What Happens If You’re in an Accident the Same Day You Bought Car Insurance?


When executed properly, automobile insurance is effective immediately. When all the details are accounted for — documents signed, payment made and accepted, policy number issued — the insured vehicle is covered then, there, and right on down the road that very day.

Like comedy, insurance is all about … timing. An assortment of factors play a role, but, long article short, if it’s done properly, protection provided by automobile insurance begins as soon as you sign the papers.

No doubt you caught the operative phrase above: if it’s done properly. Miss even one of the details that initiate coverage, and you could wind up on the expensive end of an uninsured collision.

“Auto insurance begins the moment the insurance company has issued the policy number,” says James Oronoz, a Las Vegas, Nev.-based personal injury attorney. “Before a policy number is given, you have to sign the policy document, indicating your preferred start date.”

While most states are very much in the business of making sure motorists are insured, they are hands-off about when policies become effective, Oronoz notes: “States do not dictate when insurance policies begin or end. It is up to the insurance companies.”

Making certain a policy is in place and coverage is active and enforceable is among the reasons you’re still at the dealership long after you’ve agreed to the model, the options, the color, the warranty, the cost and financing (or lease payments).

Nobody with a fiduciary interest in the unpaid balance on your new (or new-to-you) vehicle wants to be left holding an empty bag if you’re rear-ended by a bus three blocks after leaving the dealership.

“You can get immediate coverage from almost any large national car insurance company on the market today,” Oronoz says. “Once you call or go online to receive a quote, most companies let you purchase a plan that begins immediately after payment.”

Let’s drill down a bit on this.

Can You File a Claim the Same Day You Get Car Insurance?

If you are covered, you can file a claim. We refer you to the scenario above, the one involving the massive public transport and the back end of your new car.

Yes, you might have further legal issues with the local rapid transit authority, but what you won’t have is difficulty getting your car repaired (or totaled and a make-you-whole settlement paid) so long as your insurance coverage was active when you drove away from the lot.

Already insured? “Most insurance companies provide automatic coverage for new purchases equal to the broadest coverage you have on your current or other cars,” Oronoz says. “In other words, if you already have a car insurance policy in effect and you purchase a new vehicle, that policy will cover you for up to four days after purchase.”

Again, dealerships have a financial interest in making certain you have coverage before they send you on your way. That’s true of new car dealerships and independent used car sellers alike.

In a private party sale, however, the onus is on you to make certain you are covered the moment you take possession of the vehicle. Unless you are paying cash out of your own resources, the institution financing your purchase (bank, credit union, finance company) will require proof of insurance.

If you’re pulling money out of savings to seal the deal, it’s in your interest to alert your insurance agent ahead of time. (S)he will instruct you on making sure your coverage is seamless. This is especially important if you are shifting coverage from one vehicle to another. Make certain there is no gap, and also no overlap.

During the negotiating process for buying your next vehicle, you are in charge of when coverage begins. Whether you’re purchasing from a dealership or an individual, if you’re not taking delivery sometime in the future — a week or two, or a month or more in the case of a special-order — provide the expected deal-closing date to your insurance agent.

Planning ahead also means you get to evaluate your coverage needs, study the companies and agencies that meet your needs, and shop for the best rates.

Buying coverage online? Be prepared to provide the same information, whether you’re taking delivery today or next month.

Can You Get Insurance the Same Day You Have an Accident?

There’s good news and bad news on acquiring post-accident coverage.

The good news: Yes, in most cases you can buy a policy after a collision.

The bad news: That policy will not cover accidents (or tickets for driving while uninsured) before the policy went into effect. It’s not the insurance company’s job to let irresponsible car owners wheedle out of the consequences or their neglect on the cheap.

In virtually all cases, your policy will indicate not only the day coverage took effect, but also the time. So, 3:30 p.m. is not the time for the uninsured motorist to ring up the good-hands people if (s)he was in a fender-bender at 3:15 p.m.

We’d also warn here about attempting to make a claim on a policy that was not in effect at the time of the crash. You’re likely to be caught; your policy will be immediately canceled; and, going from bad to worse, you will have committed insurance fraud — a crime that can lead to prison time.

This does not mean it’s a bad idea to purchase coverage after an accident or a ticket. Instead, it will mean the sadder-but-wiser motorist has extracted the proper lesson from his/her uninsured experience.

What Are Your Options If You Are Not Covered by Insurance?

For uninsured vehicle owners/drivers who have not yet been in an accident or received a citation for lack of insurance, the solution is simple: Get a policy. Even if it covers the absolute minimum required in your state, get insurance. Pay the premium. Carry the proof-of-coverage card. Download the insurer’s app.

For the uninsured owner/driver who has had a mishap, the way forward is less clear.

Uninsured motorists who cause an accident are legally responsible for all costs associated with the collision. These costs are not limited to vehicle repairs, but extend also to immediate medical and long-term rehabilitation expenses — damages that otherwise would have been covered up to the limits of the at-fault driver’s insurance.

Uninsured drivers who cause an accident may wind up out-of-pocket for costs ranging from a few hundred dollars to several hundreds of thousands. Moreover, in many states, legal penalties soar for uninsured drivers who cause bodily injury to others.

In other words, if you get into a literal scrape while driving without insurance, you’re going to need legal representation, not only to help minimize the financial consequences, but also to guide you through the thicket of criminal charges that may result.

We’ll give the final word to Counselor Oronoz:

“Suppose you are at fault for the accident. In that case, you will likely need legal representation as you will be personally responsible for paying any damages, and the other driver may sue you to recover those damages. If you are being sued, it is always good to obtain legal representation.”

Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson writes about workers compensation and car accident claims for InjuryExperts.org. His previous work as a columnist for newspapers in Washington, D.C. won several awards. He has written about everything from politics and business to sports and legal issues, always with an emphasis on community issues.

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