Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insuran...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager Chris Harrigan

UPDATED: Sep 23, 2020

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Key takeaways...

  • When you’re buying a car privately, you should have the car looked over by a mechanic and then test drive it
  • When test driving the car, make sure that the owner has insurance if you don’t yet have a policy in place
  • The vehicle owner’s insurance covers you as a permissive user when driving the car with intentions of buying it
  • When buying a car from a dealership, general liability insurance will protect the company if there’s a loss
  • If you don’t have a car and you want added protection, consider buying nonowner’s liability coverage

Test driving a car is an integral part of the car buying process. Unless you’re buying a car at an auction, you need to feel how the vehicle handles and how responsive it is before making an offer.

Test driving a vehicle can help you evaluate the mechanical condition of the car and how smoothly it shifts. If you don’t get to feel the car in action, you could wind up spending too much money on a car that will soon breakdown.

It’s important to that you know what to evaluate while you’re on a test drive, but you also need to consider whether or not you have insurance coverage while you’re doing your evaluations. Driving an unfamiliar car can put you at risk and so can distractions.

Compare car insurance rates today by using our free quote tool. Here’s what you need to know about insurance to test drive a car:

Know the Risks of Buying a Car From a Private Seller


There are perks when you buy a car from a private seller, but there are also risks.

It’s easier to negotiate with a seller who wants to sell their car quickly, but you also have to worry about verifying registration and title status. Another thing that you need to worry about is insurance.

It’s the vehicle owner’s duty to keep insurance on their car until an agreement is met and the bill of sale is signed. If the seller has taken insurance off of the car and you test drive it, you’re at risk of getting into an accident and having absolutely no coverage.

In essence, it’s the owner’s duty to pay for damages, but there’s still a risk that you could be sued.

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Verify That the Car Has Active Insurance Coverage

The best way to protect yourself when you’re buying a used car for sale by owner is to verify everything while you’re still completing the transaction. You can do the following to see if the car is insured:

  • Ask to see proof
  • Call the DMV to verify the registration
  • Check the title
  • Run a VIN check

If you’re buying a car from an honest private seller, there shouldn’t be any resistance to show you the car’s policy information.

In fact, the seller should be happy to call their agent for you so that you can ask about the policy coverage and its status. After all, there’s no way that you can tell if the policy is still active by looking at documents.

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Does the owner’s policy cover the car when you’re testing it?

You can’t insure a car that you don’t own but you also can’t drive an uninsured vehicle and expect not to suffer financial setbacks. As long as you test out a car that’s insured, you shouldn’t have issues.

You won’t have issues because the primary policy covering the car will more than likely cover anyone who’s given permission to drive it.

All standard auto insurance policies have permissive user provisions written into them. The provision is in place to protect the vehicle owner if there’s an accident in the car and someone else is driving.

As long as someone who owns the car says that a person who doesn’t have regular access to the car can take a spin in it, the coverage will extend automatically.

Do you still need your own policy?


The liability coverage will pay if you accidentally hit someone or damage property, but you can’t control how much coverage the owner carries. Anyone who’s a victim in a non-fault accident will have to go after the seller before they go over you as the driver.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee in place that says that the policy will fully pay for damages.

After the limits carried on the primary policy are exhausted, the other party will have to make a choice. They can one of these two things:

  • Sue the owner for the remainder of the damages
  • Try to collect damages from you because you’re the at-fault driver

This potential lack of enough coverage is why you might need to have your own insurance when you’re testing out a privately owned car.

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How does an existing policy protect you?

If you have existing insurance, the liability coverage does follow you while you’re test driving a car. You’ll also have medical payments and protection against uninsured motorists if you elect to pay for these add-ons.

Sometimes, you can justify the usage and the carrier will pay for physical damage when you have full coverage, but that’s only if the seller is going to come after you.

How can you buy insurance to protect you while you’re test driving?


If you don’t own a car, you’re out of luck when it comes to using an existing policy to your advantage. The only thing that you can do is buy a policy that is designed to protect licensed drivers who don’t own their own cars. These policies are called nonowner’s plans.

A specialty carrier that sells nonowner’s policy will offer applicants who have a valid license and an acceptable driving record liability protection while they borrow cars or rent cars.

Some carriers will also offer uninsured motorist and medical payments coverage options for added protection.

Do you need to show that you have insurance at a dealership?

If you’d rather buy a car from a dealership that has to be held accountable for business transactions, you don’t have to have insurance. Salesmen don’t ask for proof of insurance but they do ask for a copy of your license.

The purpose of getting a copy of your license is to ensure that you’ll have coverage under the dealer’s general liability policy.

You’re better off getting quotes for insurance before you buy a car. It can save you time and save you money. Be sure to use your time wisely when you’re shopping for coverage.

Use a quote comparison tool and connect with dozens of carriers so that you can get instant quotes right away. Enter your zip code below to compare today!