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Many people purchase temporary or vacation home car insurance when they are not living in their primary residence, but need to drive a car. Here's how to handle registration and insurance.

Vacation home car insuranceSnowbirds fleeing winter weather for warmer climes need to understand auto insurance requirements before landing at their second homes.

That means having an answer to 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.

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.

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, 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.

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.

"If you register a car in Florida, you need to have Florida insurance," says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for Insure.com.

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 that are 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.

Are coverage requirements different?

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 $15,000 in bodily injury liability coverage for one person and $30,000 for two or more people. You'll also need to have at least $10,000 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.)

“I’d recommend matching whatever liability limits you have at your primary home,” says Insurance.com Managing Editor Des Toups. “For homeowners with savings and other assets, the minimums in Florida and Arizona are by no means enough. You can lose your primary home because you skimped on coverage at your vacation residence.”

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

Can I buy temporary car insurance?

Many drivers search for temporary car insurance for their relatively brief stays in other states. There's really no such thing. 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.

“Before you cancel coverage, ask your carrier about how to cut costs for those months.” Toups says. “It may have some sort of discount for a stored car, or at the very least an ultra-low-mileage discount.”

Additionally, Gusner says keeping comprehensive coverage makes sense even for a stored car.  “Storage units can burn and cars can be stolen. And in Florida, you’ve got hurricane season.”

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.

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 claims, stating misrepresentation about where the car was located," Gusner says.

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.

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