The first time I shopped for car insurance I didn’t know much about what I would be buying. I should have taken the time to learn more about the various types of coverage before shopping. As a result of my lack of preparation, I did a poor job comparing rates. I was slightly better armed after I purchased a new car six years ago. By then I knew a little more about car insurance. I worked with AAA to find the best rates offered to me in New Jersey and received rates from a variety of other companies for similar coverage.
Yet I am still not a car insurance expert. A quick conversation with my co-workers reminded me that I should re-evaluate my coverage. I am currently covered for much more than necessary considering the reduced value of my car and the savings I have available. I plan to change my coverage this week.
An easy-to-read guide to the various types of auto insurance coverage would have been helpful when I first received a driver’s license. Here is the information I had familiarized myself with when I first assumed the responsibility of a driver.
Liability coverage pays other people when you are at fault — the cause of an accident. Liability coverage is usually mandatory. If you do not have liability coverage and you cause an accident (and the other individual involved does not have uninsured motorist coverage) you would be responsible for paying their medical bills and car repair bills out of your own pocket. You could be sued if you don’t have insurance, or enough insurance, to cover the expenses paid by the victim resulting from your accident.
Liability coverage is separated between bodily injury and property. Your bodily injury liability coverage will pay for the other individual’s medical expenses and there are coverage levels per person and per accident. For example, my maximum coverage is currently $50,000 each person and $100,000 each accident. That means I will be liable for any excess expenses above those amounts. Property liability insurance covers repairs. My maximum coverage is currently $50,000 each accident. The insurance industry refers to these numbers in shorthand: 50/100/50.
Collision coverage pays you or pays directly to a repair shop for damage to your car regardless of which driver is at fault. A deductible must be met first. Currently, my deductible is $500. This is low considering a portion of my Emergency Fund is ready to handle incidents. This type of insurance is not required unless you are financing the vehicle and the bank requires it or you are leasing the vehicle. I will eliminate this coverage when I call to adjust my policy.
Insurance will only cover the actual cash value of your car minus the deductible. Assuming my car is now worth $6,000, insurance will cover at most $5,500 for collision, and I am paying $537 a year for that benefit.
Comprehensive coverage pays you or pays directly to a repair shop for any damage to your car that occurs at any time other than a collision. If your car is stolen, comprehensive coverage would pay you. We experienced a violent storm the past few days, and trees everywhere were uprooted. I didn’t personally notice any cars damaged by falling trees, only fences, buildings, utility poles, and roads. However, it’s likely quite a few people in the area experienced damage to their card. Comprehensive car insurance coverage would help them.
Like collision, comprehensive coverage is not required unless you have a car loan or a lease. I am currently covered with a $500 deductible. I will most likely raise the deductible on this coverage. I considered eliminating comprehensive coverage, but two issues are steering me towards keeping, First, I do not park in a garage, and while my neighborhood is usually quiet, I can’t control other people or nature. Second, I drive to New York City often and my car has already been broken into once.
Uninsured motorists coverage
Uninsured motorists coverage pays you if damage to your car cannot be reimbursed by the driver at fault because they fail to have adequate insurance. Although liability insurance is required for all legal drivers, not all drivers are operating a vehicle legally. There is some, but not complete, overlap with collision coverage. Uninsured motorists coverage might pay your collision deductible. Uninsured motorists coverage will also pay for bodily injury costs not reimbursed by the other driver’s insurance.
I currently have uninsured motorists coverage at the same levels as my liability coverage, 50/100/50.
Personal injury protection
Personal injury protection (PIP) pays you or a service provider for your medical, hospital, and funeral expenses. They may also pay for other family/household members and pedestrians involved in an accident. It’s a good idea to compare the personal injury protection benefits with those offered by your health insurance. If some of the benefits are duplicated, you may be able to justify lower PIP coverage.
If you drive passengers often, consider increasing your PIP coverage. I almost always drive alone, and I’m considering dropping PIP from my policy. Currently, I am covered for a maximum of $250,000 after a deductible of $250.
When my car was being repaired after the break-in I mentioned above, the rental car coverage was helpful. My insurance policy offers reimbursement for transportation expenses up to $30 per day or $900 per accident. This coverage costs me $35 a year. I will likely keep this insurance because its cost is low and I currently have no other convenient means of transportation.
Gap insurance usually is not associated directly with the other aspects of car insurance. It provides one specific benefit. For a driver whose vehicle is leased or finances, gap insurance will pay the driver the difference between the actual cash value of the car minus a deductible and the remaining balance due on the loan or lease.
For example, if you are upside-down, owing $20,000 on a car whose value is only $15,000, and the vehicle is totaled in an accident, your collision insurance will only cover $15,000. Without gap insurance, you would still need to pay what you owe without a car to show for it, and you’ll usually need to buy a new car as well. The gap insurance would cover the $5,000 difference.
Later this week, I’ll reduce my insurance coverage with my provider, Liberty Mutual, and soon after begin shopping around for better rates.
Updated February 17, 2012 and originally published March 15, 2010.