Car insurance coverage explained
No one ever plans to be in an accident, but there are around 16 million auto accidents in the United States every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more drivers die in car crashes in the US than any other high-income country. That’s why car insurance is a necessity, especially in the US.
Shopping for car insurance is far from easy. Understanding your coverage options is a good place to start so you can compare level of coverage and choose the right policy for you.
Minimum coverage auto insurance is required in almost every state except Virginia and New Hampshire. Minimum coverage is determined by the state and vary from state to state. Auto Insurance typically covers medical fees, vehicle repair damages, bodily damage, legal fees and property damages.
- Bodily injury liability. Covers injuries to another person in an at-fault accident including medical care, legal help and funeral costs.
- Property damage liability. Covers damages to someone else’s property in an at-fault accident including repairs to vehicle, buildings or fences.
- Personal injury insurance. Covers healthcare after an accident regardless of fault, including ambulances, nursing care and lost income.
- Uninsured motorist coverage. Covers costs caused by another driver if their insurance can’t pay enough.
Optional insurance coverage to consider
Unlike liability, personal injury protection, and uninsured motorist coverage, which are required by most states, the following coverage types are all optional. These optional coverage features offer extra protection against all the other mishaps that might happen to you or your car.
- Comprehensive. Ensures you are covered for the expense of replacing or repairing your vehicle, regardless of fault, and damages that aren’t within your control, such as natural disasters, terrorism, explosions and fire, glass damage, falling objects, vandalism, damage from animals and theft. In some cases, it also covers the expense of transportation, emergency repairs and repairing damages caused by another vehicle.
- Medical payments. Helps you with your medical costs resulting from a car accident — no matter who’s at fault. It covers you and your passengers can pay for such expenses as ambulance fees, surgery, funerals, dental care, prosthetic limbs and hospital visits. Medical payments coverage doesn’t only apply to auto accidents. It can also protect you outside of your vehicle, such as when you’re walking or riding your bike.
- Collision. If you’re at fault in an accident, your liability insurance kicks in and pays for the other driver’s costs. For your own vehicle repairs, you’ll need collision coverage. Collision coverage pays for costs if your vehicle is damaged.
- Gap Insurance. When you buy a car, it immediately starts depreciating. Here’s the issue: If your car is stolen or totaled, your insurer will pay only what the vehicle is worth. Meanwhile, you’re still stuck paying back your entire loan. This creates a gap between how much money you receive from your insurer and what you still owe to your bank.
- Umbrella. Protects you beyond the coverage offered by your basic insurance. It’s especially recommended for individuals with significant assets — those who stand to lose a lot from getting sued. It will pay for what you owe beyond what’s covered by your home, auto or renters insurance.
What coverage do I need and how much will it cost?
When you’re hunting around for the lowest price car insurance, you’ll see a lot of options with big differences in price. When you’re comparing whether to add certain kinds of coverage, consider both the minimum state requirement and whether any optional coverage is worth it for you.
You don’t want to find yourself underinsured, particularly if you depend on your car and you can’t afford to repair it yourself. The cheapest car insurance isn’t always the right one for your needs, even if saving money is your number one priority. Consider how you’d pay for your car if it was stolen or totaled in an accident. Could you afford a new car without insurance?
Liability claims, for example, could total much more than the bare minimum if you crash into someone’s garage or a car full of passengers. If you’re looking for the cheapest coverage, it pays to play around with maximum coverage and monthly payments. An extra $5 a month could cover you for extra hundreds of thousands in coverage. But for an older car that’s worth less than your annual premium, consider cutting comprehensive and umbrella coverage.
|Coverage||Annual cost||Coverage details||Required||Worth it?|
|Collision||$300||Damage to your car||No||Yes|
|Comprehensive||$135||Non-accident damage like theft & weather||No||Only for newer cars or high risk areas|
|Property damage liability||$1,000 – $2,000||At fault damage to property||Yes||Yes|
|Personal injury protection||$50 – 100||Your post-accident injuries regardless of fault||Yes in 15 states||Yes|
|Bodily injury liability||$1,000 – $2,000||At fault post-accident injuries to others||Yes||Yes|
|Uninsured motorist||5% of annual premium||Damages caused by uninsured driver||Yes in 22 states||Yes|
|Umbrella||$150 – $300||Damages above and beyond other coverage||No||Only for high value assets|
|Medical payments||$50 – 100||Post-accident injuries for you & passengers||No||Only as health insurance supplement|
|Gap insurance||$20 – $30||Damages if car is stolen or totaled||No||Only for loans over car value|
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How to know when you’re covered
Damage to other people’s property
Hitting a car
Hitting a pole
Hit and runs
Hitting an animal
Storm or flood
Emergency accommodation, transport and repairs
Replacement of keys
Contents inside the car
New car replacement
While exclusions may vary between providers, you generally will not be covered for:
- If the damage was caused by mechanical failure, depreciation, rust, wear and tear or changes made to the vehicle
- Loss of income from being unable to drive
- If the damage was incurred due to your vehicle not being safe or participating in a race
- Damage that was caused intentionally
- Any damage incurred if the person driving didn’t have a license, was drunk or on drugs
- If the person driving was not covered by the policy
Agreed vs. market value determines the value of your car and how much it’s worth for car insurance purposes. This amount will affect whether your car is written off, repaired or replaced under the terms of your insurance policy.
With market value, your car is insured for its current market value at any given time, including depreciation. With agreed value, you and the insurer agree on a specific amount your car is worth for your policy terms.
- Pays the expected value of your car on the open market at the time of the accident
- Not the trade in value or collector value
- Doesn’t include warranty cost, vehicle transfer costs, stamp duty or dealer profit
- The car value you and the insurer agree to when you apply or renew
Is market value or agreed value best for me?
When deciding if market value is right for you, you need to consider if the reduced amount will be enough to replace your lost vehicle. Is the money you save on your premium worth the additional cost you will have to pay to purchase a new vehicle? If you drive an older vehicle that’s 10 to 15 years old, replacement cost may not be as great a concern as saving on your premiums.
Comparing car insurance coverage quotes means understanding the ins and outs of each type of coverage to decide if you need it and what’s covered. Compare car insurance companies and get multiple quotes to find the right policy and coverage for you.