Insurance, by definition, is a contract between you and the insurance company. The contract stipulates that as long as you pay the premium, the insurance company agrees to pay for your covered losses if you experience an accident, theft or vandalism, or your car is damaged by certain causes. The amount you receive in compensation is based on several factors, including your deductible and the limit you choose for your policy.
What Does Auto Insurance Cover?
There are several categories of auto insurance, each of which covers a different aspect of your risk as a driver. Here is a brief overview of these types of coverage:
Liability: If you are deemed at fault in a car accident, liability coverage will pay for repairs, medical costs for injuries suffered by others in the vehicle, plus other expenses related to the accident such as legal fees. Your liability limits are set at the time you purchase your policy. There are two parts to liability coverage: Bodily injury liability and property damage liability. The limits are the maximum amount the policy will pay out; anything above that would come out of your pocket unless you have other insurance.
Collision: If you hit another vehicle or an object (like a guardrail), your collision coverage will pay for damages or repairs to your vehicle after you pay a deductible (up-front amount). In other words, if you have collision coverage with a $500 deductible and you suffer damage that costs $1,500, your collision coverage will pay $1000 after you pay the first $500.
Comprehensive: Comprehensive coverage, which is also known as "other than collision," pays for losses to your vehicle if it suffers damage from something other than an accident. For example, if a tree falls on your car or you hit a deer while driving, some portion of that loss will be covered if you have comprehensive coverage. Like collision, comprehensive has a deductible attached to it.
Medical Expenses: This coverage pays for injuries that you, a family member or anyone else riding your vehicle may suffer in an auto accident, regardless of who is at fault. It also pays for injuries you or your family members may incur while riding in other vehicles.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist: This coverage pays for injuries and property damage you suffer in an accident when the driver at fault either is uninsured or does not have enough insurance to cover your injuries and damage. It will also cover you in the event that a hit-and-run driver flees the scene and you cannot file a claim against that driver’s insurance company.
Roadside Assistance: Many insurance companies offer this optional coverage. If you need a tow or service for a flat tire or dead battery, roadside assistance will provide that service for a nominal premium.
Rental Reimbursement: If your car is in the shop for several days and you need a vehicle, this coverage will provide that for you for a nominal premium.
How Does Car Insurance Work?
Car insurance helps you to recover from damage, injuries and expenses related to a collision or other incident. It is not designed for you to come out ahead financially, but it is designed to keep you from suffering major financial hardship due to an accident, whether it’s your fault or not.
Car insurance is about risk transfer. If you don’t have insurance, the financial risk is on you in the event of an accident. Buying auto insurance mitigates some of that risk. For the cost of your premium, the insurance company will take on much of that risk for you.
Why Is Auto Insurance Important?
When you get behind the wheel, you take a risk. You may attempt to be the best possible driver, but you also have to trust that everyone else on the road is driving well and paying attention, too. Auto insurance provides a safety net when drivers make mistakes.
In the event of an accident, you are at risk financially. If the accident is not your fault, and the other driver does not have adequate insurance, you have to pay for all damages to your own car plus pay for any medical bills if you are badly injured.
When you are at fault, you are typically liable for damages to the other person’s vehicle as well as the medical costs of injured victims. Additionally, you must cover the repairs to your own vehicle and the costs of legal fees if you are sued. All of your assets are at risk if you are uninsured or underinsured.
How Do I Get Car Insurance?
There are a number of ways to get car insurance. It is important to understand that there are well-established insurance companies that offer excellent car insurance coverage, and there are companies that were built solely to sell car insurance and make money. Some auto insurance companies gain customers through advertising and others through word-of-mouth and excellent service.
When you buy insurance through an independent agent, you can eliminate confusion and find the best policy for your budget and insurance needs. Independent insurance agents do not sell policies for one company; they shop from many different companies to find you the best rates and coverage for your situation. No matter where in the U.S. you are located, there is a local Trusted Choice member agent near you who can get the answers you need about auto insurance before you buy.
Is Auto Insurance Required?
Forty-seven states require vehicles to have some level of insurance coverage before they can be on the road. Failure to have insurance can mean a fine and/or jail time in these states, not to mention suspension or revocation of your driver’s license. In most of those states, the minimum required coverage is liability insurance to cover damage and injuries you may cause, though a handful of states require additional coverage, such as collision and comprehensive.
How Expensive Is Car Insurance?
Your vehicle just might be the most expensive possession you have other than your home. However, your auto insurance won't necessarily be costly.
While rates vary from state to state and take into account a variety of factors, car insurance is usually fairly affordable. The factors that affect your costs include whether your car is new or used, the overall safety rating of the car, your driving record, your age and gender, and even your ZIP code, as certain areas tend to have a higher occurrence of accidents and claims than others.
The discounts you may qualify for include:
Good student discount: May apply if the young driver in your family has good grades
Good driver discount: May apply if you’ve been accident-free for a period of time
Multi-car discount: May apply if you insure more than one of your vehicles with the same company
Multi-policy discount: May apply when you insure both your home and car with the same company
Your local agent can also talk with you about these discounts and determine the ones that would benefit you and save you the most money on your policy.
Is Auto Insurance Tax Deductible?
If you are self-employed and use your personal vehicle for business, you can take a tax deduction for your car insurance. For example, an independent sales professional who travels for work can take the deduction. However, only the actual mileage used for business travel is deductible. In other words, if you drive a vehicle 15,000 miles for business and 15,000 for personal use (a total of 30,000 miles annually) your deduction will cover half of your overall use.
Can Auto Insurance Companies Drop You?
Auto insurance is a contract, and as with many contracts, it can be canceled or voided by either party. You can drop the contract by changing to another company; the following are circumstances in which an insurance company can drop you:
If you fail to pay your premiums
If you present fraudulent information on your application for coverage
If your license is suspended or revoked for any reason, such as too many accidents, or driving under the influence
Some states allow companies to drop coverage for other reasons; to learn about the laws in your state, contact a local independent agent in the Trusted Choice network in your area.
Can Auto Insurance Companies Deny Claims?
There are a few reasons that your claim can be denied, including:
Filing a fraudulent claim exaggerating or fabricating an accident or loss.
Filing a claim under coverage you don’t have.
Filing a claim for a loss that is not included in your policy - for example, if you suffer an accident while using your car as a business vehicle.
Making improvements to your vehicle, such as giving it a fancy paint job, without notifying your company. The company might deny the claim or compensate you based on the original value of the vehicle.
If you miss a premium payment, you may have your coverage suspended until you catch up your payments; if you file a claim while your insurance is suspended it will be denied.
Some states allow companies to deny claims for other reasons, so it is a good idea to understand the fine print in your policy.
Do Auto Insurance Companies Check Credit?
Credit scores and credit reports don’t always tell the full story about a person, but they do indicate your ability to pay your bills.
Car insurance companies do check credit as to determine your insurability. Your premium is a bill like any other, and a poor credit score can alert an insurer of financial trouble. If there is a chance that you may miss premium payments, an insurer may decide you are too risky to insure.
Do Auto Insurance Quotes Affect Credit?
Car insurance is not an application for credit, so while insurance companies check your credit to determine your responsibility and financial security, they are not extending credit. A credit check for a car insurance quote is called a “soft pull” and it does not affect your credit rating.
Credit scores have become very important in recent years as lenders have tightened restrictions. Many families are focused on eliminating debt and getting caught up on payments so they can improve their credit scores and get better rates when getting a mortgage or a car loan. Every time you fill out an application for credit, your credit score can be affected because a good percentage of your score is based on how much total credit you have and the number of accounts you have.
Do Auto Insurance Companies Check Driving History?
An insurance company may check your driving record when you are looking for a new policy, renewing your existing policy or modifying the policy by adding a new driver or additional vehicle.
You may also wonder whether your driving record can prevent you from getting insurance. Your driving record check typically will not prevent you from getting coverage, but it does help the company determine the risk they will take when issuing a policy to you.
If you have a record that includes tickets, accidents or points on your license, these factors indicate to the insurance company that there is a higher risk of paying a claim. In order to compensate for that, the company may charge a higher premium than someone with a clean driving record.
Do Auto Insurance Companies Share Information?
When you make an insurance claim or begin the process to switch insurance companies, information about your claims history is placed into a national loss-underwriting database. That information can be accessed by all insurance companies that are considering insuring you.
However, insurance companies do not share your personal information directly with each other. The information included on the claims database is not shared, per se, but it is available for all companies to find. Keep in mind that since your driving record is on file with your state’s motor vehicle department, your information is public record – including tickets and accidents.
Does Auto Insurance Cover Rental Cars?
This is a common question. If you make sure you have your own vehicle covered, do you need to get the special coverage offered at the rental counter if you go on vacation and get a rental car?
You will have to double-check your particular policy, but most policies do provide the same coverage for a rental car that you have for your personal vehicle, unless the rental is being used for business purposes. It’s always a good idea to check your policy. If you are seeking a new policy, an independent agent in the Trusted Choice network can help you find one that does cover rentals.
Does Auto Insurance Cover Theft?
If your car is stolen, a number of things need to happen for you to be compensated for your loss. First, you will need to file a police report and wait while there is an attempt at recovery. If your car is not recovered, you can file a claim with your insurance company if you have comprehensive coverage.
Because of the risk insurance companies face with fraudulent claims, you will need to complete some paperwork to file your claim. But providing you have documentation for the stolen vehicle, your insurance will compensate you for the value of the vehicle up to the limit of your comprehensive coverage.
Can I Get Car Insurance with a Suspended License?
Most insurance companies will not issue or maintain insurance for someone who has a suspended or revoked driver’s license. If you need to get from home to work while your license is suspended, you are not out of luck.
You can work with your local DMV to get a hardship license, or you can file an SR 22 form through your insurance agent who can file that with the DMV. If you are allowed behind the wheel due to a hardship license and/or an SR 22 form (which guarantees insurance coverage for a period of time), then you will be able to get car insurance.