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Insuring a car you don't drive

Usually you insure a car for you and the other drivers in your household to use. But how do you insure a car you don't drive?

Answers vary by the situation as well as by state, insurance company, policy and even by individual customer.

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"Some of these scenarios are not typically the kinds of things insurers have set up their standard policies to cover," says Karl Newman, president of the NW Insurance Council in Seattle. "But insurance companies will do what they can to accommodate their existing clients who are going through life changes and unique circumstances."

Here's a look at possible car insurance implications in three situations:

1. You're not a licensed driver but you keep a car for someone else to drive

In some cases you might be able to purchase insurance for the car and exclude yourself as a driver on the policy.

"Typically the insurer will want to know more about the situation and will handle on it on a case-by-case basis," Newman says. "Companies have to be cautious because of the litigious society we live in."

Insurance for a car you don't driveTwo big questions insurance companies will ask: "Why don't you have a license?" and "Who will be the primary driver?"

If you don't have a license because of a string of DUIs and reckless driving convictions, then affordable car insurance is not in the cards. Even though you're unlicensed and would be excluded from coverage, insurers would be concerned that you still have access to the car keys, Newman says.

But if you don't drive because of a disability, illness or old age, then an insurer is more likely to accommodate you, particularly if you have a track record with the company.

If you're excluded from your own policy, an insurer typically will want a licensed driver listed on the policy, such as a family member who lives in the household, says Tully Lehman, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California. The company will base the premium in part on the driver's age, gender, driving record and other characteristics.

2. You're leaving the country for a year and someone else will use the car

You can maintain the policy as a registered owner and add someone else to the policy if he/she will have regular access to the vehicle.

Make sure the insurer and the driver know how to reach you in case there's an accident or something happens to the car while you're gone, Newman says.

If no one will use the car on a regular basis, you generally don't need to add additional drivers to the policy.

Meanwhile, insurance companies occasionally let drivers insure cars they don't own. For example, let's say your brother is going to drive your car while you're away. Instead of adding your brother to your policy, he might be able to add your car to his policy, even though he doesn't own the vehicle.

Call your insurance company and explain the situation. "Do not keep your insurance company in the dark," Newman says. "Let them know if you have special circumstances."

3. The car is an extra vehicle that no will drive for months at a time

You might still need to keep liability insurance on the car, depending on the state where you live.

"In California, cars are required to be insured in order to be registered," Lehman says. "If you intend to drive it at any time, even if for months at a time you don't drive, you will need to at least have liability coverage on the vehicle. Should you let your insurance lapse, your registration, too, would become invalid."

When no one's driving the car you could drop optional types of coverage, such as collision insurance, which covers damage to your car from crashes. But insurers recommend that you maintain comprehensive insurance, which covers losses from vandalism, natural disasters and theft, Newman says. Those risks lurk, regardless of whether you drive the car.

If you drop some coverage, Newman recommends putting a note on the steering wheel as a reminder to yourself to call the insurance company when you start driving the car again.

"But your best bet is to leave coverage on the vehicle to avoid forgetting to put it back on when you drive it," Newman says.

Rather than dropping coverage, ask your insurer about discounts for seasonal vehicles

Don't keep mum about changes in driving to avoid premium increases. It's better to pay slightly more now than risk a gap in coverage later because you didn't keep the car insurance company informed.

More from Barbara Marquand here

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