Taking a car for a test drive is an exciting and important step in the vehicle purchase process. Car accidents are pretty rare during test drives, but if a crash does occur, a few unique questions are raised. Who was at fault for the accident? Whose insurance covers the resulting losses? Read on for the answers.
Who Is Responsible for the Accident?
As with any car accident, the person whose carelessness or negligence caused the crash will bear the cost of the resulting damages. If you, as the test driver, committed a traffic violation or were careless -- or got unreasonably distracted or flustered while operating the vehicle -- you will probably be found liable.
In case you're wondering, there are no special rules for test drivers when it comes to liability for an accident. The fact that you're driving an unfamiliar vehicle doesn't change anything. You're expected to acquaint yourself with any nuances -- the vehicle's sight lines and features, for example -- before you start driving; and as you drive, you're expected to use proper caution as you get comfortable with the vehicle's performance when it comes to steering, acceleration, braking, and stopping distance. (In the eyes of the law, that's what a reasonable person would do.)
If you are involved in an accident during a test drive, be sure to take the same steps you would take after any car accident: Get the names and information of any other drivers, passengers, and witnesses; take photos of the scene and the vehicles; and report the accident to the police and to your car insurance company.
If you think the accident may have been caused by a vehicle defect or some other problem that could be attributed to the manufacturer or dealer, it becomes doubly important to take detailed pictures and preserve all available evidence. It may also be a good idea to talk to an experienced lawyer sooner rather than later.
Whose Insurance Will Cover the Accident?
This is an important question, and the answer depends on the specifics of the accident, and available car insurance coverage. Let's look at some possibilities.
The Dealership’s Insurance
Car dealerships are required to carry fleet insurance on all vehicles on their lot, and a test driver is usually considered a covered driver under the fleet policy. Fleet insurance will typically cover all damages resulting from an accident that occurs during a test drive, regardless of who was at fault.
When a test drive accident is minor, the dealership will often just absorb the costs associated with the accident through its fleet insurance, especially if the dealership wants the test driver's business. Occasionally, if the test driver is clearly at fault for an accident that results in serious injuries and/or vehicle damage, the dealership will pursue a third-party claim under the test driver's liability car insurance coverage, or will otherwise seek reimbursement of any losses paid out under the fleet policy.
Your Own Car Insurance
If you are responsible for an accident while test driving a car, and the dealership or anyone injured in the crash decides to bring a claim against you, then your own liability car insurance coverage will kick in and pay for losses according to the terms -- and up to the limits of -- your liability coverage. Just as when you cause an accident while driving a rental car, during a test drive your personal car insurance transfers to the vehicle you are test driving, so whatever coverage you have in place with respect to your own vehicle will apply to the car you are test driving.
The Other Driver’s Car Insurance
If the other driver is at fault for the accident, then the dealership will be unable to hold you responsible for any damage to the vehicle. Instead, any claims will be made against the other driver’s insurance, which will be responsible for paying for any damages to the test vehicle and any injuries incurred as a result of the accident, up to coverage limits. If the at-fault driver does not have any car insurance, the dealership will have to resort to using its own fleet insurance to recover damages resulting from the accident during the test drive, and if you're injured, your options will probably be limited to an uninsured motorist claim (under your own car insurance policy, if you have UIM coverage) or getting your car accident injuries treated through your own health insurance. (Learn more about your options when you're hit by an uninsured driver.)
Some dealerships will try to mitigate their responsibility for any accident by having test drivers sign a liability waiver. Such waivers are an attempt to transfer any and all liability for damages to the test driver, and should not be signed unless you fully understand the waiver and are comfortable assuming the risk of a test drive. Note that most dealerships do not insist upon liability waivers, since the waivers often dissuade people from taking a test drive (and consequently from buying the car).