Commercial Auto Insurance Overview

An In-Depth Guide to Commercial Auto Insurance

Lester’s Unexpected Drive

Meet Lester, a dedicated real estate agent and broker based in upstate New York. He operates his own real estate agency, and within his agency’s fleet, there’s a trusty Honda CRV. Lester relies on this vehicle to transport potential homebuyers to view potential properties.

One chilly day, while accompanying a young couple, the Johnsons, on a neighborhood tour, disaster struck. Lester’s car encountered an icy patch, leading to an unfortunate collision with a parked vehicle. Thankfully, everyone emerged physically unscathed, with only minor bumps and bruises. However, Rachel, the wife, did sustain a minor head injury, warranting a precautionary trip to the hospital. The aftermath involved both Lester’s car and the parked vehicle being towed away, leaving Lester to ponder the ensuing costs.

Lester’s car, owned by his real estate agency, was equipped with commercial auto insurance. Remarkably similar to personal auto insurance in many aspects, it incorporates various policies, riders, and endorsements, which are amendments to the original insurance policy, modifying its terms or scope.

Lester’s insurance coverage extended to encompass the damage inflicted on the parked car (property damage), Rachel’s medical expenses (bodily injury), and the repairs to Lester’s own vehicle (collision). Crucially, thanks to his adequate insurance coverage, Lester avoided shouldering substantial out-of-pocket expenses. Instead, the insurance ensured that everyone involved was fully compensated, ultimately culminating in a happy ending where the Johnsons still chose to purchase a house through Lester.

Deciphering Commercial Auto Insurance

So, what exactly is commercial auto insurance? Essentially, it closely mirrors personal auto insurance, the type you typically have for your personal car or truck. However, commercial auto insurance is designed for any vehicle owned by a business entity. Whether it’s a car utilized by your sales team or a heavy-duty dump truck employed by a construction company, any vehicle that traverses public roads and highways must be equipped with commercial auto insurance. In this sense, it parallels general liability insurance – a necessity for every business entity. Nevertheless, not every business necessarily possesses vehicles, so commercial auto insurance remains distinct from general liability.

Commercial auto insurance essentially comprises two main components: liability and physical damage, collectively constituting full coverage.

Coverage for Third Parties (Other Vehicles, Third-Party Property)

Liability insurance

Liability insurance primarily addresses third-party liabilities, encompassing two critical facets: bodily injury and property damage. Each state mandates varying minimum requirements for bodily injury coverage. In New York, for instance, these minimums are set at $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, signifying the amount payable per individual and the overall sum for an accident.

States can prescribe lower minimums, such as $15,000/$30,000, and even $10,000/$20,000. Nonetheless, these figures can be augmented in incremental increments – $25,000/$50,000, $50,000/$100,000, $100,000/$300,000, and $250,000/$500,000. Beyond this threshold, typically around the $1 million mark, limits consolidate into a single value termed the combined single limit (CSL). A CSL covers a wide range of combinations of bodily injury and property damage costs up to that designated limit.

In reality, three distinct limits exist. The bodily injury limit, such as $25,000/$50,000, is accompanied by a corresponding property damage limit, often set at $10,000 as the lowest permissible minimum. This property damage limit escalates incrementally to either $25,000 or $50,000, contingent on specific requirements. Roughly 95% of individuals opt for one of these three predefined limit combinations. Advisably, individuals with substantial assets should opt for higher limits.

Individuals are at liberty to select their desired coverage amounts. In cases where a business owns a vehicle outright or is in the process of financing it, they possess the freedom to set their own limits. Conversely, if a vehicle is leased, the bank retains ownership rights, usually stipulating minimum limits of $100,000/$300,000/$50,000.

Property Damage

Property damage coverage, characterized by a $10,000 minimum requirement, addresses damage inflicted upon other individuals’ property, including their vehicles. However, prudent business practice often necessitates acquiring higher coverage limits. Why? Consider a scenario involving an accident with a luxury vehicle, such as a Mercedes-Benz. The repair costs for such vehicles typically surpass $10,000, rendering it advisable to secure additional coverage. In the event that repair costs amount to $20,000, the insurance policy would cover the initial $10,000, with the remaining $10,000 becoming the responsibility of the policyholder.

It’s worth noting that it’s possible to enhance property damage coverage without elevating liability costs. Hence, it’s advisable to discuss this option with your insurance professional.

Coverage for Your Vehicle and Property

Now, shifting the focus to physical damage coverage, it encompasses two distinct components: comprehensive and collision insurance. The amalgamation of these two segments with liability coverage results in full coverage insurance.

  • Comprehensive Coverage: This component safeguards your own vehicle, typically against incidents such as theft or vandalism.

  • Collision Coverage: Collision insurance, on the other hand, caters to accidents in which your vehicle is involved.

Furthermore, it’s feasible to augment your coverage with rental and towing insurance. This proves invaluable in scenarios where your vehicle requires towing or when a rental vehicle is needed while your car undergoes repairs. In Lester’s case, such insurance would have provided him with a temporary replacement vehicle during the time his car was in the repair shop.

Finally, under physical damage coverage, two additional facets come into play: underinsured and uninsured coverage. These provisions become pertinent if you’re involved in an accident, and the at-fault party lacks sufficient insurance to cover your damages or is entirely uninsured. In such instances, your policy steps in, with the coverage limits mirroring your base liability limits, typically set at $25,000/$50,000.

Who Requires Commercial Auto Insurance?

The necessity for commercial auto insurance is unequivocal: any business entity that owns a vehicle must procure this form of insurance. However, it’s imperative to discern between the owner and the registrant of the vehicle. Commercial insurance allows for a distinction between these roles. The insurer and the registrant must be identical, but the titled owner of the vehicle can differ. This dynamic particularly applies to leased vehicles. In such instances, the bank or dealer retains ownership, while the registrant is typically the individual operating the vehicle.

This nuanced relationship between ownership, registration, and insurance becomes more intricate when the corporation is the titled owner. Still, it’s essential to highlight that the registrant/insurer can be a separate entity or individual, or even the same person who owns the company. In certain scenarios, the corporation serves as both the titled owner and the insurer/registrant, a setup frequently observed in larger companies with a fleet of vehicles designated to individual employees, such as sales representatives.

An additional consideration pertains to license plates. Commercial vehicles can bear either commercial or personal plates, contingent upon their nature and usage. For instance, a real estate agent’s Honda CRV, used for business and personal purposes, might sport passenger plates since it’s a standard passenger car traversing public roads. Conversely, a distributor employing a box truck necessitates commercial plates, even if the corporation owns the vehicle but the title is distinct. These nuances often require counsel from an insurance agent to ensure compliance with legal requirements and acquire the most fitting coverage.

Driving Passengers in Your Commercial Vehicle

Operating a commercial vehicle for transporting passengers adds further complexity to insurance considerations. This applies to individuals involved in passenger transportation services such as Uber, Lyft, taxi services, or limousine rentals. Once passenger transportation becomes an integral aspect of your business, it necessitates distinct discussions with your insurance agent.

While personal use of a company vehicle, such as having a spouse or child on board, typically falls within acceptable parameters, the situation changes drastically when a business involves the routine transport of multiple passengers. In such scenarios, commercial auto policies must incorporate significantly higher coverage limits. For example, Uber stipulates a requirement of $100,000/$300,000 in insurance coverage for its drivers. In New York, the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) mandates a similar threshold. Notably, TLC policies, including those for Uber and Lyft, synchronize their renewals, all expiring on the last day of February.

Coverage limits are also contingent on the specific vehicle type and its usage. For instance, tractor-trailers necessitate a $1 million combined single limit (CSL). Moreover, if these vehicles cross state lines, the CSL may escalate to $1.5 million, typically when a Department of Transportation (DOT) number is required.

Special Insurance Add-Ons and Endorsements

Commercial auto insurance incorporates numerous special endorsements catering to specific business needs. These endorsements further tailor the policy to meet the unique requirements of individual industries. Some noteworthy endorsements and riders include:

  • On-Hook Coverage: This endorsement applies to tow truck operators and is synonymous with cargo insurance. It covers property damage for vehicles being towed, considering them as cargo.

  • Cargo Insurance: Cargo insurance can be intricate, particularly when dealing with various cargo types. While it simplifies the insurance of new products with set values, household goods pose a distinct challenge due to their variable worth. Even livestock transport necessitates specialized coverage under cargo insurance.

  • Warehouseman’s Liability: This provision comes into play when cargo is in storage rather than transit. It covers situations where stored goods incur damage while within a warehouse.

Commercial auto insurance isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; it necessitates nuanced consideration of a business’s unique operations.

Policy Types

Commercial auto insurance extends beyond standard coverage to cater to specific business sectors. These policy types encompass:

  • Independent Contractors: Tailored for independent contractors operating under their business names.

  • Logistics and Freight Forwarding: Addressing the unique requirements of logistics and freight forwarding businesses.

  • Moving and Storage: Designed for businesses engaged in moving and storage services.

  • Office and Industrial: Ensuring appropriate coverage for vehicles utilized in office and industrial settings.

  • Records Storage: Tailoring insurance to companies specializing in records storage.

  • Self-Storage: Catering to self-storage facility operators.

Moreover, the Hired & Unowned endorsement comes into play in specific scenarios, such as food delivery services or businesses without company-owned vehicles. It addresses instances where individuals use their personal vehicles for business purposes, whether they are hired or simply performing business-related tasks.

Types of Commercial Vehicles

Commercial auto insurance encompasses a vast array of vehicle types. While it undeniably applies to personal vehicles utilized for business purposes, it also extends to a comprehensive spectrum of commercial vehicles, including but not limited to:

  • Agricultural Trucks
  • Box Vans or Straight Trucks
  • Bucket Trucks
  • Buses
  • Car Carriers
  • Cargo Vans
  • Catering Trucks
  • Cement Mixers
  • Delivery Vans
  • Dump Trucks
  • Flatbed Trucks
  • Front End Loaders
  • Garbage Trucks
  • Hearses
  • Ice Cream Trucks
  • Limousines
  • Minivans
  • Motor Homes
  • Passenger Vans
  • Pickups
  • Pump Trucks (Including fire trucks, septic tank cleaning trucks, and cement pump trucks)
  • Refrigerated Trucks
  • Street Sweepers
  • Tanker Trucks
  • Tow Trucks
  • Wheelchair Buses and Vans
  • Specialty Contractor Vehicles (Such as bulldozers, cherry pickers, and boom trucks)

Limitations to the Scope of Commercial Auto Insurance

Commercial auto insurance, as a mandatory requirement for all drivers, is typically challenging to deny. However, in certain cases, an insurance company might choose to drop a customer after an accident payout or due to unfavorable driving records. While this isn’t common, it’s theoretically possible.

Moreover, it’s essential to acknowledge that personal use of company vehicles is often tolerated, provided it doesn’t veer into excessive personal use territory. For instance, using a company box truck for dinner outings might raise eyebrows. However, commercial vehicles with some personal use are generally accepted as long as they primarily serve business functions.

The Crucial Takeaway

In summary, every business-owned vehicle must be equipped with commercial auto insurance, irrespective of its usage. However, the nuances of insurance lie in endorsements, policies, and riders tailored to the specific nature of vehicle usage.

It’s paramount to carry as much coverage as your business can reasonably afford, considering the multifaceted scenarios that can unfold. Whether it’s a minor fender bender with a company car or a substantial accident involving a commercial tractor-trailer, your commercial auto insurance coverage should be robust enough to safeguard you, your business, and your passengers.


Commercial auto insurance is a multifaceted and intricate realm. This comprehensive guide offers insights into various aspects of commercial auto insurance, but it’s by no means exhaustive. Given the complexities and nuances of this insurance, seeking guidance from a professional insurance agent specializing in serving business owners and commercial vehicle operators is paramount. Their expertise will ensure that your business is adequately protected, compliant with legal requirements, and tailored to your unique needs.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Individual Information

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
2Individual Info