Can I Get Temporary Car Insurance in California?

Midsection Of Man Signing Car Insurance Form
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If you are looking for temporary auto insurance in California, you may find that your search is difficult. It’s hard to find a conclusive answer to even the most basic questions, such as "can I get temporary car insurance in California?" That's because the answer is frustratingly vague; you might be able to find temporary car insurance, but you might not.

Below you will find a brief description of temporary car insurance, why you may or may not be able to get it in California, and a few suggested alternatives if you cannot find it.

Temporary Car Insurance and Why You Would Need It

Temporary or short-term vehicle insurance provides the buyer with the same coverage options as regular-term insurance, just for a shorter length of time. When you purchase a regular policy, the term period is typically six months or one year. A temporary policy is generally considered as any policy that lasts less than six months.

There are several reasons why you might need a temporary policy. Common scenarios include when someone buys a new car but only intends to own it for a short period of time, or when someone needs coverage now so they can take their time shopping for a permanent insurance policy.

If you're borrowing a friend's car for an afternoon, you probably don't need your own policy, but you may need to seek out coverage if you're borrowing the car for several days or weeks. Similarly, if you're renting a car from a rental dealership, you may want to seek out a short-term insurance policy.

This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.­­ Insurance policies and the laws governing them are subject to change. While the ideas here will give you a starting place for your short-term coverage search, there's no substitute for reaching out to insurance companies and government agencies like the department of motor vehicles (DMV).

Purchasing Temporary Car Insurance in California

The law allows for temporary insurance coverage. There is nothing in California’s insurance or traffic code that prohibits the sale or purchase of short-term auto liability policies.

However, while there isn't a legal issue with obtaining temporary insurance coverage, there is a supply issue. The problem is finding a carrier that will write a policy for less than six months. Shoppers will likely find that many major carriers choose not to offer this coverage. If you already have coverage from a major company, it may be worth making a call to your agent and asking them to make an exception in your case. Otherwise, you might have to seek out a smaller online carrier.

Alternative Options for Common Scenarios

If you cannot find a carrier to write a temporary policy, you may be able to solve your insurance problem by alternative means. Here are a few suggestions.

Purchasing a New Vehicle

Under California law, you must be covered by the statutory minimums before you drive off the lot. If you cannot find a suitable short-term solution, you may have to purchase a six-month policy and then cancel it once you have transferred ownership or found a carrier more to your liking. If you currently have insurance on another vehicle, check your policy or call your agent before buying the new car. Your carrier may automatically cover the new vehicle for a brief period.

Renting a Car

This is another scenario when it's best to reach out to your existing insurance agent. There's a good chance that your current coverage could extend to your rental vehicle. Also, check your credit card agreement. Some credit cards automatically cover your rental vehicle if you pay for the rental with that particular card.

If neither of those cases covers you, make sure to opt for the liability coverage offered by the rental company or purchase a non-owner’s policy through an insurance carrier.

Remember, California law requires that you are covered by the statutory minimums any time you drive in the state, whether you own the vehicle or not. Rental companies will usually offer to provide this coverage for an extra cost, but it may not be required to rent the car. That means the responsibility is yours, whether you get your coverage from the rental company or another insurance provider. Whatever your choice, make sure you are fully covered before you get behind the wheel.

Borrowing a Vehicle

If you intend to borrow a friend’s vehicle that's registered in California, have your friend check their policy. In most cases, policies cover anyone that borrows the car for a short period of time. Still, it's important to check the policy details, because some companies won't extend coverage when the car is borrowed long-term, or when you live with the person you're borrowing the car from.

If your friend's policy does not extend coverage for the amount of time you'd like to borrow the car, then you need to look into non-owner’s coverage. Unfortunately, you may find that major policy carriers will write non-owner’s policies for a minimum of six months. Still, if you are borrowing the car for several weeks, this may be the most cost-effective way to go.

Article Sources

  1. California Department of Motor Vehicles. "Financial Responsibility (Insurance) Requirements for Vehicle Registration (FFVR 18)." Accessed May 4, 2020.

  2. State Farm. "Can Someone Else Drive My Car?" Accessed May 4, 2020.