What is a car insurance deductible? | finder.com

What is a car insurance deductible?

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How much deductible can you afford and how does it affect insurance claims?

Choosing a car insurance policy can be a complicated and overwhelming task, made no easier by the use of technical jargon and special insurance terms. One term in particular that causes confusion for many drivers is a deductible, so let’s take a closer look at exactly what car insurance deductibles are and what they mean for your policy.

Person-Driving

What is a car insurance deductible?

The car insurance deductible is the amount you will be required to pay when you make a claim on your policy. In other words, it’s the amount you agree to contribute towards the cost of a claim, with the insurer covering the remaining amount.

For example, if your policy has a $500 deductible and you make a claim for $3,000 damage to your vehicle, you’ll cover the first $500 of the repair costs and the insurer will foot the bill for the remaining $2,500.

However, the amount of deductible payable varies depending on a number of factors. Not only does the deductible differ according to the policy you select, but you maybe be able to adjust the amount higher or lower to vary your premium amount.

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Why do insurers include a deductible on their policies?

The purpose of car insurance deductibles is to reduce the number of small claims insurers are required to pay out. If deductibles didn’t exist, we’d all be able to file claims for every minor little bump, scratch and dent that our cars suffer.

While this may seem like a wonderful idea on the surface, in reality, it would cause the cost of car insurance policies to skyrocket, and the premiums could leave a much bigger dent in your bank balance.

But by getting policyholders to agree to pay the first part of each claim themselves, insurers are able to prevent claims for minor repairs and therefore keep car insurance premiums down. This, in turn, means that you can fall back on car insurance in those situations where you really need the financial protection it provides.

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Can I avoid paying a car insurance deductible?

While you will most likely have to contribute some amount towards the cost of a claim, it’s possible in some cases to avoid paying your car insurance deductible. Here are a few situations where you may be able to avoid paying a deductible:

  • If the insurer allows you to waive the deductible altogether by paying substantially higher premiums than would normally apply
  • If you were not at fault and you can meet any conditions outlined in your policy, for example providing the name, address and registration number of the person who was at fault
  • If you’re experiencing genuine financial hardship and are unable to pay your deductible

Whether or not you can avoid paying a deductible will once again depend on the terms and conditions of your policy. Check the fine print closely to find out if you’ll have to dip into your own pocket every time you make a claim.

How do I pay a deductible?

How you pay your deductible depends on the insurer and the nature of your claim. When you file a claim, your insurance company will advise you whether the deductible:

  • Will be deducted from any amount paid to you;
  • Must be paid to the insurer; or
  • Must be paid to the vehicle repairer when you collect your car

When do I not have to pay a deductible?

The circumstances when you do not have to pay a car insurance deductible generally depend on the insurer and your individual policy. If your provider agrees to waive all deductibles when you pay an additional premium, for example, then you won’t have to worry about contributing towards the cost of the claim. Just keep in mind that the additional premium you’ll be required to pay will probably be fairly substantial.

If you’ve fallen on hard times, you may be able to set up some sort of payment plan with your insurer or auto repair shop. While this is not a guarantee, it is an option worth exploring if you need to make a claim but can’t afford the deductible. Speak with your insurer and read the fine print in your terms and conditions to determine what you can do if you can’t pay your deductible but need your car repaired.

Do I need to pay a car insurance deductible if I’m not at fault?

The other main situation where you may be able to avoid forking out to pay a car insurance deductible is when you are not at fault for the incident being claimed. This is not always the case, as some policies require you to pay a deductible regardless of who was at fault.

In other situations, you can avoid paying the deductible if you were not at fault and you can meet the conditions outlined by the insurer. For example:

  • If the insurer agrees that you were not at fault in any way. It can be quite difficult to definitively prove that you did not contribute to an accident in some way, so establishing your innocence may not be as easy as you might think.
  • If you can provide the name, address and registration number of the at-fault driver. If this condition applies, problems may arise if the at-fault driver flees the scene of the accident, refuses to supply their details, or if you forget to gather their information in the stressful aftermath of an accident.
  • If the insurer recovers its costs from the at-fault driver. It could take months or years for this condition to be met, or it may never be met if the other driver is uninsured, can’t be found or refuses to pay the necessary amount.

So what can you do if you think you’re being unfairly asked to pay a deductible? You could refuse to pay the deductible and dispute it, but this means the insurer may not repair your car or may simply deduct the amount from any benefit you receive.

Another option is to pay the deductible now, ensuring that your claim is processed quickly and you can get back on the road, and dispute the matter at a later date. However, it’s essential to seek independent legal advice before deciding on the best approach.

How much should I be paying for a car insurance deductible?

The cost of your car insurance deductible is determined when you take out coverage. There’s generally a standard deductible that applies, but you can usually choose to adjust this to a higher level and receive lower premiums as a result. On the other hand, you may wish to lower the deductible payable at claims time, which will of course lead to a higher premium.

The simplest way to find out the deductible that applies to your policy is to check the certificate of insurance. You can also find a guide to the excesses imposed by your insurer by calling customer service for more details.

As a general guide, standard deductibles tend to range from around $250 up to $1,000, but could be higher or lower depending on your circumstances.

How to choose your car insurance deductible

Your insurance deductible plays a huge role in how claims will be addressed if your car is damaged due to an accident or any other covered incident. In some countries, there are different types of insurance deductibles that may apply, including collision, glass and windshield and more. These different types of deductibles can complicate things and drive up the cost of your claim, and fortunately they don’t apply in the US.

However, most providers allow you to choose a deductible that suits your financial situation and amount of risk you want to take on. Your deductible will determine how much you pay in monthly premiums and your personal costs of repairing your vehicle after an incident, so it’s important to choose wisely. Here are a few factors you should consider when choosing a deductible for your policy:

Personal savings

If you’ve got a large emergency fund or a big chunk of savings, you may want to consider a higher deductible. Doing so, you may be able to decrease your monthly payments at the cost of a steeper up front fee if you were to file a claim. If you can afford the out of pocket expense, you may be able to save more money in the long run.

Value of your vehicle

You may want to adjust your deductible according to the cost of your vehicle. On a high-end or brand new vehicle, repairs are likely to be more expensive, so a higher deductible may make more sense. However, if you’re driving an older vehicle that costs less to repair, it doesn’t make much sense to pay more for a deductible than the costs of potential repairs.

Vanishing deductible

Some providers and policies offer the option of a vanishing deductible, similar to a no claims bonus. A vanishing deductible is exactly what it sounds like; after a period of time (usually 1 year) without any accidents or claims, your deductible will decrease by a given amount (typically $100). For example, if you have a $500 vanishing deductible and go two years without an accident, your deductible will only be $300 when you go to file a claim. If this feature is a part of your policy, you may want to increase your deductible, knowing that it will decrease over time.

Monthly premium payments

As you may know, a higher deductible may make for lower monthly premiums, providing an opportunity to save money in the long run. However, each provider’s approach to monthly premiums differs, making it difficult to tell whether or not increase your deductible is worth it. For example, if you’re only receiving a $5 discount on your monthly premiums in exchange for a $500 increase in deductible, you may want to reconsider.

Level of risk

If you’re an inexperienced driver or live in an area with a high number of collisions, driving may pose a higher risk to your vehicle. If there’s a higher likelihood of you getting into an accident or having your car damaged, it may be a good idea to opt for a lower deductible in case something happens. While your premiums may be slightly higher, you’ll be paying less out of pocket when you file a claim.

Type of coverage

Some providers may give you the option to adjust your deductible depending on the type of insurance policy on your vehicle. For example, if you live in a densely populated area like a big city, it might be a good idea to carry a lower deductible on comprehensive insurance since it covers damage due to theft and vandalism. Since accidents are relatively less likely, you could offset the cost with a higher deductible on collision insurance.
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Can I adjust my car insurance deductible?

Yes, you can. When you apply for car insurance coverage, many insurers will give you the option to choose your deductible. You can:

  • Choose the standard deductible amount quoted.
  • Increase your deductible – doing so will lower your premium.
  • Reduce your deductible – this will result in a higher premium.

Should I change my car insurance deductible?

You’re the only person who can answer that question. It’s really up to you, your budget and which option you think will provide the best value for your money.

For example, while lowering your deductible will reduce the financial strain when you file a claim, it means you’ll need to pay more to purchase coverage in the first place. On the other hand, increasing your deductible makes coverage more affordable but could put pressure on your budget if you ever need to file a claim.

Bottom line

Your deductible is an important factor when considering your total premium cost. Whether you decide to increase your deductible, lower it or keep it at the same level, make sure that you’ll be able to afford to pay premiums whenever they’re due, and that the amount payable when you need to claim won’t put you under significant financial strain. If you’re not happy with your current deductible and premium, compare other car insurance providers to find the best balance for you.
Picture: Shutterstock

Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping people find the right products for them. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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