Car owners or operators are in nearly all states are required by law to carry minimum liability insurance coverage before they can legally drive the car. The most up-to-date information on a car insurance policy will come from the insurance company, or the insurance agent who sold the insurance. Once you have the insurance company's name, increase your chances of finding out if a car is insured by providing as much information as possible. However, there are some other options you can consider.
Check With the Car Owner
This may be as simple as asking the car owner to show his proof of insurance, which in most states, a car owner is required by law to carry in the vehicle. The proof of insurance has a policy expiration date on it, but if the policy has been allowed to lapse, it will not reflect this. However, the document will give you the name of the insurance company, its address and phone number and the status of the policy.
Read More: What Are the Benefits of Insurance?
Insurance Lookup by VIN
You can actually find insurance company by VIN number (Vehicle Identification Number). On the vehicle, you will find the 17-digit VIN. It is usually located on the lower left-hand corner of the dashboard and can be viewed by looking through the windshield on the driver's side from the outside.
Contact State Motor Vehicles Agency
Although most state motor vehicles agencies require proof of insurance to renew the annual vehicle registration, the federal Drivers Protection and Privacy Act may make it difficult to extract the information unless you have reported an accident to the police. Also the agency's records may not be current. If the policy has been allowed to lapse, this may not yet be reflected in their records.
Be aware that company-owned vehicles are not required to provide proof of insurance to the state motor vehicles agency. Contact the company directly for details about the policy.
Other Ways to Access Records
In the event of an accident, in most states, certain agencies and businesses have electronic access to state motor vehicle records, which will show whether a car is covered by insurance. At the scene of an accident, if the drivers are unable to supply proof of insurance – or later in court – you can find this information from:
- Police and highway patrol agencies
- Authorized traffic court employees
- Insurance companies and their agents
Locate Info for Financed Vehicles
Vehicle finance companies will, as part of their financing, not permit insurance policies to lapse on vehicles that they are financing, since they need to protect their collateral. Insurance companies are required to advise these companies of any lapses in the policy or renewals. Check the vehicle registration document to see if it has a finance company listed in the "Lien Holder" section.
Verify Leased and Rented Vehicles
Leasing companies own their vehicles and operate similarly to finance companies in this regard. As part of the lease agreement, leasing firms will not permit their vehicles to be used without insurance coverage.
Rental car companies offer insurance options when you rent a car, either by paying extra on the rental charge for their insurance coverage, or by using your own insurance provided it has rental car coverage. Either way, the same principles apply: Contact the relevant insurance company for full details about the coverage.
Read More: Do I Need Car Insurance for a Car Rental?
Contact Your Insurance Agent
If you are the owner of a car insurance policy, contact your insurance agent when you need help in this area. He can guide you through the process and will contact the other insurance company on your behalf. Check for the type of coverage on the vehicle, as the car may be insured but not for the particular event that gives you cause for concern.
- Insurance Information Institute: Automobile Financial Responsibility Laws By State
- Texas DMV: How to Find the VIN
- Cornell Law School: 18 U.S. Code § 2721 - Prohibition on Release and Use of Certain Personal Information From State Motor Vehicle Records
- Insurance Information Institute: Auto Insurance Basics
- Virginia DMV. "Insurance Requirements." Accessed Sept. 20, 2020.
- Justia. "New Hampshire Revised Statutes Title XXI." Accessed Sept. 20, 2020.
- Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. "TexasSure." Accessed Sept. 20, 2020.
Graduating from Brighton School of Business in the UK, Nick Thorne moved to the U.S. in 1982 and is the co-founder and former CEO of Manik Original Off-Road Equipment Inc. He has been involved in the automotive aftermarket on both continents throughout his career.