One of the most important documents you get after setting up your car insurance policy is your proof of insurance identification card. This is the insurance card that most state laws require you to always keep in your car. The failure to do so could have some uncomfortable consequences.
Here's what information is on these insurance ID cards and why they're important.
What is Proof of Insurance?
When you first obtain an insurance policy on your vehicle, you will normally receive two proof of insurance identification cards. You can keep one card in your wallet or purse, and the other you are required to keep in your vehicle.
These cards show that you have at least the minimum liability insurance coverage to meet your state’s financial responsibility laws and that your insurance is current and valid. Proof of insurance cards have expiration dates and must typically be renewed every six months.
Why Do You Need Proof of Insurance?
You'll need proof of insurance for the following reasons:
- To take a driving test: When you're applying for a license, the examiner will want to see proof of your insurance before going on the streets for the driving exam.
- To register your vehicle: You will need to offer proof of insurance to your state’s motor vehicle department each time you renew your license plate or are registering a new vehicle.
- To present if you’re involved in an accident: After an accident, you’ll need to provide your insurance information to the other people involved in the accident and the investigating police officer.
- If you’re pulled over for a moving violation: The police officer will ask for your license, registration and proof of insurance. That's the first thing they ask for when you get stopped.
- When applying for a new car insurance policy: If you are applying for a new policy with a different insurance company, that company will want to see proof of insurance from your previous insurance carrier. A gap or lapse in coverage will be a negative sign, and you could wind up paying higher insurance premiums. Generally, your insurance premiums will be less if you can show that you've been insured continuously for a longer period of time.
Read More: Will Car Insurance Decrease If My Car Is Paid Off?
What Are the Ways to Get Proof of Insurance?
Insurance companies make it easy to get your proof of insurance cards. Other than paying your premiums, there is no cost for your proof of insurance cards or for getting replacements if you lose them. Here are the ways you can get your ID cards:
- Online: You can download your ID cards at the websites of all the major insurance companies.
- Mail: It takes longer, but you can still get ID cards by sending in an application for replacements.
- Fax: This method is mostly for businesses, but if you have a home fax, you can request your insurance carrier to send your ID cards to your fax.
- Digital App: Most states – except New Mexico, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. – now allow you to use electronic proof of insurance on your cell phone. This eliminates the need to carry around a card in your wallet or loose in your glove compartment. You can download a mobile app directly from your insurance carrier and be able to access your insurance ID for a police officer or presentation to the DMV.
What’s On a Vehicle Insurance Card?
This is the basic information that appears on your proof of insurance card:
- Name and address of insurance company
- Effective date
- Expiration date
- Policy number and NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners) number
- First and last name of the “named insured”
- Year, make, model and VIN (vehicle identification number) for the insured vehicles
Your proof of insurance card indicates that you have liability coverage for at least the minimum amount required by your state. It does not list your specific types of coverages, such as collision and comprehensive, or coverage limits.
The more detailed descriptions of your coverages are on your policy declarations page, which lists coverages, limits and deductibles.
Read More: Does Not Paying a Car Insurance Bill Affect Credit?
What if You Don’t Have Proof of Insurance?
Not having your proof of insurance with you and in your vehicle at all times can lead to a number of problems.
- If you're pulled over by the police, you could get a ticket for not having proof of insurance.
- You could have to pay a fine.
- You could have your license and/or registration suspended or revoked.
- If you have to go to court to prove that you do have insurance and even if the judge dismisses the charges, you could still be responsible for fines and court costs.
You should always keep a current and valid insurance card in your car to avoid these unpleasant events.
How to Get Proof of Insurance When Buying a Car
First, you must have your car insurance in place before you drive the vehicle off the dealer's lot. If you already have auto insurance on another car, insurance companies will usually give you a grace period of seven to 30 days before reporting your new car to the insurance company. Your existing policy should extend to a new car, but you should confirm this extended coverage with your provider to be sure. Dealers will usually accept your existing proof of insurance cards and allow you to take possession of the new car.
If you don't already have car insurance, you'll need to get the insurance in place before taking possession of the car. Remember that it's illegal in most states to drive a car without insurance and without having proof of insurance in the vehicle. The consequences of not having insurance and being involved in an accident can be severe.
The safest approach is to decide on the car you want to purchase and contact your insurance carrier with the vehicle’s VIN to get it added to your current policy or have a new policy issued.
What is an SR-22 Certificate?
To be clear, an SR-22 certificate is not the same thing as a proof of insurance card.
An SR-22 is a document issued by your insurance company showing that you have the state-required minimum level of insurance requirements for financial responsibility. It is usually required by the courts for someone who has been convicted of a DUI, had their license suspended or canceled or has a long history of numerous, serious traffic violations.
- Forbes: Proof Of Insurance Explained
- MSN: Do You Need Proof Of Insurance To Buy A Car?
- DMV.org: How To Obtain Proof Of Insurance
- Policygenius: How to Obtain Proof of Insurance & Why You Need It
- Motor1.com: How Soon After Buying A Car Do You Need Insurance?
- Michigan Secretary of State. "Do I need to show proof of insurance each time I renew my plate?," Accessed Jan. 24, 2020.
- Santa Clara Superior Court. "Insurance Violations," Accessed Jan. 24, 2020.
- State of Indiana. "Proof of Financial Responsibility," Accessed Jan. 24, 2020.
- Travelers. "Proof of Prior Insurance Guide," Accessed Jan. 24, 2020.
- NAIC. "Protecting An Investment: What Consumers Need to Know About Lender-Placed Insurance." Accessed Jan 24, 2020.
James Woodruff has been a management consultant to more than 1,000 small businesses. As a senior management consultant and owner, he used his technical expertise to conduct an analysis of a company's operational, financial and business management issues. James has been writing business and finance related topics for work.chron, bizfluent.com, smallbusiness.chron.com and e-commerce websites since 2007. He graduated from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and received an MBA from Columbia University.