May 10, 2012

Auto insurance and the car-sharing schemes

Everyone is used to the idea that, if you don't own a big ticket item, you can still get one even though you don't have the cash to buy. This may involve a loan or some other credit arrangement, or you can rent. We have moved from a society in which people used to save until they could afford to buy, to one where you can satisfy your wishes instantly with a good credit score and proof of your identity. When it comes to vehicles, it's either been a case of talking nicely to neighbors to borrow their car in an emergency or go to a rental agency. Now we have moved beyond the carpooling arrangements into car-sharing. This is both good news and bad. At a community level, there are an increasing number of self-help groups who are making their vehicles available to each other. At the top end of the market, established renters like Hertz are making vehicles available on demand. New organizations like Zipcar also leave vehicles in designated places and anyone with a card can get in and drive them away.

The established renters are simply using the existing fleet in a more flexible way to generate money. Satisfactory insurance cover is already in place. But problems have been emerging in the less formal market. If you put your own vehicle into a pool and anyone can drive it, what happens to your own insurance cover? The answer is simple. If you do this on a regular basis and you are paid, this is a commercial use. As a private owner, this invalidates your policy.

Now states like Washington, Oregon and California are producing laws to clarify the insurance situation. In Washington, for example, we now have HB 2384 which requires all organizations offering car-sharing services to carry a minimum of $180,000 liability cover, and at least enough comprehensive and collision cover to pay fair market value should the shared vehicle be a total loss. This protects vehicle owners who can make additional money during tough times without losing their own auto insurance cover. It also imposes tough new requirements on the sharing organizations to ensure the vehicles are properly maintained and safe to drive. The public not only need auto insurance cover, they need to know the vehicles they drive away are safe.

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