Punching someone in the pocketbook can cause more pain than spreading nasty rumors or posting a mean Facebook message. A bad "friend" who crashes your car can affect your finances for years: Auto insurance follows the car, not the driver. And if your so-called friend is uninsured and you have low auto insurance liability limits, you're both in hot water.
"If you lend someone your keys, you're lending your insurance, too," explained Robert Passmore, senior director of personal lines at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an industry trade group.
Here's how a friend can wreck car insurance havoc.
Scenario No. 1: Your friend crashes your car, and you both have low liability limits.
Let's say you loan your car to a friend and he crashes it, causing an accident with another vehicle. Both you and your friend have auto insurance with low liability limits. The accident exhausts the liability limits on both policies.
Once this happens, the person who was hit can sue you for medical or property-damage bills that weren't covered by insurance.
For repairs to your own car, you'll have to use your collision insurance (if you have it). But you'll have to pay your deductible on a collision claim, which can be costly.
Your friend may be found to have partial liability for the accident damages, but "states and insurers have different rules for deciding partial liability," said Passmore. "You're lending your friend a major asset. You should be cautious."
Scenario No. 2: Your uninsured friend crashes your car, and you have low liability limits.
This is the worst-case scenario. Your own auto insurance limits will be exhausted, and then the liability shifts to your friend -- but you can both be sued.
"Attorneys are looking for liable parties," warned Michael Barry, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. He adds that when there's bodily injury to someone else, your exposure for having loaned your car dramatically increases. "It can be open-ended," said Barry.
And to top it off, your car insurance rates could go up as a result of the claim, depending on your recent claims history.
Scenario No. 3: Your friend crashes your car, and you both have high insurance limits.
This is the best scenario because all damages are likely to be covered, but your insurance limits are still exhausted before your friend's policy is tapped. As in the first scenario, you'll have to pay your deductible for any collision claim for repairs to your own car.
In the final analysis, the best strategy is to guard your car like you'd guard your money: Loan it sparingly, and don't always expect to get it back.
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