| Driving
Road trip tips

Your bags are packed, the hotel is booked, and snacks are stocked. You’re all ready for a road trip, but what about your car and insurance coverage? Before you start your engine and get rolling toward your destination, it’s essential to make sure your vehicle and insurance policy are up for the challenge. 

You never know what kinds of road trip hiccups you might encounter, and being prepared to handle whatever comes your way can make all the difference. 

In the insurance world, we’re all about planning ahead and helping our customers be prepared for unforeseen circumstances — planning a road trip is no different! Direct Auto can keep you covered on your adventures with affordable car insurance, but you’ll need to take some additional steps to make sure your trip goes smoothly from the moment you step on the gas. Here’s a glimpse at the road trip tips and topics this guide covers: 

  • How to Prepare Your Vehicle for a Road Trip 
  • Carrying Your Insurance Card and Information 
  • Who Does My Car Insurance Policy Cover? 
  • How to Jumpstart a Battery 
  • Traveling to Mexico 

How to Prepare Your Vehicle for a Road Trip

It’s better to discover that you need a new tire or battery before your road trip than when you’re stranded hundreds of miles from home. Take your car to a trusted mechanic or do a DIY check-up to ensure your ride is in road trip condition. That means no weird noises, leaky tires, questionable dashboard lights — you get the idea. 

Here are a few things you or a mechanic can do: 

  • Inspect and fill tires 
  • Replace your windshield wipers 
  • Test your battery 
  • Check your HVAC system 
  • Replace air filters 
  • Refill and replace fluids (oil, coolant, brake fluid, wiper fluid, etc.) 

Carrying Your Insurance Card and Identification

You’re all packed and ready to go — just don’t forget to pack the important stuff, like your license, registration, and proof of insurance card too! 

Identification

You should always have your driver’s license with you when you get behind the wheel. Don’t forget your passport if you plan on visiting other countries. It’s also a good idea to have your health insurance card with you too. 

Proof of insurance card

Your proof of insurance card is the card your auto insurance company gives you that verifies insurance coverage on your vehicle. It’s illegal in most states to drive without proof of insurance in your car, so you’ll want to make sure you have your current insurance ID card with you before you hit the road. 

Paper ID cards are standard, although almost every state accepts electronic/digital proof of insurance that you access via smartphone. 

How to find your proof of insurance card

Auto insurance companies usually issue two paper proofs of insurance when you purchase or renew a policy. Although electronic proof of insurance is acceptable during a traffic stop in most states, it’s wise to have a hard copy handy too. 

Can’t find your Direct Auto proof of insurance card? Click here to log in to MyAccount or register for an online account. Once you’re logged in, select “Re-Print Policy Documents” from the options to print out a copy of your proof of insurance card or save a digital copy to your smartphone. For more about insurance cards, meet with an agent at a Direct location near you or call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732). 

Who Does My Car Insurance Policy Cover?

Unless you’re embarking on a solo road trip, there’s a good chance you’ll be traveling with other people or even letting someone else get behind the wheel of your car. But what happens if they get into a fender bender? Here’s what you need to know about who is and isn’t covered under your car insurance policy. 

What is your current level of coverage?

Take a look at your current auto insurance coverage and think about your needs. When you first bought your policy, you may have wanted the cheapest car insurance available by getting the minimum amount of insurance required in your state, but your priorities may have shifted since then. Talk to your insurance agent to review your coverage and determine whether your auto policy still meets your needs. 

The typical auto insurance policy follows you from state to state, so if you get into a fender bender on your out-of-state road trip, your policy would likely protect you. 

What if a friend or relative is driving my car?

What if a driver who is not on your policy gets into an accident while driving your car? Assuming that your friend or family member is not specifically excluded from your auto policy and no other exclusions apply, someone who borrows your car with your permission would be covered by your auto insurance for most coverages. If your friend has their own auto policy, it may kick in to cover damages that exceed your policy’s liability limits. Their policy would also be the primary policy for coverages like personal injury protection

However, if your friend wrecks your car, you might want them to help you out financially. You’ll still have to pay your deductible amount (between $100 and $1,500, depending on your policy) before your insurance coverage kicks in — even if you have comprehensive and collision coverage. 

If you want to know how your friends or family members are (or aren’t) covered while driving your car, contact your insurance company and ask how your policy protects other people. 

Are teen drivers covered by their parents’ insurance?

Inexperienced drivers are more prone to accidents, so if you have a teen driver or are a teen driver yourself, check your policy’s liability coverage limits to be sure you’re comfortable with the amount of protection you have. You may want to consider bolstering your protections with optional coverages like collision coverage, which helps repair or replace your car if you get into a car accident or hit a mailbox, guardrail, tree, etc. 

Notify your auto insurance company of your permitted or licensed teen driver. Depending on where you live, your state may not require a learner’s permit holder to have car insurance. Most auto insurance companies extend the parents’ policies to include the permitted teen driver during this time, but that’s not always the case. Once the permitted teen becomes a licensed driver, they will most definitely need car insurance. Contact your auto insurance company to learn how your teen driver is covered. 

Read more: Tips for New Drivers 

What about coverage for passengers?

The typical car insurance policy extends coverage to anyone occupying the vehicle, including passengers, upon getting in, on, or out of the vehicle. However, even if you have the minimum amount of insurance required in your state, it may not be enough to fully protect you from having to pay out of pocket for your passengers’ injuries caused by an auto accident. 

Review your current coverage to understand how your passengers are protected. You may decide to increase your liability limits or add optional coverages to your policy for additional protection. 

How to Jumpstart a Battery

Nothing puts a damper on road trip fun like a dead car battery. While it’s a good idea to check your battery health before you hit the road, some things are unavoidable. Knowing how to jumpstart your battery is an essential skill that will get you back on the road fast! 

If you’re in a location where you can safely jumpstart your battery, your best shot is to ask for help wherever you’re stranded, be it a diner, gas station, parking lot, etc. 

To jumpstart a dead battery, you’ll need: 

  • A set of jumper cables (ideally, you should have these in your car emergency kit, but if you don’t, ask someone for help wherever you’re stuck) 
  • A car with a working battery 

Once you’ve got jumper cables and a working battery (or battery charger), it’s time to jumpstart your car battery: 

  1. Park the working vehicle close to your vehicle. Make sure the cars don’t touch, or it could cause a short. 
  2. Put both cars in park and turn off both engines. In both vehicles, remove anything plugged into a power outlet and turn off anything that can drain the battery, like lights, the radio, or A/C. 
  3. Open the car hoods and inspect both batteries. If you notice cracks or leaks in either battery, STOP. The battery could explode if you attempt a jump. If both batteries appear in good condition, proceed to the next step. 
  4. Locate the dead battery’s positive (+) and negative (-) terminals. Connect one red clamp to the dead battery’s positive (+) terminal and the other red clamp to the working battery’s positive (+) terminal. Make sure the clamps are touching the metal of each battery terminal. 
  5. Next, connect the black clamp to the working battery’s negative (-) terminal and the other black clamp to any solid, unpainted metal surface inside the dead vehicle’s engine, like a bolt on the engine block. Don’t worry if there’s a spark when you connect the negative cable. That’s normal! 
  6. Double-check that the cables are secure and aren’t touching any moving engine parts. 
  7. Start the working vehicle first and let it idle for a few minutes to charge the dead battery. 
  8. Test that the cables are set up correctly by turning on the dome light in the dead car. If it turns on, that means the cables are good, and the jump is working! 
  9. After a few minutes of idling, start the car with the dead battery and let them idle together. If the engine cranks but doesn’t turn over completely, wait a few more minutes and rev the working vehicle’s engine. 
  10. Once the dead vehicle is running smoothly, disconnect the jumper cables in the reverse order you connected them: the black clamp on the dead battery first, then the black clamp on the good battery, etc.) 
  11. Let your vehicle run for at least 30 minutes to give the battery time to recharge. Make sure you’re parked somewhere safe before turning off your car, just in case you need to jump the battery again. 

Battery Jumpstart Safety Tips

It’s important to wear protective gear like gloves and eyewear while working with a car battery because of the acids and other harsh chemicals inside it. If you don’t have these items available, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and avoid touching your face and eyes when charging and working with car batteries. 

Here are a few more battery safety tips to keep in mind: 

  • Avoid wearing jewelry when working with metal tools. The metals could create a contact with the battery through the tools and create a short. 
  • Always connect the ground clamp last. 
  • Remember to remove the battery’s ground clamp before loosening the positive (+) clamp. 

Invest in a Battery Charger

A car battery charger is an excellent investment, not just for a road trip but driving safety in general. Vehicle battery chargers cost around $30 and up, and along with a set of jumper cables, will have you prepared to handle a dead battery. 

With a battery charger, you don’t need to rely on another vehicle or roadside assistance for help. Simply connect the jumper cables to the charger to jumpstart your car battery! 

Traveling to Mexico

A road trip to Mexico for a vacation or to visit friends and family is fun and exciting, but it’s crucial to prepare by securing the documentation you need to travel safely ahead of time. Traffic incidents involving U.S. citizens in Mexico have highlighted significant differences between the two countries’ legal systems. Help make your trip more fun and worry-free by following these tips. 

How to Prepare for Your Drive to Mexico

There are three things you’ll need before your road trip to Mexico: 

  • Mexico auto insurance 
  • Temporary import permit 
  • International Driver’s Permit 

Get a Mexico Auto Insurance Policy

While many American auto insurance companies offer policies with coverage for driving in Mexico, Mexican law enforcement doesn’t always recognize this coverage. A Mexico auto insurance policy is a car insurance policy that helps protect U.S. drivers in Mexico. This type of policy is separate from your domestic policy. It can help pay for medical bills and car repairs if you’re involved in an accident while driving your vehicle in Mexico. 

Mexican insurance is required for all vehicles with U.S. license plates, including rental cars. If you’re driving without a Mexico auto insurance policy and get into an accident, you could be taken into custody, and your vehicle could be impounded. 

In addition to purchasing a Mexican auto liability policy, it’s wise to get comprehensive and collision coverages, too, given that most domestic insurance policies won’t cover a comprehensive or collision claim that occurs in Mexico. 

Click here to read more about Mexico auto insurance. 

Apply for a Mexico Temporary Import Permit

It’s necessary to apply for a permit to drive in most parts of Mexico. Temporary import permits are intended to prevent out-of-country vehicles from remaining in Mexico illegally. Whether or not you need to apply for this permit depends on your trip itinerary. You do not need to apply for a permit if you: 

  • Plan on staying within the immediate Border Zone area — approximately 20 kilometers/12 miles south of the U.S./Mexico border 
  • Plan on driving in a Free Trade Zone, which includes the Baja, California peninsula and the Sonora Free Trade Zone 

Traveling outside of these zones without a temporary import permit could result in vehicle impoundment and a fine equal to the vehicle’s value. 

You need to apply for a temporary import permit if you plan on traveling outside of the Border Zone or a Free Trade Zone. You can obtain a permit with Mexican customs at the border, Banjercito, or some Mexican consulates in the U.S. 

To apply for a permit, you will need to present the following: 

  • A valid passport 
  • A valid license plate and registration 
  • A monetary deposit (which will be refunded to you upon leaving Mexico before the permit expires) 

Apply for an International Driver’s Permit

U.S. driver’s licenses are valid and accepted in Mexico. However, you may want to consider having your driver’s license translated into Spanish (plus nine other languages!) by applying for an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). 

You can receive an IDP within six months of your desired effective date. The U.S. Department of State has authorized two organizations in the U.S. to issue IDPs: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Visit either of these websites for more information about obtaining an IDP. 

Safe Driving in Mexico

Proper permits and insurance coverage will give you valuable peace of mind as you travel through Mexico, and following basic driver safety guidelines can also help keep you safe. Remember to wear a seatbelt, obey traffic signs and speed limits, and carry valid ID. 

Keep reading to learn more about Mexico travel advisories and safety concerns issued by the U.S. Department of State, as well as how to contact Mexico’s free federally sponsored roadside assistance crew, the Green Angels. 

Safety Concerns for U.S. Travelers

While thousands of U.S. residents safely travel to and from Mexico every year, the U.S. Department of State has issued some safety concerns travelers need to be aware of, especially in areas close to the Border Zone. Travel conditions can change quickly, so check out the travel advisories on the U.S. Department of State website before your road trip to Mexico. 

The Department of State advises tourists to: 

  • Exercise caution at all times 
  • Travel with a charged cell phone that can make calls in Mexico 
  • Use toll (“cuota”) roads instead of less secure free (“libre”) roads whenever possible 
  • Avoid driving on Mexican highways at night 
  • Not hitchhike or accept or offer rides from strangers anywhere in Mexico 

Keep in mind that road conditions in Mexico vary, and many roadways need repairs. Traveling in rural areas poses additional risks, including patchy cell service and delays in getting roadside or medical assistance. 

What Happens After a Car Accident in Mexico

If you are involved in an auto accident in Mexico, there is a possibility you will be taken into custody until law enforcement determines who is at fault. If you require medical attention, you may be taken to the nearest medical facility for treatment while the incident is investigated. 

If you are the at-fault driver, you will be required to demonstrate proof of financial responsibility and may have to post a bond to cover the estimated costs before you are released from police custody. 

The Green Angels

The Green Angels, or Ángeles Verdes, are a federally sponsored bilingual crew that offers free assistance for breakdowns, accidents, or medical emergencies. They patrol all federal and toll highways 24/7 and carry tools and spare parts — another reason to stay on main roads! The Green Angels can tow or repair your vehicle for free. You just have to pay for any parts or supplies! They also have a communication network with various government offices and can provide basic tourist information. 

If you are traveling on a toll highway (“cuota”) or another major highway in Mexico, you can contact the Green Angels by dialing 078 from any phone in Mexico or by calling their toll-free number at 01-800-987-8224. 

More Helpful Resources for Driving in Mexico: 

Want to learn more about the specifics of a Mexico auto insurance policy? Curious about how your current coverage would protect you and your passengers on the ultimate road trip adventure? Direct Auto can help! Call 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) or come into a Direct location near you to speak with a friendly, knowledgeable agent who can answer your questions, review your coverages, and get you a free quote on affordable car insurance coverage.