What Are Your Car Insurance Needs When Renting a Car in California?

woman signing rental car agreement

California is different from other states in relation to the laws involved in renting a car and having car insurance

Unlike in so many other places, your car rental agency doesn’t carry liability car insurance on the vehicle you rent. That responsibility is yours. The way that situation is handled depends on the coverage you already have. Or don’t have. 

This post is going to be a bit of a primer on such topics as non-owner car insurance and liability coverage. Either or both concepts can affect you when renting a car in the Golden State. Ready? 

When Do California Drivers Who Don’t Have Cars Have to Think About Affordable Car Insurance? 

Just before that relatively rare occasion when they actually want to drive. That’s the short answer, anyway. But let’s explore that in a little more depth. 

If you live in this state, you already know that all California drivers must have car insurance or proof of financial responsibility before they can legally get behind the wheel. So why wouldn’t you already have car insurance? 

Well, some California licensed drivers don’t have car insurance because they don’t own a personal vehicle and don’t feel they need one … until they do. Maybe they walk or use public transportation most of the time, and that suits them just fine. But what if they must visit relatives out of town or they travel regularly on business or must entertain clients? 

On those occasions when they have no choice but to rent a vehicle, they have three options when it comes to car insurance: 

  • Have a conventional car insurance policy despite not owning or regularly driving a car* 
  • Buy a short-term car rental liability policy from the rental agency 
  • Obtain a non-owner car insurance policy 

*Conventional car insurance policies may not be valid if you are renting a car for business purposes. 

Why Two of These Three Options Aren’t Always Ideal 

You probably rejected that first option out of hand. You rightly figured that it could be pretty expensive to buy a conventional car insurance policy if you rarely drive. Sure, it would cover your rental vehicle, but how much financial sense does it make if you only need insurance on those occasions when you rent your ride? 

Your second option, obtaining a temporary liability policy that covers the rental period, isn’t bad if you only rent a vehicle on rare occasions. But the cost adds up if you’re a regular at your favorite auto rental agency. 

And what if you also make a habit of borrowing a car from family or friends when you need one? They’re not going to be able to offer you a temporary policy. So what do you do then? 

That Leaves Us with Non-Owner Car Insurance 

A non-owner policy has been written specifically to meet the needs of those drivers who don’t have their own licensed vehicles but rent or borrow transportation on a fairly regular basis. Non-owner coverage is affordable car insurance for California drivers who don’t need or want to spend money on full coverage or standard liability coverage. 

Non-owner car insurance is a liability car insurance policy. That means it protects you from having to personally pay for all of the damage caused by a collision in which you’re held responsible. That could be financially disastrous. 

Your non-owner policy will cover such elements as the damage to other vehicles and property like fences, signs, or buildings you might have damaged in the collision. It will even cover the medical expenses as the result of bodily injury to the other driver, passengers, and others affected, up to your policy limits. 

Keep in mind, this liability policy won’t cover the damage to your own vehicle in the accident. That’s one of the drawbacks of non-vehicle insurance, but it might otherwise meet your temporary needs. 

woman getting keys to a rental car

I Already Have Car Insurance, So What’s My Deal With Renting a Car? 

You’ve made things a whole lot simpler. If you already have cheap car insurance in California, whether it’s minimal liability coverage or full-service coverage, you can use it to rent a car in California. 

According to California law, you must have at least liability coverage when driving, whether you’re behind the wheel of your own vehicle or you’re renting or borrowing a car. 

If you’ve obtained a policy for your own vehicle, it’s sure to contain at least the minimum liability coverage. You should be all set. 

Discuss the Details with Your California Car Insurance Agent 

As mentioned, if you rent a car only on rare occasions, and you don’t have a standard car insurance policy because you don’t drive your own vehicle, simply buying a temporary liability policy from the renting agency might be your decision. 

However, at some point, you’ll be better off investing in a non-drivers policy. That’s particularly true if you regularly rent a vehicle. Call a trusted insurance agent and explain your circumstances. Your agent will be able to help you determine when a non-driver policy will be a better option for you. 

And if you only have liability coverage, you might also ask your agent about the possible value of upgrading to full coverage. This might be a smart financial decision when you consider what could be the considerable cost of repairing or replacing your own vehicle if you had an accident or suffered non-collision damage to your vehicle such as theft, vandalism, fire, or other catastrophic events. 

Call Your Cost-U-Less Agent for Affordable Car Insurance Today 

Whether you typically drive your own vehicle or rent or borrow one, your Cost-U-Less independent insurance agent can help you determine the coverage cost and package that’s right for you. 

Call Cost-U-Less at (800) 390-4071 for affordable car insurance or get a quick quote online. We also invite you to find a Cost-U-Less location near you