As you navigate the often complex world of auto insurance, it’s essential to understand the many coverage options available to you.
In my experience, many people find this aspect challenging, but it’s crucial to ensure you have adequate protection on the road. After all, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, a mistake on the road could lead to a decade of financial stress.
I don’t wish that for anyone.
This guide is my effort to simplify some of these options and help you make well-informed decisions about your car insurance. From understanding the necessity of liability coverage to exploring comprehensive policies for broader protection, I’ll walk you through each option, explaining what they are and when you might need them.
Whether you’re a seasoned driver reassessing your current policy or a new driver looking to understand the basics, this article is tailored to provide you with the knowledge you need to confidently manage your auto insurance policy.
Understanding Liability Coverage
Navigating your auto policy begins with the first line: liability coverage. Liability is the cornerstone of most auto insurance policies, and after managing almost 5,000 auto insurance policies, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial this coverage is.
Liability coverage is legally required in almost every state, serving as your financial shield if you’re found responsible for an accident. It typically includes two main components:
- Bodily Injury Liability: This covers costs associated with injuries or death that you, as the driver, are responsible for in an accident. It’s not just a legal requirement; it’s a moral one, ensuring that you can provide for others’ medical needs stemming from an incident that you incured.
- Property Damage Liability: This covers damage to someone else’s property, such as their car, fence, or home, resulting from an accident where you’re at fault. This component ensures that you can rectify any property damage for which you’re responsible, without the financial burden falling entirely on your shoulders.
Understanding and choosing the right liability limits is a balancing act between meeting legal requirements and ensuring you have enough protection to cover potential damages. Remember, the state-required minimum may not always be sufficient, especially in severe accidents.
Collision and Comprehensive Insurance
Now, when it comes to protecting your vehicle itself, two key types of coverage come into play: collision and comprehensive insurance. Both are crucial for comprehensive protection but serve different purposes.
Here’s the basics:
Collision Insurance: This coverage steps in when your car is involved in a collision, whether it’s with another vehicle or an object like a fence or pole. It’s designed to cover the cost of repairs or replacement of your vehicle, regardless of who’s at fault in the accident. This will typically result in an “at-fault” claim on your record, raising your rates for the next 3-5 years.
Comprehensive Insurance: Often misunderstood, comprehensive insurance covers damages to your vehicle that aren’t caused by collisions. This can include theft, vandalism, natural disasters, and even incidents with animals. This coverage is especially important if you live in areas prone to certain risks, like urban centers for theft or rural areas for animal collisions. This is typically a “not-at-fault” claim, and usually has little to no impact on your future rates.
Choosing to include collision and comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance policy depends on various factors, including the value of your car and a personal risk assessment. While they are often optional, they provide an added layer of security for your vehicle.
I typically recommend these coverages to everyone, because the value typically outweighs the cost until the vehicle is either extremely old, or has depreciated significantly. A good way to weigh the value of these coverages would be to go to NADA.com, and see the local market value of your vehicle. This could help shed light on whether you want to purchase these coverages.
So How Does It Work?
Both collision and comprehensive insurance typically pay out the actual cash value (ACV) of your vehicle at the time of the incident. This means the market value of your car just before the accident or loss, not the amount you originally paid nor the cost to buy a new one.
Consider this scenario:
You’re driving on the interstate, trying to make it to work on time. The guy in front of you slams his brakes, coincidentally at the same time you decided to change the tunes. One thing leads to another, and you’ve rear ended this guy pretty hard. You both pull over, make sure everyone is okay, then exchange insurance information.
After a quick scan of your vehicle, you determine it’s not drivable. So you call up your insurance company to notify them of the accident, and you end up filing a collision claim. From that moment, your vehicle is towed to the nearest approved repair shop, and after an inspection, they tell your insurance company that it’ll cost $11,000 to fix the vehicle.
The problem is, your car is only worth about $10,000. Why invest $11,000 into a vehicle that costs only $10,000? You don’t.
Your vehicle is now considered totaled.
But how much would you receive? Well, the insurance company will likely call you back to disclose how much they think your vehicle is worth, offer you a check for the value, minus your collision deductible. So if your deductible is $500, you’d receive a check for $9,500.
It’s important to know how these claims will typically play out, so you can plan your life accordingly.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance
Despite legal requirements, not all drivers carry auto insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council, a study in 2019 found that 12.6% of drivers did not carry auto insurance. That’s 1 in 8 people you see on the road, are uninsured. Considering this data, I recommend everyone carries uninsured/underinsured motorist.
You’d probably ask “Nick how can someone get away with not having car insurance? You can’t even register your vehicle without proof!”
Well, after many years in this industry, I’ve seen all the tricks of the trade. I’ve seen clients call in, put a payment down to get proof of insurance, then call to cancel 3 hours later. I’ve seen my clients hit by people who were driving unregistered, or stolen vehicles. It’s endless. People will always find a way to circumvent the system, you just need to worry about being prepared.
But back to the main point, you probably noticed un-insured as well as under-insured. Let me break it down for you.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage offers protection if you’re involved in an accident with a driver who has no insurance. This coverage can help cover your medical expenses and damage to your vehicle or property.
This is pretty straightforward, and likely doesn’t need more explanation. However, the complexities typically come when we discuss underinsured coverage, which is the other half of the conversation.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage is equally important. It provides coverage when the at-fault driver’s insurance is insufficient to cover the total cost of the damages or medical expenses you’ve incured.
Think about it like this. If 12.6% of drivers have zero insurance whatsoever, then how many do you think opted for the cheapest policy, and the lowest limits? I haven’t found any studies on this yet, but I can tell you that the majority of quotes we generate, had requested state minimum liability.
And that’s not by our choice! I’ve actually advocated for everyone to have a $100,000 limit, minimum. I even wrote an article about it for Georgia drivers, and I actively coach my team to discuss all possible scenarios and encourage higher limits.
At the end of the day, we take the stance of “We’re the resource, the clients make the final decision.” – which is how it should always be viewed. At the end of the day, this is your policy. Independent agents, like myself, are simply a resource to help you make better educated decisions.
Medical Payments and Personal Injury Protection
In the realm of auto insurance, ensuring your medical expenses are covered in the event of an accident is crucial. Think about it, what’s your plan of attack if you’re at-fault, but you still hurt yourself?
This is where Medical Payments (MedPay) and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverages come into play.
Medical Payments Coverage (MedPay)
Medical Payments Coverage, often referred to as MedPay, provides for the medical expenses of you and your passengers after an accident, regardless of who is at fault. This can include hospital visits, surgeries, X-rays, and more. MedPay is a valuable coverage, particularly if you don’t have health insurance or if your health insurance has high deductibles.
MedPay coverage typically comes in increments of $2,500 per person. Here at the agency, we recommend everyone at least have a $5,000 limit to help cover co-pays or deductibles if you experience a trip to the hospital.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Personal Injury Protection, commonly known as PIP, is broader than MedPay. It not only covers medical expenses but also can cover lost wages, rehabilitation services, and even funeral costs. PIP is mandatory in some states, especially those with no-fault insurance laws, as it provides immediate coverage without the need to determine fault first.
Both MedPay and PIP provide crucial financial support after an accident. While they have similarities, the broader scope of PIP makes it a more comprehensive option, though it’s often more expensive than MedPay. As an insurance professional, I always recommend evaluating your health insurance coverage and driving habits to determine which option best suits your needs.
Additional Coverages to Consider
Auto insurance isn’t just about covering damages from accidents. There are several specialized coverages, or endorsements, that you can add to your policy for additional protection in specific situations.
Towing & Roadside Assistance coverage is more than just towing. It covers a range of services if your car breaks down – including towing, tire changes, jump starts, winching, locksmith services, and fuel delivery. This endorsement can be a lifesaver when you’re stranded due to a car breakdown.
Rental Reimbursement helps covers the cost of a rental car, after a car accident. Usually, it will offer between $30-$75 per day, ensuring you’re not left without transportation. This coverage is extremely cheap, and I never recommend skipping it unless you have a multitude of vehicles at home, ready to drive.
Full Glass Coverage allows you to file a claim for broken glass in your vehicle, usually with no deductible or a very low deductible. Now don’t mistake this coverage, glass is covered under collision and comprehensive (typically a comprehensive claim), but this just changes the deductible so its more affordable. This can be especially helpful considering most people choose to go with a $500 deductible, and most windshield repairs/replacements are below $500. This would result in zero financial assistance from the insurance company.
GAP Coverage is crucial if you have a loan on your car. It pays off your car loan if your vehicle is declared a total loss, covering the difference between the insurance payout and the remaining loan balance. This endorsement can often be required by lenders for financed vehicles.
New Car Replacement Coverage pays the full purchase price for a car of the same make and model if your vehicle is totaled in an accident. It’s an excellent option for protecting the value of your new car in its first year of ownership. Be warned, you cannot typically purchase this coverage unless your car is brand new, and you’ve added it within 3-6 months of owning the vehicle.
OEM Coverage ensures that they are made with Original Equipment Manufacturer parts whenever possible. This is especially important for newer or luxury cars, where using OEM parts can maintain the vehicle’s integrity and value. Now, I will tell you that aftermarket parts don’t typically cause an issue, but if you’re dead set on having the original parts, ask for this coverage.(if available)
Each of these coverages serves a unique purpose and can be tailored to fit your specific needs and driving habits. As an experienced independent insurance agent, I can help you navigate these options and choose the right endorsements for your auto insurance policy. Consider requesting a an auto insurance quote from us so we can diagnose your needs, and potentially save you some money.
Additional Considerations for Auto Insurance
When it comes to auto insurance, the devil is often in the details. Understanding these finer points can help you tailor your policy to your specific needs.
Understanding Deductibles: A deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance kicks in. Higher deductibles can lower your premiums, but they also mean more out-of-pocket expenses in case of a claim. Choosing the right deductible is about balancing your budget with your willingness to assume risk.
Evaluating Insurance Needs: Every driver’s situation is unique, and so should be their insurance coverage. Factors like the age and value of your car, your driving habits, and your financial situation all play a role in determining the appropriate level of coverage.
Just a few more aspects I wanted to touch on to really round out the information in this post. We will likely go more in-depth on these topics in future articles.
As we wrap up this journey through the landscape of auto insurance coverage, I hope you’ve gained valuable insights into how to protect yourself and your vehicle.
Throughout my years in the insurance industry, I’ve seen how the right coverage can make all the difference in times of need. Remember, auto insurance isn’t just a legal requirement—it’s a critical component of your financial well-being.
By carefully considering factors like your driving habits, the value of your car, and your personal risk tolerance, you can craft a policy that fits your unique circumstances. Insurance isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither are your needs. As you evaluate your options, feel free to reach out for guidance or to clarify any doubts. Here’s to safe travels and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re well protected.