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Vacation home car insurance

Snowbirds fleeing winter weather for warmer climes need to understand auto insurance requirements before landing at their second homes.

That means answering two key questions:

  • Do you need to register your car at your winter home?
  • Do you need to buy insurance in that state?

We looked at two popular winter destinations for snowbirds, Arizona and Florida, to see how their requirements differ for their temporary residents.

  • Every state sets its own minimum insurance standards, with some of the least stringent requirements being in Arizona and Florida.
  • If your car is in Florida for more than 90 days each year, then you need to register it there to comply with Florida laws. Arizona is more relaxed; you don’t have to register your car there unless you live there more than seven months of the year.
  • If you register your vehicle in another state, you will need to obtain insurance in that state as well.
  • To ensure the safety of your car, (and as long as your car has an active registration,) you have to meet at least minimum legal standards for insurance.

What is snowbird insurance?

The term snowbird is used for individuals – typically retired – who travel south from the northern part of the country for the winter. Snowbird insurance is car insurance for vehicle owners who spend part of the year at a second home, often in warmer areas such as Florida or Arizona.

How does car insurance work if I drive a car in another state?

If you’re visiting another state for a few days or just driving through, your existing vehicle coverage should be all you need. However, if you plan on settling in a different state for a few months, you’ll need to have snowbird car insurance in that state.

Do I have to register my car at my winter home?

You can’t insure a car and register it in two different states, except in rare circumstances. That means your first hurdle is finding out whether you must register in your winter home state.

Can a snowbird register a car in Florida?

In Florida, if you have a car in the state for more than 90 days each year — and those days don't have to be consecutive — you have to comply with Florida's registration requirements.

If your winter roosting place is Arizona, you'll have a much easier time. If you live there less than seven months a year, you're considered a part-time resident and don't have to register your vehicle in Arizona, says Ryan Harding, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Both states will allow you to keep a driver’s license from home even if you register and insure a car at your vacation residence. Canadian drivers also can keep their licenses but may be required to get one locally as well.

tip iconTIPIf you’re driving south for the winter, you might want to look at all your insurance options. “There are special coverages such as trip interruption, roadside and theft of personal property,” says Jimmi Lewis of the Voi Insurance Solutions insurance agency. “Trip interruption coverage can pay for expenses such as hotel and food if your vehicle breaks down. … Roadside assistance is a no brainer. And since regular auto policies do not provide any coverage for your personal belongings in your car, personal property coverage can help.”

Do I have to insure my car at my winter home?

In Florida, much depends on whether you drive your car back and forth from your home state and remain in Florida only for a month or two each year, or if you leave your car parked in the Sunshine State year-round.

But once you register a car, you have to insure it locally. That means that even if you live in New York for nine months of the year and in Miami for just three months a year, you need to register your vehicle in Florida if it's garaged in the Sunshine State year-round.

You must get your coverage from an insurance company and agent licensed in Florida. That means you can't use your agent back home in New York, unless he's licensed in both states. But you can use the same insurance company if it is licensed to do business in Florida.

In Arizona, the same rules apply. If you register the car there, you must insure it through a company licensed in that state.

What is needed to register an out-of-state vehicle in Florida?

Every state sets its own minimum insurance standards. Arizona and Florida have some of the least stringent requirements.

Under Florida law, to drive legally, you'll need to have at least $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 in property damage liability coverage.

To meet Arizona law, you'll need to have at least $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage for one person and $50,000 for two or more people. You'll also need to have at least $15,000 in property damage liability coverage.

It’s very likely that your home state has higher minimum requirements than Florida and Arizona do. (See what levels of coverage drivers like you typically buy using Insurance.com’s auto insurance coverage calculator.) Plus, snowbirds with significant assets should consider bumping up their coverage limits. Florida and Arizona’s minimum coverage requirements are not enough to protect you in case of a serious accident or lawsuit. Skimping could cost you your savings and homes.

The senior driver discounts in Florida and Arizona may be a little different as well. Make sure you ask.

What is needed to register an out-of-state vehicle in Florida?

To register a vehicle that’s titled out of state you’ll need:

  1. The out-of-state title
  2. A completed HSMV 82040 application for certificate of title
  3. A copy of your driver’s license or passport
  4. Proof of Florida car insurance
  5. The bill of sale

Can I buy temporary car insurance?

Many drivers look for temporary car insurance to cover relatively brief stays in other states, but as long as your car has an active registration in that state, you must meet at least its minimum legal standards for insurance.

You can, however, turn in your plates, park the car in a non-public space or storage unit, and cancel coverage at any time. You’d have to re-register and insure the car again the next year.

An easier workaround may be reducing your auto insurance to coverage for a stored vehicle or a low-mileage plan. Don’t be too aggressive with downgrading coverage. Maintaining comprehensive car insurance on a stored vehicle is still crucial. If the unit that houses your vehicle floods during a hurricane or catches fire, comprehensive car insurance will cover the vehicle loss.

Consider these other ways to save money:

  • If you're at your vacation home for extended periods, ask about discounts for low mileage or storage for the vehicle at your primary address.
  • You may be able to get a multi-policy discount for buying coverage in both states from the same company.
  • You may be able to get a home and auto bundle discount for your vacation home and auto coverage.
  • Ask for a senior discount. You may find that senior driver discounts in Florida and Arizona may be a little different from your home state.

What happens if I decide to risk it?

While Arizona car insurance rates are relatively cheap, parts of Florida – the bigger South Florida cities, especially – are among the most expensive places in the country to insure a car.

That may make it tempting to keep your car registered in your home state, even if it stays in Florida year round.

Your auto insurance rates are determined based on where your car is housed. By misrepresenting where your car is garaged, you run the risk that the insurer in your home state could deny your claims for misrepresentation.

It's considered premium fraud or rate evasion, says Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Your insurer will typically investigate your claim, or hand it off to the NICB for investigation.

On top of that, if you're caught without proper registration and auto insurance in Florida, you can be ticketed by law enforcement officers.

Ashlee Tilford contributed to this report.

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