About Auto Insurance
What is Auto Insurance and What is Covered in a Basic Policy
Auto insurance protects you against financial loss if you have an accident. It is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay the premium and the insurance company agrees to pay your losses as defined in your policy. Auto insurance can provide property, liability and medical coverage:
- Collision & Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car
- Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage to others
- Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes, lost wages and funeral expenses.
An auto insurance policy is comprised of six different kinds of coverage. Most states require you to buy some, but not all, of these coverages. For example, if you're financing a car, your lender may also have insurance requirements. These coverages can be purchased with various dollar limits of coverage.
Most auto policies are for six months to a year. Your insurance company should notify you by mail when it's time to renew the policy and to pay your premium. Each coverage is priced separately.
It is important to remember that lower cost does not mean lower protection.
This coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. It also covers damage caused by potholes. Collision coverage is generally sold with a deductible of $250 to $1,000—the higher your deductible, the lower your premium. Even if you are at fault for the accident, your collision coverage will reimburse you for the costs of repairing your car, minus the deductible. If you're not at fault, your insurance company may try to recover the amount they paid you from the other driver's insurance company. If they are successful, you'll also be reimbursed for the deductible.
This coverage reimburses you for loss due to theft or damage caused by something other than a collision with another car or object, such as fire, falling objects, missiles, explosion, earthquake, windstorm, hail, flood, vandalism, riot, or contact with animals such as birds or deer.
Comprehensive insurance is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible, though you may want to opt for a higher deductible as a way of lowering your premium. Comprehensive insurance will also reimburse you if your windshield is cracked or shattered. Some companies offer glass coverage with or without a deductible.
Bodily Injury Liability
This coverage applies to injuries that you, the designated driver or policyholder, cause to someone else. You and family members listed on the policy are also covered when driving someone else's car with their permission.
It's very important to have enough liability insurance, because if you are involved in a serious accident, you may be sued for a large sum of money. Definitely consider buying more than the state-required minimum to protect assets such as your home and savings.
Property Damage Liability
This coverage pays for damage you (or someone driving the car with your permission) may cause to someone else's property. Usually, this means damage to someone else's car, but it also includes damage to lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, buildings or other structures your car hit.
Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
This coverage pays for the treatment of injuries to the driver and passengers of the policyholder's car. At its broadest, PIP can cover medical payments, lost wages and the cost of replacing services normally performed by someone injured in an auto accident. It may also cover funeral costs.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
This coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if one of you is hit by an uninsured or hit-and-run driver.
Underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. This coverage will also protect you if you are hit as a pedestrian.
Can I drive legally without insurance?
NO! Almost every state requires you to have auto liability insurance. All states also have financial responsibility laws. This means that even in a state that does not require liability insurance, you need to have sufficient assets to pay claims if you cause an accident. If you've financed your car, your lender may require comprehensive and collision insurance as part of the loan agreement.
How much coverage do I need?
Almost every state requires you to buy a minimum amount of liability coverage. If you’re found legally responsible for bills that are more than your insurance covers, you will have to pay the difference out of your own pocket.
You may want to talk to your agent or company representative about purchasing higher liability limits to reflect your personal needs.
In addition to liability coverage, consider buying collision and comprehensive coverage. You don't decide how much to buy. Your coverage reflects the market value of your car and the cost of repairing it. Decide on a deductible—the amount of money you pay on a claim before the insurance company reimburses you. Typically, deductibles are $500 or $1,000; the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.