Road trips have been an iconic piece of American culture since the Ford Model T hit the road in the early 1900s. From the splendor of the Grand Canyon to the unspoiled mountains of Vermont, the United States holds seemingly endless road trip opportunities.
After the stress of the pandemic, Americans could be hitting the road in significant numbers. An early 2021 survey from Motel 6 revealed the following details:
- Nearly 56 percent of those polled reported being more likely to take a road trip in 2021 than in previous years.
- Around 69 percent of those surveyed had at least one trip planned for 2021.
- About 76 percent of respondents couldn’t travel as much as they’d hoped during 2020.
If you’re preparing for your own road trip, you’ll want to educate yourself about best practices on the road and the best car insurance to protect your vehicle while you’re exploring. In this article, we’ll explain how to keep your car safe so you can enjoy your journey to the fullest.
How Does Car Insurance Work For Road Trips?
Even if your bags are packed, you’re not ready to go if you haven’t thought about car insurance. While there’s no particular policy intended for road trips, it’s a good idea to ensure you have the best car insurance coverage in place for extended driving. Below, we’ll look at the types of auto insurance that are particularly relevant for road trips.
Before you begin your expedition, inspect your current auto policy to figure out how much liability insurance coverage you have. If you only carry your state’s minimum liability insurance, you may be underinsured. Accidents can be expensive, and liability coverage only takes care of the damages caused to others. Consider the following National Safety Council (NSF) data on the average economic costs of accidents across the U.S.:
Minimum liability car insurance can quickly run out if you’re at fault for a significant auto accident. When heading out on a road trip, it’s wise to carry at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident for bodily injuries, though higher limits could be even more helpful.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured motorist coverage will pay for your medical bills and lost wages if you’re injured in an accident caused by an uninsured driver. It’s often tied to underinsured motorist coverage, which covers damages incurred by a driver who doesn’t have an adequate insurance policy.
The Insurance Research Council found that 12.6 percent of motorists were uninsured in 2019, adding up to about one in eight drivers. If your trip is upended by an accident caused by an uninsured driver and you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage, you’ll be responsible for covering your expenses.
The average American driver could experience multiple auto accidents in their lifetime. If your car is damaged by a crash in the middle of your road trip, collision coverage can shield you from expensive repair and replacement costs.
According to State Farm, the average auto claim for hail damage was more than $4,300 in 2020. If you get caught in bad weather during your road trip, comprehensive car insurance will protect your pocketbook by covering damages. The same goes for issues caused by theft, vandalism, and many other situations that could cause physical damage to your vehicle.
Getting a flat tire in an unfamiliar location or locking your keys in your car far away from home can be stressful. Adding a roadside assistance plan to your existing car insurance policy can go a long way toward ensuring peace of mind on your road trip.
If You’re Driving Your Vehicle
If you’re traveling in your own car on a long-distance road trip, consider two critical factors regarding your auto insurance coverage. The details can be found below:
Who Is Covered While Driving The Vehicle?
If you carry an auto insurance policy, other people can drive your vehicle as long as they are licensed, not under the influence, and not explicitly excluded from your policy. Since auto insurance is meant to protect the vehicle, your auto coverage remains in place even if your friend takes over at the wheel.
What Happens If I’m Involved In An Out-Of-State Accident?
Each state maintains different minimum requirements for auto insurance. Let’s say your home state only requires $15,000 for bodily injury coverage but your at-fault accident occurs in a state that mandates at least $50,000.
While you may seem to be underinsured, your insurance carrier won’t penalize you for carrying the lower coverage limits legally set by the state you live in. In most situations, your insurance carrier should increase policy limits if you’re involved in an out-of-state crash.
If You’re Renting A Car
If you’re hitting the road in a rental vehicle, you’ll need some type of rental car insurance. Fortunately, various options can provide coverage for your adventure.
Insurance Offered By Rental Car Companies
Your personal auto insurance policy may provide protection while you travel in a rental car, but that’s not guaranteed. Check your policy to find out whether it covers rental cars. Regardless, most rental car companies offer options for coverage:
- Collision damage waiver (CDW)
- Loss damage waiver (LDW)
- Supplemental liability insurance (SLI)
- Personal accident insurance
- Personal effects coverage
A collision damage waiver somewhat mirrors collision insurance by covering damages to a rental car due to an accident. A loss damage waiver is the equivalent of comprehensive coverage, helping out against theft, vandalism, or environmental damages. CDWs and LDWs are typically pricey, but they provide extensive protection.
Supplemental liability insurance is the equivalent of liability auto insurance, so many drivers’ policies will transfer coverage over to car rentals. If your policy doesn’t or if you lack personal car insurance, pick up SLI coverage, as liability insurance is required by law.
Personal accident insurance covers medical and death benefits after a rental car accident, while personal effects coverage protects belongings stolen from a rental vehicle. These two types of insurance get purchased less often and are rarely, if ever, required.
Alternatives To Rental Car Insurance
There are a couple routes you can take to insure a rental car that avoid the options found above. We’ll go through the details below.
Use personal car insurance coverage. In many cases, your full coverage car insurance policy will extend to collision damage incurred while you’re driving a short-term rental car. If you have collision coverage as part of your existing policy, you might be able to opt out of paying for a CDW from the rental car company.
Leverage credit card benefits. Many major credit card companies offer built-in collision coverage for rental cars. If you use its card to secure the rental, the card carrier may cover the CDW at no additional cost. Before counting on this coverage, make sure your credit card actually provides this benefit.
If You’re Leaving The Country
What special considerations should you keep in mind for road trips that cross international borders? That largely depends on whether you’re heading to Canada or to Mexico.
If you’re traveling to Canada: Most American auto policies will cover drivers who cross into Canada. Keep in mind that you may need to provide proof of insurance to border agents.
If you’re traveling to Mexico: Your U.S. car insurance will not be valid once you cross the border into Mexico. Uninsured driving in Mexico can lead to steep fines and even jail time, so get Mexican car insurance when you visit the country. The process for purchasing Mexican car insurance tends to be relatively simple, and major providers can easily assist you in purchasing the required coverage.
Tips For Preventing Accidents On Road Trips
Traffic accidents accounted for more than 36,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The last thing you want to deal with on vacation is an auto accident. Here are some tips for avoiding accidents on your next road trip.
Don’t text and drive. The NHTSA reported that more than 3,100 people were killed due to auto accidents involving distracted drivers in 2019, so put the phone away while you’re driving to help ensure the safety of everyone on your road trip.
Always stay alert while driving. Driver fatigue contributed to about 700 deaths in 2019, according to the NHTSA. Always be well-rested before hitting the road, and don’t drive if you’re impaired or too tired.
Inspect your vehicle before and after your trip. It’s important to conduct thorough maintenance inspections before, after, and even during your road trip. Paying close attention to your car’s condition will help you identify mechanical problems that could come up while you’re traveling.
Keep up with regular vehicle maintenance. Keeping up with regularly scheduled vehicle maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations can lessen the likelihood of unexpected breakdowns and mechanical failures while you’re on the road.