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Some people mistakenly think of comprehensive car insurance coverage as “full coverage insurance,” but as far as insurance companies are concerned, there is no such thing as full coverage. Though the word “comprehensive” implies total, full, or complete, it is a myth that comprehensive insurance covers everything that could possibly go wrong with your car. Designed to fill in the gaps left by other types of car insurance, comprehensive car insurance covers damage to your car that can occur in specific situations. As Nationwide insurance says, “In other words, there is no single auto insurance policy that covers everything.” You can learn more about how car insurance works with our guide.
So, what is comprehensive car insurance? Different insurance companies use different explanations. Some say that it covers damage from something other than a collision with another car – things like theft, vandalism, or a natural disaster. Others add that it can help cover repairs or a total loss. In short, the best comprehensive car insurance definition is that comprehensive coverage is for things that cause damage to your car that are out of your control. Before you decide if comprehensive car insurance is right for you, let’s look at what comprehensive insurance actually covers.
What Does Comprehensive Car Insurance Cover?
Comprehensive car insurance coverage is designed to kick in if your car is damaged by anything other than an actual collision. Generally speaking, if your car is damaged from something outside of your control, you’ll need comprehensive insurance to cover it or be compensated. If your car collides with another car or an object (like a fence, tree or pole) you’ll need collision insurance. Read more about collision insurance coverage.
Damage from animals is a common comprehensive insurance claim. Comprehensive covers you if you hit an animal, if an animal hits you, or if your car otherwise suffers extensive damage from animals. For example, you would be covered if squirrels got inside your car and destroyed the upholstery or a rat chewed through your car’s wiring. However, if you swerve to avoid hitting an animal and you hit something else instead – a guardrail, a tree, another car – you won’t be covered under your comprehensive policy. This type of crash would be covered by collision insurance, if you have it. Animals are covered under comprehensive rather than collision (even though you’d be colliding with the animal) because insurance companies acknowledge that a collision with an animal is usually beyond your control.
Comprehensive insurance also covers glass damage, including windshields and windows. These events are considered outside of your control because, though they usually happen while you’re driving, there’s no way to avoid a rock or other road debris that is flung into your path at high speeds. According to Progressive, glass claims are the most common comprehensive claims, especially in areas like a desert where your car is more likely to be hit by a rock kicked up by another car. Damage from a collision with a deer is the second most common comprehensive claim. These claims are more common in rural or wooded areas.
If your car is damaged due to weather or a natural disaster, comprehensive insurance will cover you. Examples include fires, storms, hail, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, and related events, like a tree branch breaking in a rainstorm and falling on your car. Comprehensive insurance covers you if an object falls on your car.
Finally, if your car is damaged by the act of another individual, such as theft, vandalism, terrorism, or a civil disturbance such as a riot or a protest, comprehensive insurance will help cover your loss.
What Is Not Covered by Comprehensive Insurance?
Although we’ve taken a look at what comprehensive car insurance does cover, that list may raise even more questions for some consumers. Let’s take a look at what comprehensive insurance does not cover.
First, comprehensive insurance does not cover a collision with another car or an object, which basically means it won't cover you if you're in a car accident. It is a common misconception that if you do not have collision insurance but do have comprehensive insurance, comprehensive will kick in where collision otherwise would. That is not the case, and that's why insurers and insurance associations recommend buying both collision and comprehensive insurance if you would not be able to handle these types of losses on your own.
On a related note, comprehensive insurance does not cover medical or legal expenses related to a collision or another event involving your car. That includes you, your passengers, and the driver and passengers of other vehicles involved in the incident. Neither will comprehensive insurance cover lost income as the result of an accident. It also will not cover the cost of a rental car or towing made necessary by an accident. If you're concerned about insurance coverage for any of these types of events, you should contact your insurance company and discuss adding additional coverage to your policy so you won’t be caught off guard if any of these things happen to you.
There is one other important exclusion to comprehensive insurance coverage. Although comprehensive policies cover the theft of your car, it does not cover personal property stolen from inside your car. In fact, no type of car insurance covers personal items stolen from your car, which may be a surprise to some car owners. Typically, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will cover the losses if your car is broken into or if you had valuable items in your car when the car was stolen.
Who Needs Comprehensive Car Insurance?
So comprehensive coverage is for events that are out of your control. If you think about it that way, you’ll see that most car owners should at least consider a comprehensive insurance policy, even if they eventually decide against it after weighing the costs and benefits. Most drivers are at risk of encountering the type of damage covered by comprehensive insurance. As a reminder, you don’t even need to be driving for your car to be damaged by some unforeseen, unavoidable event, like a tree branch falling on it in a windstorm. You need only glance at a newspaper or browse the internet for a few minutes before you're confronted by tons of examples of disasters that could easily damage your car. You don’t need to be right on the coast to suffer flood damage from a hurricane or tropical storm, you don’t need to be in a city to encounter rowdy protesters, and you can be almost anywhere when a deer or other large animal decides to cross your path.
Strictly speaking, comprehensive coverage is optional. That is, no state or federal law mandates it. However, if you don’t own your car outright, you might be required to get comprehensive coverage by your lender or leaseholder. It is common for lenders to require comprehensive coverage so they don’t suffer a financial loss if something happens to the car that they technically own but you drive and care for. Under the same logic, some lenders or leasing companies may also require collision and bodily injury liability coverage. It is important to keep this requirement in mind if you’ve never had comprehensive insurance on your own car, but you’re considering borrowing or leasing a new car. The cost of adding comprehensive insurance to your policy should be factored into your budgeting and decision-making process. Note that in the case of a leased vehicle or one with an outstanding loan, you won’t collect the money if your car is totaled or stolen. Instead, it will go to your lender to pay off the loan or satisfy the lease terms.
Let’s look at how, and how often, the average person uses his or her comprehensive insurance. According to insurers, collision claims are both more common and more expensive than comprehensive claims, but that doesn’t necessarily mean comprehensive coverage isn’t worthwhile. About 12 percent of Progressive drivers with collision coverage will make a claim in a given year, with an average repair cost of $3,300. In comparison, Progressive says that 7 percent of its customers with comprehensive coverage make a claim in a year, with an average repair cost of $1,400. Whether or not you would make a repair claim for $1,400 or less likely depends on your deductible (which we’ll talk about later), but these figures help illustrate the likelihood that a comprehensive policy could come in handy someday.
Remember, too, that according to Progressive, glass damage is the most common type of comprehensive insurance claim. Small chips or cracks in a windshield might not seem like a big deal at first, but if they grow or spread (and they most likely will), you are putting yourself at risk because of impaired vision and the chance of the windshield shattering. Windshields are designed so they won’t spray glass everywhere if they break, but a broken windshield is still dangerous.
In Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina, the law requires insurance companies to waive the deductible for a comprehensive claim involving only glass. Because continuing to drive with a damaged windshield is so dangerous, those states don’t want to discourage drivers from getting them repaired. Some insurance companies in other states may voluntarily adopt similar policies, and Progressive will repair small windshield chips and cracks on its customers' cars for free. If you have comprehensive insurance through a different company or you're thinking about shopping for a new comprehensive policy, you should ask if a similar benefit is available through your company or in your state.
How Much Does Comprehensive Car Insurance Cost?
According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance costs are based, in part, on what kind of car you own. That is especially true in the case of comprehensive coverage, since the amount the insurance company will have to cover is capped at the amount your car is worth. Shopping for a comprehensive insurance policy, like other kinds of insurance, is based on several other factors as well. Though a new comprehensive car insurance policy will make your premiums go up, you can decide, in a sense, how much you want to pay. Let’s take a closer look at how and why that works. You can also learn more about how to save on car insurance with our car insurance discounts guide.
With insurance products like personal injury liability, you select the amount you’d like to be covered for and that dictates how much you’ll pay. Comprehensive insurance, on the other hand, is based on two factors: your car’s actual cash value and your deductible. To calculate the actual cash value, subtract the car's depreciation and your deductible from the price you paid for the car. The idea is that it’s an approximation of what it would cost to replace your car, right now, with one just like it. If your car is a total loss – that is, it costs more to repair than its actual cash value – your comprehensive insurance will kick in to compensate you with your car’s actual cash value. You can also choose to keep the totaled car, in which case the car’s salvage value will be estimated and deducted from your payout. That's because, essentially, the insurance company owns your car at that point, and you are buying it back from them.
Cars that can’t be assigned a realistic actual cash value – like vintage or collector cars – are an exception to the actual cash value rule. In those cases, you and your insurer must agree on the value of your car when you're setting up your policy. You’ll then have what's known as a declared value policy, which works much the same except this declared value takes the place of actual cash value in calculating settlements.
The actual cash value is often used as the limit of your comprehensive coverage, or the maximum the insurance company will pay for any event. When you get a payout for a total loss, you can use the money for a vehicle that's comparable to the one you lost. If you want to upgrade to something newer or nicer, you’ll need to pay the difference out of pocket.
Now that we understand how actual cash value works, the deductible is the next factor in understanding how much you’ll pay for comprehensive insurance.
The term “deductible” means something a little different in car insurance than it does in health insurance. In health insurance, the deductible is the amount you have to pay out of pocket before your comprehensive coverage kicks in to compensate you for a claim. With car insurance, you need to pay your deductible with every claim. When you’re getting a quote, insurance companies will typically let you experiment with different deductible amounts to see how they affect your rate. Collision coverage and other types of car insurance may also use deductibles.
According to Progressive, comprehensive insurance coverage costs an average of $22 per month, and 73 percent of drivers opt for this coverage. Five hundred dollars is the most common deductible for Progressive customers, though some drivers opt for deductibles as low as $100 to $300. Progressive says that 71 percent of its customers add collision coverage at an average cost of $63 per month. Remember that collision coverage is used more often than comprehensive coverage, and it pays out more for the average incident, hence the higher cost. ValuePenguin estimates that comprehensive and collision coverage combined cost most drivers $600 to $700 per year.
Keep in mind that if your claim is for less than your deductible, you won't get coverage for that incident, and you're on the hook for any repairs. A low deductible is good when you have to make a claim, but your premium (your actual insurance bill) is higher. If you want to keep your premium on the low side, you need to choose a higher deductible and accept that it won’t provide as much coverage if you need to make a claim, and that in the case of a smaller claim, you’re probably on your own.
Do I Need Comprehensive Car Insurance?
To decide whether you should add comprehensive insurance to your policy, you must first figure out if the insurance will cost you more than you'd likely receive for your car if it were stolen or totaled. You can also take a look at how to determine your insurance needs with our guide to how much car insurance you need.
If you have an expensive car, comprehensive coverage is a smart choice since most drivers can’t afford to replace an expensive car on their own. But it isn’t always that simple. If you own your car outright and you're trying to decide if comprehensive coverage is worth the money, the first step is to get a good estimate of the value of your car. If woke up tomorrow to find your car stolen or totaled, could you afford to replace it yourself? If yes, you might want to consider skipping comprehensive coverage. For most other consumers, comprehensive insurance is probably a good idea.
The Insurance Information Institute suggests another method to determine whether comprehensive coverage plus collision coverage is cost-effective for you. Again, figure out the value of your vehicle. When you have your insurance quote for your annual comprehensive and collision premiums, multiply that figure by 10. If your car is worth less than that, you may be better off saving the amount you’d pay for those premiums. However, even if you think your older car might not require coverage, you should consider the consequences of being uninsured in the case of an unforeseen event.
Some insurance companies will only sell you combined collision and comprehensive coverage, while others will sell a policy with just one or the other. Collision coverage usually costs more than comprehensive coverage.
Consider These Scenarios
Let’s look at some hypothetical situations that can help you understand how comprehensive insurance works in the real world.
Scenario 1: A hailstorm causes $1,000 in damage to your car. You have a $500 deductible. If you file the claim and repair the damage, you would pay $500 and your insurance would pay $500. You could also choose to pay for repairs out of pocket or to not get the damage fixed (which is fine if it’s purely cosmetic). You might choose the latter because the amount the insurance would cover is relatively small in this case, and some insurance companies penalize customers who make “too many” comprehensive insurance claims. Ask your agent if they have such a policy, and if so, you may want to avoid making small claims.
Scenario 2: Your car was in the same hailstorm, resulting in about $1,000 worth of damage. However, when you set up your policy, you chose a deductible of $1,000 because you wanted to save money on premiums. In this scenario, you're entirely on the hook for repairing the damage. In other words, if you have a $1,000 deductible and the same amount of damage (or less), you wouldn’t bother making a claim because you’d need to pay the entire bill out of pocket anyway. This situation helps explain why it's important to carefully consider the relationship between your deductible and your premium. Cosmetic damage from a hailstorm isn’t that bad, but you wouldn’t want to be stuck with serious damage that impairs your ability to drive safely and be unable to afford to fix it. If you're choosing a higher deductible to get lower bills, you should have savings available in case of an emergency.
Scenario 3: Some insurers, like Progressive, might pay you for a claim even if you don’t want to repair your car. Say, for example, your old car suffers $2,000 worth of hail damage but is still safe to drive, and you have a $500 deductible. You may be able to make a claim and get a check for $1,500. You won’t need to pay the deductible in this scenario, but the deductible is subtracted from the settlement. However, if you have a loan or a lease, this probably won’t be an option.
As these hypothetical situations show, your decision-making process doesn’t end when you decide to add (or not add) comprehensive coverage to your car insurance policy. Though comprehensive insurance is a smart choice for most drivers, it ultimately depends on you, your car, and your ability to deal with unexpected damage or total loss of your car.