Should You Exchange Your Car?

Not a car we actually drove, but isn’t it cute?

As part of our home swaps, we’ve always allowed our exchange partners to use our car, and vice versa.

In the U.S., it’s almost impossible to take a lengthy vacation without having access to a car, and renting a car would add hundreds of dollars to the cost of the exchange.

We use our partners’ cars a lot less, since so many European cities are walkable and have good public transportation. Still, for day trips and side trips, a car can come in handy. (Luckily, we both know how to drive standard transmissions. Stick shifts are still popular in Europe, and they’re often what we’re driving during exchanges.)

The issue, of course, is liability. Luckily, we haven’t had any major problems yet. But little things have cropped up—scratches on the side of a partner’s car we parked on a street in Paris. A speeding ticket in Lyon that surfaced, via camera, months after we returned to the U.S. Tickets for parking overnight in day-parking-only lots—we’ve done this ourselves, and so have our exchange partners.

By the time these problems have cropped up, we’ve built good relationships with our exchange partners and we’ve been able to work them out amicably.

Still, there’s always the risk that a serious accident will cause injuries or destroy your car.

You have three options when it comes to exchanging your car:

  1. Don’t do it—you don’t have to allow your exchange partners access to your car.
    The upside: No chance for damage, injury or liability.
    The downside: It could hurt your odds of finding a partner willing to exchange.
  2. Exchange cars, and treat it as though your exchange partners are borrowing your car.
    The upside: It’s easy, and your partners have a car they can use during the exchange.
    The downside: You might get pushback from your insurance company if you need to submit a claim, especially if you let your partners borrow your car for a long time.
  3. Exchange cars, and add your exchange partners to your insurance policy.
    The upside: If anything happens, you know for sure you have coverage in place and you’ve been upfront about the other drivers on your car and policy.
    The downside: It will cost money, and we’ve found that international driving experience doesn’t count, so the drivers will be added as if they are new, inexperienced drivers. But you’re only adding them for the length of the exchange. I believe we’ve paid about $100 when we’ve gone this route.
    We’ve also had bureaucratic hassles, where our insurance company asks for additional info, like  a copy of the country driver’s license rather than an international license, or copies of the backs of the licenses, or translations of country licenses. When you’re tackling all of the last-minute details of prepping for a home exchange, dealing with requests like these can be a pain.

With our first few exchanges, we added our partners to our policy. We had them send copies of their licenses and we covered the additional cost ourselves. Then one year we got a lot of requests for additional information. That went on for so long that the exchange came and went, and we never added our partners to the policy. It also raised questions with the insurance company about allowing people to stay in our home, since our auto and homeowner’s policies were covered under the same company.

Since then we’ve simply let our partners borrow our car without adding them to the policy.

It’s a tricky situation and it comes down to how comfortable you feel lending out your car. If you have a good relationship with your insurance agent, you can always call them and ask for advice.

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