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If you drive a car, having the right auto insurance coverage is imperative. You can choose from several different types of auto insurance coverage, including comprehensive coverage.

While sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably, comprehensive and collision insurance are two different types of optional coverage. It’s important to understand the distinction when purchasing car insurance.

Here’s what you need to know about comprehensive car insurance:

What is comprehensive car insurance?

Comprehensive insurance is an optional type of car insurance coverage designed to protect your own vehicle against damages or loss from events other than car accidents (e.g., a tree falling on your windshield). Comprehensive coverage can step in to help with the expense of repairing or even replacing your vehicle following a covered incident (any event that your auto insurance policy covers).

While most states require liability coverage for drivers, comprehensive auto insurance is usually optional. You can purchase it for an additional cost, but unlike liability coverage, there aren’t set policy limits to choose from. Instead, your limit is usually the actual cash value of your vehicle.

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What does comprehensive auto insurance cover?

Comprehensive auto insurance covers damage to your vehicle caused by a number of non-collision events. Some common reasons for claims that comprehensive insurance covers include:

  • Vandalism
  • Theft
  • Natural disasters (such as floods and earthquakes)
  • Fires
  • Damage caused by animals
  • Falling objects (hail, downed trees, rocks, etc.)
  • Hitting an animal
  • Riots

Learn More: Full Coverage Car Insurance: What Does It Mean?

So, if a bear gets into your car at a campsite and destroys the interior as it searches for snacks, you’re probably covered. The same is true if a fly ball goes rogue at your kid’s Little League game, smashing your windshield.

Good to know: Comprehensive auto insurance may also cover expenses related to your vehicle’s repair, such as transportation, towing, or a rental car. Check with your insurer to find out if it covers substitute transportation.

What does comprehensive insurance exclude?

Your comprehensive insurance doesn’t cover everything. Here are some events that your coverage typically excludes:

  • Accidents with another vehicle or object: If you collide with something — like another vehicle, mailbox, or even a telephone pole — your comprehensive coverage won’t cover the damages. Instead, you’ll need to file a claim against your own collision coverage (if you have it) or the other driver’s insurance if they’re to blame for the accident.
  • Normal wear and tear: Comprehensive coverage won’t cover damage that’s the result of normal wear and tear, such as worn tires.
  • Damage to someone else’s property: Comprehensive insurance doesn’t pay out for other people’s damages, whether you hit another car, a pedestrian, or even someone else’s personal property. Instead, their bodily injury and/or property damage expenses will typically come out of your liability insurance coverage, assuming you’re at fault.
Tip: If you have questions about whether your comprehensive insurance covers a specific situation, it’s best to reach out to your insurance carrier.

How does comprehensive coverage work?

If you have damages that qualify for reimbursement from comprehensive coverage, you’ll need to file a claim against your own insurance policy. The steps for this process vary by insurer, but you’ll generally do the following:

  1. Document the damage. Take photos of the damage to your vehicle, and take any notes that might be helpful for your insurance carrier. You may need these for your claim.
  2. Contact your insurance carrier to file a claim. You can call your auto insurance provider to start the claims process, or you can do so with your insurer’s mobile app, if it has one. You’ll likely need to give a statement explaining what happened. Your insurance agent can walk you through the rest of the claims process.
  3. Get repair estimates. Your insurance provider may ask you to take your vehicle to a body shop for a repair estimate. After the shop submits the estimate to your insurance carrier, your insurer will review it and determine how much to pay out for repairs.
  4. Pay your deductible. If your insurance carrier approves your claim, you’ll need to pay your deductible — the portion of the repair cost that you must pay before your insurance kicks in. You’ll either pay this amount directly to the repair shop, or your insurer will subtract your deductible amount from your payout. The typical deductible on comprehensive coverage ranges from $50 to $1,000 per incident.

Check Out: What Is a Diminished Value Claim?

How much does comprehensive coverage cost?

The average cost for comprehensive auto insurance coverage in the U.S. was $171.87 in 2019, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

You typically purchase comprehensive coverage as an add-on to a car insurance policy, rather than as a stand-alone product. Your comprehensive insurance premium depends on many factors. The price of comprehensive car insurance coverage can vary based on your:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Driving record
  • Vehicle age and type
  • Deductible (a higher deductible usually means a lower premium)
  • Insurance carrier
Keep in mind: Your insurance provider may offer discounts for certain affiliations or memberships, or offer lower pricing if you bundle multiple types of insurance. Be sure to ask your insurer about discounts.

Comprehensive insurance vs. collision coverage

Both comprehensive insurance and collision insurance are optional coverages designed to protect your own vehicle. This differs from liability coverage, which is designed to protect you financially if you damage another driver’s vehicle or cause bodily injury in an accident.

While comprehensive and collision coverage are often confused, one easy way to keep the two straight is to remember that collision coverage is for, well, collisions that occur while you’re behind the wheel. Comprehensive coverage, on the other hand, is for nearly everything else.

Here’s a look at the different events that comprehensive and collision insurance cover:

Comprehensive coverageCollision coverage
Colliding with another vehicleNoYes
Hitting a mailbox, retaining wall, or light poleNoYes
Hitting an animalYesNo
Shattered windshield due to a rock or hailYesNo
Shattered windshield due to an accidentNoYes
Someone else’s personal injuriesNoNo
Damage caused to someone else’s vehicle or personal propertyNoNo

When should I get comprehensive insurance?

Unlike state-mandated liability coverage, buying comprehensive auto insurance is usually optional. However, you may want to consider adding it on, especially in these scenarios:

  • If you finance your vehicle, your lender may require you to purchase comprehensive coverage until you repay the car loan.
  • If you won’t be able to afford to cover your vehicle’s repair costs out of pocket, comprehensive coverage can save you from footing the bill yourself.
  • If you have a new, expensive vehicle, you’ll likely want to protect it from theft, vandalism, and other harm.

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About the author
Stephanie Colestock
Stephanie Colestock

Stephanie Colestock is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who has more than 11 years of experience in writing about investing, business, and personal finances. She’s contributed to outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN, Investopedia, Credit Karma, Credible, and more.

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