License, registration, and proof of insurance: these are three things that responsible drivers know they need to have on them (or rather, in their glove box) at all times when they’re on the road. But what exactly constitutes proof of insurance?
Your proof of insurance documentation is that little card given to you by your insurance carrier that shows you indeed have insurance on your vehicle. It is sometimes referred to as an auto insurance card, a vehicle insurance card, or a binder. If you never file an insurance claim, the piece of paper is all you get for your money, other than peace of mind. It is a big "if" though; most people do not go a lifetime without ever filing a claim. Your auto insurance card will contain the following information:
- Insured's name and address—if you’re not the insured, it won’t list your name. If you aren’t the one in charge of the policy, make sure you’re a covered driver and not an excluded driver.
- Vehicle year and make—car insurance covers the car, not the driver.
- Policy renewal dates—if you notice the date is coming up, it’s time to make sure your policy is in order for the coming term.
- Insurance company name
- Insurance policy number—you’ll need this if and when you file a claim.
Vehicle insurance cards are issued for every insured, drivable vehicle with liability insurance coverage. Vehicles in storage or towed do not generally get issued insurance cards.
Where You Can Obtain an Auto Insurance Card
Your car insurance card is typically mailed to you in the same package as your insurance declaration page and other policy information. You can also obtain a car insurance card by going to your insurance agency, logging onto your insurance carrier's website, or calling customer service.
When You Receive Your Auto Insurance Card
You should receive your car insurance card when you purchase a new policy, and with every renewal, you should receive a new insurance card either in the mail or by email. Insurance cards are typically sent out 30 to 45 days in advance of your renewal.
There Are No Substitutes for Auto Insurance Cards
If you are caught without proof of insurance, the first thing you'll try to do is show some other form of proof. A declarations page, maybe a payment receipt, but none of those will work. Nothing can replace your car insurance card. It is required by law to carry a car insurance card in the vehicle you are driving. More than likely, substitutes will not be allowed when proof of insurance is required.
Who Wants to See Auto Insurance Cards
• DMV, Department of Motor Vehicles: You may need to provide the DMV with proof of insurance when you renew your license or plates. In the state of Michigan, this must be shown to the office of the Secretary of State in order to renew license plates.
• Police Officer: Have your vehicle insurance card ready in case you get pulled over. The first thing an officer usually says is "license and registration, please." If you do not provide your insurance card, you are likely to receive a stiff fine. Many states have increased the penalty for not providing proof of insurance. Electronic proof of insurance has become acceptable in many states.
• Claimant: After an accident, someone, whether it is the other person involved in the accident or the police officer, will want to see your proof of insurance. Your proof of insurance has all the information needed to trade information with the other driver and potentially fill out the police report. Many insurance carriers provide a smaller version of your proof which can be exchanged with another person. It is not considered proof but is handy for exchanging information after an accident.
• Insurance Company: Insurance companies want to see proof of prior insurance and a declaration page is usually required. To simplify, proof of insurance in this article refers to insurance cards only. ID cards usually won't cut it in this scenario.
• Lender: Lenders usually want to be listed as the loss payee on your insurance policy. They are also looking for proof of insurance. Again, the proof a lender is looking for is a declaration page and not insurance ID cards.
The Number of Cards Issued Per Vehicle
Insurance companies usually issue two proofs of insurance per vehicle: one to keep in your vehicle at all times and one to use to provide proof to the Secretary of State. Sometimes you need to mail out your vehicle insurance card, and having an additional copy makes the process a lot easier.
If There Is an Error on Your Car Insurance Card
Have you recently changed your address or is there a typo in your VIN number? You need to have your proof of insurance updated. Contact your insurance agent, sign into your online policy, or call your carrier's customer service number and get your proof updated. A wrong VIN number can cause the most problems when getting your license plates renewed and dealing with a police officer.
What to Do If Your Proof of Insurance Is Lost
Insurance cards are one of those things that are easy to lose. Insurance companies issue them so early before your renewal, and they are usually tucked into an envelope with multiple pages of paperwork, making them easy to overlook. If you have lost your insurance cards, you need to contact your agent, print new ones online, or call the customer service number immediately. Car insurance cards can usually be emailed, faxed, or printed online so you get access instantly.
Using Electronic Proof of Insurance
Some states do allow you to use electronic car insurance cards. Mobile apps for your cell phone can allow you to access your current proof directly from your insurance provider. You can then easily access the documentation and show it to a police officer and or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Check with your state by searching your state name and "electronic proof of insurance."