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Car insurance FAQs

What’s the difference between comprehensive and collision coverage?

Comprehensive coverage typically covers damage from fire, theft, explosion, glass breakage, animal collision, and other incidents not covered by collision coverage.

Collision is usually defined as colliding with another object or overturning. Most auto policies have lower deductibles for comprehensive coverage than for collision coverage.

If you have an older car that may cost more to repair than it is worth, consider the following to save money:

  • Raise your deductibles
  • Drop your collision or comprehensive coverage
  • Drop both your collision and comprehensive coverage

What happens if the value of my car is less than what I owe?

If you are in an accident and your car is totaled, the insurance company bases its payment on the actual cash value (ACV) of the car at the time of the loss, not on the amount of your loan.

A special type of insurance called "guaranteed auto protection" or GAP, can be purchased when you buy a car. It may help in case of loss if you owe more on your lease or loan balance than the ACV of the vehicle.

This coverage is sometimes available as an endorsement to your regular auto insurance. Your agent can advise you if your company offers the coverage.

GAP coverage might not pay off your entire loan balance. In addition, GAP policies usually do not pay for the deductible from the primary auto insurer, missed payments, or late fees. There could be other limits, so carefully check your policy.

Does my car have to be demolished to be considered a total loss?

Not necessarily. Regardless of the visible damage, your insurance company will determine if it is practical to have the car repaired. If the cost to repair your car exceeds its value, it will likely be totaled.

When do I have to notify my insurance company that I bought a new car?

It is best to immediately notify your insurance company. However, you will typically have 14 days to tell your insurance company about a newly acquired vehicle. This drops to four days if you do not already have physical damage coverage on another insured car. Because policies vary, ask your agent or customer service rep exactly when you must notify your insurance company to make sure your new car is covered.

Will any property stolen from my car or damaged in an accident be covered?

Auto insurance policies generally do not cover personal property stolen from your vehicle or damaged in an accident. (Homeowner or renter policies do, but you will probably have to pay a deductible first and there can be limits on certain types of items.)

Will my insurance company pay any medical bill if I am injured in an accident?

Not always, and not indefinitely. Personal injury protection (PIP) insurance covers only “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses incurred within two years — up to $15,000 or your PIP limit. And your medical insurance will usually not cover medical expenses resulting from a car accident until your PIP coverage is exhausted.

Will my insurance policy remain active even if I am late paying the bill?

The “grace period” for not paying your car insurance premium is short. If you are late on a payment, the insurance company can cancel your policy with just 10 days' notice, as long as the cancellation warning is printed on your bill. Insurers can choose to give you more time to pay your premium, but they are not required to.

Can an insurance company deny liability just because it can’t find the policyholder?

When you make a claim against another driver, the insurance company investigates to determine the legal obligation of the person it insures. If the company cannot find the person — and cannot accurately determine what happened — it is possible there would be no coverage. Of course, insurance companies must make every effort to contact their policyholders.

Test your knowledge by taking the auto insurance quiz (requires Adobe Flash).

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