, everyone is a principal driver of one car and occasional driver on all others.

Trying to find the cheapest way to insure your teenager is likely what you are pursuing.  (See “A parent’s guide to insuring a teen driver”)

Buying your son the right car can help (see “The best cars for teen drivers”), but just adding him to your policy makes your rates rise since he is such a young driver. 

If he really will only be using one car, then 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.

author image
Penny Gusner
Consumer Analyst/Insurance Expert

Penny has been working in the car insurance business for more than 10 years and has become an expert on procedures, rates, policies and claims. She has seen it all, and working with from its inception, she researches the routine and the bizarre with equal enthusiasm. She has three very active children and a husband with a zeal for quirky cars.