What is comprehensive car insurance?

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You know you need to have some car insurance to protect your liability out on the road. You might even know that you should add collision coverage to protect you against damages to your vehicle if you get into a crash. But what about the things that can happen to your car when you’re not in the driver’s seat? To defend yourself against risks like theft, vandalism and falling objects, consider comprehensive coverage. 

Most states don’t require comprehensive coverage, though your lender might require it to protect its investment if you have a loan on your car. However, even if you aren’t required to carry comprehensive coverage, it’s worth your while to look into this add-on protection. While defensive driving can help you avoid collisions, things can happen to your car that are out of your control. You can protect yourself against these situations with comprehensive insurance. 

What does comprehensive insurance cover?

Let’s think about car insurance in three pieces. First, you have liability coverage. This covers the cost of bodily injury or property damage you cause behind the wheel. Most states require this type of auto insurance

The second piece of auto insurance is collision coverage. This helps you repair or replace your car if it collides with another object, whether that’s another vehicle or your neighbor’s mailbox. 

With liability and collision coverage in place, you’re protected behind the wheel. But things can happen to your vehicle that aren’t in your control and aren’t covered by the first two kinds of car insurance. To protect your investment in your vehicle, consider comprehensive coverage. 

Comprehensive coverage steps in if your insured vehicle (including your windshield) gets damaged by things like:

  • Earthquakes
  • Falling objects like tree limbs
  • Fire 
  • Floods
  • Hail
  • Hitting an animal
  • Hurricanes
  • Lightning

Most comprehensive car insurance policies also pay to replace your windshield if it gets chipped or cracked and protect you against repair costs after hitting an animal with your car. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, comprehensive insurance protects you against theft and vandalism. If someone steals your car or a part of your car (like an airbag), your policy can help pay for damages.  

How does comprehensive insurance work?

When you buy your car insurance policy, you can add comprehensive car insurance like you choose to add collision coverage or roadside assistance. Like many other parts of your policy, you set a limit for your comprehensive car insurance. This is the max amount your insurer will pay out if your car is affected by a covered peril. The more coverage you choose, the more your policy will cost. 

Once you have it in place, comprehensive insurance works like the other pieces of your car insurance policy. In the event of a covered peril, your policy pays for repairs or replacement up to your policy limits. Review your policy to make sure you have enough comprehensive coverage to protect the full value of your car so you’re not hurting if it gets stolen. 

Be ready to pay your deductible before your insurer pays your claim, though. This deductible is the amount you choose when you buy your policy (usually $500 to $1,500). That deductible is the out-of-pocket expense you pay to essentially activate your policy benefits. For example, if you have a $500 deductible and your comprehensive coverage will pay for $3,200 worth of damage to your car, you’re only going to get $2,700. You’ll need to pay your insurer your $500 deductible before it steps in to pay the rest of the damages up to the limit. 

Should I get comprehensive insurance?

If buying a new car would create a significant financial burden for you, consider comprehensive coverage. This is especially important if you have a car loan. You don’t want to be on the hook for car payments months or even years after a thief steals your vehicle. 

That said, it pays to weigh your car’s value against your deductible. If your car is worth about $2,000 and your deductible is $1,500, for example, it might make sense to skip comprehensive insurance. 

It also helps to think about your risk exposure. Are you parking your car in the garage overnight or is it out on the street? Does your area get a lot of hail storms? Are you likely to hit a deer on any of the roads you regularly drive? If your vehicle is exposed to risk, you can protect yourself against that potential financial burden by adding comprehensive insurance to your policy. 

How much does comprehensive insurance cost?

When deciding whether or not to carry comprehensive insurance, one of the biggest determinants is going to be cost. Fortunately, comprehensive coverage is affordable. 

The Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that comprehensive car insurance costs just over $134 a year, on average. For a little more than $11 a month, you can save yourself from thousands of dollars in repair bills or the need to buy a new vehicle outright. 

The takeaway

With a few exceptions — like people with low-value cars and high-deductible policies or those who have next-to-no risk — comprehensive car insurance is a helpful coverage to add to your auto insurance policy. With this affordable, broad-reaching coverage, you protect yourself against expensive problems like theft, hail, vandalism and damage after hitting an animal. 

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