Figuring out your auto insurance options can be confusing. Most states require you to have some sort of auto insurance policy, and if you have a loan or a lease on a vehicle, you're probably contractually required to go beyond minimum coverage.
Two of the most important terms to understand are comprehensive insurance and collision coverage.
- Comprehensive insurance: Comprehensive car insurance refers to a broad type of automobile coverage that reimburses you for vehicular loss or damage that wasn’t caused by a collision. For example, vandalism would be covered by comprehensive insurance but not collision insurance.
- Collision insurance: As its name implies, collision insurance helps pay for costs associated with automobile collisions. Pretty much all lenders require this type of insurance when you lease or finance a vehicle. Once the vehicle is paid off, you can decide whether or not you keep this coverage.
What does comprehensive insurance cover?
Comprehensive insurance covers loss or damage from natural perils, theft and vandalism, including glass claims and windshield repair. This means your comprehensive insurance policy should cover you if, for instance, your car is stolen, damaged during a riot or hit in the windshield by a rock on the highway.
Comprehensive insurance covers loss or damage from natural perils, theft and vandalism.
Generally, comprehensive plans can cover your vehicle from damage that results from:
- Civil disturbances
- Natural disasters (i.e., hurricanes, hail, tornadoes)
- Falling objects (i.e., tree limbs)
- Damage from animals
Note that hitting an animal, like a deer, while driving is covered by comprehensive insurance, despite the fact that it’s technically a collision.
What does comprehensive insurance not cover?
If you’re interested in comprehensive coverage, check the details of any policy you’re considering before you sign up. There are usually coverage limits, meaning you might not get full reimbursement for all costs associated with the situations above.
Broadly speaking, comprehensive insurance doesn’t cover vehicle collisions. It won’t even cover you in the cases above if there's also a collision involved. For example, if you’re driving in a snowstorm and it causes you to hit another vehicle, you won’t be covered by a comprehensive coverage plan.
It’s important to note that comprehensive insurance does not cover the damage to your car or another vehicle in the event of a collision, either. It also doesn’t cover any medical expenses for people involved in the accident.
While comprehensive coverage does protect you financially after a theft, it doesn’t cover the cost of anything else taken if your vehicle is broken into or stolen. Only the cost of the vehicle itself is covered by this part of your policy.
Comprehensive coverage also doesn’t cover legal bills, lost income or medical bills associated with the covered damages above. This would have to come from your liability insurance. It also won’t cover mechanical breakdowns — that’s what a car warranty is for.
What does collision insurance cover?
If you get in an accident, collision insurance is what helps cover the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle. Covered accidents might include rolling your vehicle, driving into a tree or hitting other cars.
Collision insurance may also help cover this cost if another car hits you but the driver doesn’t have enough insurance coverage to pay for your repairs. This is one reason why even safe drivers include this in their insurance plans.
What does collision insurance not cover?
Collision insurance doesn’t cover the cost of anything you damage with your car, whether it's a house, another car or a telephone pole. It also doesn’t cover any other type of damage to your vehicle, like theft, vandalism or natural disasters.
In the event of an accident, your collision insurance policy also won’t pay for any medical or legal bills associated with that collision. You will need liability coverage for that.
Comprehensive vs. collision insurance costs
Collision insurance is usually a lot more expensive than comprehensive insurance because it’s more likely to be used.
Minimum liability insurance requirements depend on your state’s laws.
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, average annual insurance premiums for collision insurance are over double the premiums for comprehensive coverage. In its 2017/2018 report (published in 2021), the NAIC found that collision insurance premiums averaged $377.62 per year, while comprehensive insurance premiums averaged $167.91 per year.
Both types have roughly similar ranges for average deductibles, but collision insurance is more likely to have $0 deductible options available. If you opt for both types of coverage, you can actually have different deductibles for each, too.
When deciding if these coverages are worth the cost, first figure out how much your car is really worth using an online car buying site. For example, if your vehicle is worth $1,500, having collision coverage with a $1,500 deductible isn’t worth it. However, if you have a $65,000 truck, getting both types of coverage is probably worth more in the long run.
Factors to consider
There are a variety of factors to consider when deciding what coverage you need.
- Is your vehicle financed?
- If you have a loan on your vehicle and are making payments, your finance company likely requires you to carry collision coverage. This is to protect its interests in the event of an accident. Many lenders go even further and require you to also have comprehensive insurance for the same reason.
Simply put, if you’re still making payments on your vehicle purchase, you might not have a choice regarding what level of coverage you get. Check the terms of your loan to see what your obligations are.
- Do you have an older car?
- Generally speaking, the older a vehicle is, the less it's worth. Your car’s value plays into two factors regarding your insurance:
- It usually limits the amount of money you would receive after an accident or theft. If your car is worth $2,500 and is totaled in an accident, you would receive a maximum of $2,500, minus your deductible, from most policies.
- If your annual premiums exceed 10% of your car’s value, you may want to consider dropping down to liability coverage.
There are exceptions, though. Policies that promise to replace your vehicle with a new model are often worth keeping on an older vehicle. Also, at a certain age, some cars become classics or antiques, which may drive their values back up. However, this isn’t much of a consideration unless your car is over 20 years old.
- What’s your personal financial situation?
- Think about your capacity to handle expenses that aren’t covered by your insurance. If damage to your vehicle would leave you in financial ruin, it’s probably better to budget for stronger insurance.
- When was the last time you compared car insurance rates?
- If it's been a year or more since you've compared car insurance rates, you may be able to maintain collision and comprehensive coverage while lowering your rates. You won't know if you're getting the best value without comparing.
Comprehensive vs. collision insurance
Some people choose to have both comprehensive and collision coverage for their vehicles. However, you don’t have to get both, and there are a few reasons why you might choose one over the other after considering your risks and your budget.
|Average annual premium||$377.62||$167.91|
|Is it mandatory?||Almost always required by lenders||Usually required by lenders|
|Average annual premium||High-value vehicles||People who live in high-risk areas|
|Collision||$377.62||Almost always required by lenders||High-value vehicles|
|Comprehensive||$167.91||Usually required by lenders||People who live in high-risk areas|
Comprehensive vs. collision insurance FAQ
- Is comprehensive insurance the same as full-coverage insurance?
- Despite its name, comprehensive insurance is not the same thing as full-coverage insurance. Comprehensive policies only cover vehicle damages that are not a result of an auto accident. Full insurance coverage is a combination of liability insurance, collision insurance and comprehensive insurance.
- What happens if you have no collision coverage?
- If you do not have collision coverage, you would be responsible for repairing or replacing your vehicle in the event of an accident you cause. If your vehicle is totaled, you might be stuck without a vehicle but still paying off a loan on a piece of scrap.
- Is collision insurance worth it?
- Collision insurance is worth it if you can afford it, especially if you are accident-prone. You likely won’t come out ahead on the deal, but it’s generally worth the added expense to avoid the high costs of a catastrophic accident. Unless you have the means to cover the loss of your current vehicle and replace it, collision insurance might be necessary to maintain your current way of life after an accident.
- Is comprehensive insurance worth it?
- The value of comprehensive insurance depends on several factors, including the type of car you have, the area you live in and your state laws. If you live in an area prone to vandalism, for example, comprehensive coverage may be a good idea. You may even be required to have comprehensive insurance if you lease or finance your vehicle.
Many buyers subscribe to the “10% rule,” which says that the annual amount you pay for coverage should not exceed 10% of the book value of your vehicle, minus the deductible. Keep in mind that your car's current value may not be as high as you think it is, so a little due diligence can go a long way.
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
- National Association of Insurance Commissioners, “2020 Auto Insurance Database.” Accessed July 9, 2021.
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