Car insurance is a familiar concept to all of us: Almost every state in the union requires automobile insurance for drivers to legally operate a vehicle on public roads. Uninsured motorists, if caught, will be ticketed and fined, but more important, if they’re involved in an accident they’ll pay high repair costs, or even medical bills, and could potentially face financial ruin. So, insurance isn’t just a requirement, it’s a no-brainer. Most car insurance policies typically cover you for a year. But what if you need it for a shorter period — just a week or a month? There is a lesser-known product for that, called temporary insurance.

Temporary insurance, or as it’s sometimes known, short-term insurance, is, as the name implies, coverage for much shorter periods. Most vehicle owners will never need short-term or temporary insurance, but you should be aware it’s available in case you ever do.

Here are a few instances where it could be useful:

When do you need temporary insurance?

Let’s say you’re switching insurance providers and there’s a time gap between policies. Maybe you have a family member who only needs insurance when they’re home from school, or perhaps you’re selling your car and want to ensure test drivers are covered. These are all common scenarios that could benefit from temporary insurance, but in some cases, your existing insurance policy may cover additional drivers or offer similar solutions. Check with your insurance agent.

Some drivers may consider temporary insurance for a car rental. While your own car insurance policy will usually cover a rental car, there are instances where it won’t, such as driving in Mexico or some other foreign country. In that case, you’ll want and need to purchase insurance on the rental. That’s probably the most likely temporary insurance situation you’ll experience.

How much does temporary car insurance cost?

In general, short-term policies cost more than standard coverage, since you’re paying for the convenience and it’s more difficult for insurers to turn a profit on temporary insurance. The price is just as sensitive to factors such as your driving record, the type of vehicle, where you’re operating the car and even your credit score. If you’re thinking of supplementing insurance for an exotic rental on Turo, the short-term quotes could make your head spin.

To compound matters, most large insurers don’t offer temporary insurance policies as the risks don’t outweigh profits. That means you’ll likely have to find coverage from a smaller and less reputable provider, which evokes serious “buyer beware” anxiety. Pay close attention to what the policy actually covers and what might be hiding in the fine print. Diligence up front can pay huge dividends if you indeed need to file a claim.

If the red flags are already waving in your head, that’s a valid response. If you’ve ever had to battle with an insurance claim held by a big provider, imagine dealing with a much smaller outfit with narrower profit margins. The idea that a “mom and pop” company will be easier to deal with than a corporate conglomerate is quaint and almost certainly naive.

Major insurers like Allstate, Progressive and State Farm do not offer any policies that they would call “temporary car insurance.” But big insurance companies do offer some alternatives to traditional long-term policies. For instance, Allstate offers a pay-as-you-go option that could cut costs for buyers who won’t be driving a large number of miles.

How long can you use temporary insurance for?

As you may have figured out by now, big name-brand auto insurance companies don’t offer policies for less than six-month or full-year periods. According to Allstate, “Your best option may be to purchase a standard auto policy and then talk to your provider about options to suspend coverage while it’s in storage or parked.” Progressive says, “You can purchase a six-month policy and cancel it after a couple of months if you sell your car or when you’re done driving.” And that leads us to our next point.

Check your current car insurance policy first

So what’s a customer to do? If you have an existing policy, check to see what coverage may already be baked in. There’s a good chance that guest drivers are covered, though restrictions almost always apply. Also, check to see what options are available to add to your policy. It’s likely your insurer has a solution and it may even be more affordable than a short-termer. Factor in the ease of augmenting your policy versus creating a new one, along with the peace of mind that your coverage is valid, and this route is even more attractive.

A less common solution includes opening a standard long-term policy and canceling it when you no longer need it. It’s completely legal, though there may be some penalties for early termination. One insurer in particular (*cough* State Farm *cough*) does not charge a cancellation fee. Keep in mind that if you’re not paying insurance month-to-month, you may have to work to get the remainder of your policy refunded. We wouldn’t be surprised if coverage is denied if cancelations are a regular occurrence, too.

In the end, short-term insurance should be considered as a last resort. The cost and potential headaches are probably not worth it for most drivers, especially when more reputable alternatives could be at your disposal. As with almost anything automotive, do your own research before signing anything.

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