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Comprehensive vs. collision insurance

Learn what's covered and what's not with both types of insurance

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by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team
men assessing vehicle damage

Figuring out your auto insurance options can be confusing. Most states require you to have some sort of insurance policy, and if you have a loan or a lease on a vehicle, you're probably contractually required to go beyond minimum coverage. In some cases, you might have to get comprehensive coverage; other times, collision insurance will be enough. Most of the time you’ll want both, but the only way to know for certain is to make sure you understand what each type of coverage offers so you can make a smart decision.

What is 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.

What does comprehensive insurance cover?

More specifically, comprehensive insurance covers loss or damage from two major sources:

  • Natural perils, including fire, wind, hail and flooding. Comprehensive coverage may also cover you if something falls on your car, like a tree branch.
  • Theft and vandalism, including glass claims and windshield repair. This means your comprehensive insurance policy should cover you if your car is stolen, damaged during a riot or hit in the windshield by a rock flying off a truck.

To confuse matters a little bit, most insurance companies have a quirk in their comprehensive policies, but it’s potentially to your benefit. Hitting an animal, like a deer, while driving is covered by comprehensive insurance, despite the fact that it’s technically a collision.

If you’re interested in comprehensive insurance, 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.

What doesn’t comprehensive insurance cover?

Broadly speaking, comprehensive insurance doesn’t cover vehicle collisions. It won’t even cover you in the cases above if there is also a collision involved. For example, if you’re driving in bad weather and hit another vehicle, this won’t be covered by your comprehensive insurance plan.

Comprehensive coverage also doesn’t cover any sort of legal bills, lost income or medical bills associated with the covered damages above. This would have to come from your liability insurance.

While comprehensive coverage does protect you financially after a theft, it doesn’t cover the cost of anything else that was taken when your vehicle was broken into or stolen. Only the cost of the vehicle itself is covered by this part of your policy.

What is 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 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 doesn’t collision insurance 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 type of medical or legal bills associated with that collision. You will need liability coverage for this.

Comprehensive vs. collision insurance

Most people choose to add both comprehensive and collision insurance to their vehicles, and many lenders actually require it. 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 deductible amounts$0 to $1,500$500 to $1,500
Coverage maximumNo more than your vehicle’s valueDepends on your risk level
Is it mandatory?Almost always required by lendersUsually required by lenders
Good forHigh-value vehiclesPeople who live in high-risk areas

Collision and comprehensive insurance costs

Knowing your car’s value helps determine how much coverage you need.

Collision insurance is usually a lot more expensive than comprehensive insurance because it’s more likely to be used. In fact, it’s usually three times the cost of comprehensive coverage. However, if you live in an area that has more risks covered by comprehensive insurance, like tornadoes or floods, adding this type of coverage may be worth it in the long run.

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 like Kelley Blue Book. If your vehicle is worth only $1,500, having collision coverage with a $1,500 deductible clearly 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.

Comprehensive vs. collision insurance FAQ

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 insurance coverage may be a better idea. You may even be required to have comprehensive insurance if you lease or finance your vehicle.
Is comprehensive insurance full coverage?
Despite its name, comprehensive insurance is not the same thing as full insurance coverage. 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 insurance 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 and 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.

Bottom line: Is comprehensive or collision insurance right for me?

Minimum insurance requirements depend on your state’s laws.

If you’re required to have comprehensive and collision insurance as part of your contract with a lender, it’s important that you get this coverage immediately. Obviously, you can play around with deductible limits to find a price that works for you, but avoiding it is not a smart option.

If you have your vehicle paid off, consider what you’re willing to risk financially in case of an accident. Consider how important your vehicle is to your daily life and how difficult it would be to replace. If you can’t afford to lose it, you should definitely think about getting additional coverage.

Here are some things you should take into account when choosing the right level of coverage for you:

  • The value of your vehicle
  • Your budget
  • Your savings
  • Your risk tolerance
  • Environmental perils
  • Crime in your area
  • Traffic in your city

Most of the time, you’ll find that older, less expensive vehicles don’t need as much coverage because the cost of replacing them can be close to the amount you’d spend on insurance. However, if you have a pricier vehicle and a little less padding in your savings than you want, paying more for insurance can give you peace of mind while driving.

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Profile picture of Danni White
by Danni White ConsumerAffairs Research Team

As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Danni White is committed to providing valuable resources designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions. Danni specializes in content strategy and development, with over a decade of professional writing and research experience.