How to Estimate Your Car Insurance

The amount of car insurance you need depends on a number of factors, which include: your state's minimum insurance requirements, the likelihood of your car being damaged in your regular driving area, your age, driving history, the car you're insuring, and whether you own, finance, or lease that car.

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Your car insurance needs might change if you experience a life event, such as a move, or if you finish paying off a financed vehicle. You should regularly review your auto insurance coverage to determine if you need to increase your policy or if you're paying for unnecessary coverage.

How Much Auto Insurance Do I Need?

When determining how much car insurance you need, the first factor to consider is your state's minimum required coverage. Minimum coverage requirements vary by state, but most jurisdictions require:

  • $20,000–$25,000 of bodily injury liability insurance per person
  • $40,000–$50,000 of bodily injury liability insurance per accident
  • $10,000–$20,000 of property damage liability insurance

Some states also require drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage or personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, although this is not the norm. We recommend beginning your baseline estimate at your state's minimum required insurance, then consider adding higher coverage amounts—and possibly additional coverage types—to ensure you have adequate protection.

What Optional Coverages Should I Add?

When estimating how much protection you need, consider the potential costs of an accident, which additional types of coverage you need, and the total dollar amount necessary to cover all of your financial assets.

Liability Limits

While the minimum coverage your state requires will help to protect you legally, it may stipulate policy limits that are too low to adequately protect all of your assets. In the event of a serious accident, you could be held financially responsible for any expenses in excess of the minimal coverage you have. For example, drivers in Pennsylvania are required to only carry $5,000 of property damage liability insurance. If you're at fault for an accident, in which you total another driver's car that’s worth $20,000, you'd have to pay the $15,000 difference out of pocket. You should consider increasing your policy limits to above the minimum, to a level as high as you can reasonably afford, and until you're carrying a level of risk with which you're comfortable.

What is the Average Cost of an Accident?

Average medical expenses from an accident amount to approximately $15,000, and average car repairs cost around $3,000. However, the total costs associated with a fatal accident, including liability claims, can amount to millions of dollars. Putting an exact dollar amount on the cost of a critical accident is challenging, since there are so many variables to consider—including initial medical costs, repair costs, loss of wages, ongoing medical needs, depreciation of property, and the diminished ability to work. Your liability insurance probably won't cover the highest potential cost of an accident. That's why you should consider an umbrella policy that would protect your at-risk assets if you incur accident expenses that exceed your auto insurance policy's limits.

For example, suppose your auto liability insurance covers you up to $300,000 of damage, and your total personal assets exceed $1 million. That level of liability coverage will protect you from most accidents. However, your assets make you a target for a lawsuit from a victim seeking a higher amount, since you have a greater ability to pay a liability claim than a typical person. And you stand to lose a lot if a court decides you're responsible for more damage than your insurance policy covers. An umbrella policy that covers up to $2 million in coverage, for all perils, would provide significantly greater financial protection and reduce the likelihood that you lose your assets.

Other Types of Coverage

Bodily injury and property liability insurance cover any damage you do to other people and their property—and umbrella coverage can offer further protection. However, these insurance types won't cover your own expenses after an accident. Aside from increasing your liability insurance limits, you can also purchase other types of auto insurance coverage, which can provide valuable protection that wouldn't normally be included as part of your state's minimum requirements.

  • Collision insurance: covers the damage you do to your own vehicle in an accident. Comprehensive insurance: covers damage to your car from non-collision events, such as flooding, hail or theft.
  • Medical payments insurance: covers medical expenses that are a direct result of an accident, such as surgery and hospitalization costs.
  • Personal injury protection (PIP): covers the same expenses as medical payments insurance, in addition to ongoing medical costs such as physical or occupational therapy and rehabilitation and even lost wages while you're recovering.

What Assets Are at Risk From an Accident Lawsuit?

Typically, you'll want to carry enough insurance to at least cover the total value of your at-risk assets. Different laws about what can be seized in a lawsuit are enforced on a state-by-state basis, but most personal assets are at risk if you're found to be at fault for an accident and don't have adequate insurance. However, some retirement savings may be protected from lawsuits. Under the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA), traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs are protected up to $1 million, and this amount is adjusted every three years for inflation. SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs and most rollover IRAs are fully protected from creditors in a bankruptcy, up to any amount. Additionally, money stored in a company-sponsored 401(k) account is exempt, and in some states, such as Florida, home equity is protected.

Assets at Risk in a LawsuitAssets That May Be Protected from a Lawsuit
Vehicles titled in your name401(k)s
Business assets that you personally ownAnnuities
Non-dwelling real estateHome equity
Future wagesSocial Security benefits
Money that you have in your bank accounts
Personal items

The more you own, the more you stand to lose, and—unless you've adequately protected your assets—you might have to file for bankruptcy. Tally the total worth of your at-risk assets and use that number as a starting point when evaluating how much optional liability insurance to add.

How Much Will My Car Insurance Cost

Your car insurance premiums will vary based on a number of factors, including:

  • Your age: Typically, insurance companies will consider your driving experience more than your age when determining rates. However, young age often comes with inexperience. If you or another person being added to the policy is a teenager, especially a teenage boy, don't be surprised if your rates increase.
  • Driving history: A history of accidents or traffic violations will cause your rates to increase, since you pose a heightened claim risk to the insurer. Conversely, if you have an excellent driving history, you might enjoy a discount in your rates compared with other drivers of your age and in your location.
  • Marital status and number of dependents: Married couples tend to get in fewer accidents, which can slightly lower their rates, unless one of the drivers added to the policy has a poor driving history. On the other hand, having dependents means you have more people to insure.
  • The year, make, model of your car: Generally, the more expensive your car is, the more it'll cost to insure.
  • The amount of mileage you plan to put on the car: The more you drive your car, the higher your premiums will be, since increased driving time translates to increased opportunity for an accident.
  • The types and limits of the coverage you choose: Additional policies and higher limits will increase your premiums in exchange for broader protection.
  • The size of your deductibles: Higher deductibles will lower your monthly premiums, but that means you'll have to pay more out of pocket before your policy kicks in.
  • Your city and state: The city and state you live in will have a large influence on your insurance rates. Rural areas tend to have a much lower risk of minor accidents, vandalism or theft than urban areas, so city drivers should expect higher rates. Additionally, some states—such as California and West Virginia—tend to have higher car insurance rates on average.
  • Your credit history: If you have a poor credit history, insurance companies might consider you less likely to keep up with your monthly premiums, and less responsible overall, so they may increase the premiums you pay.

A standard liability insurance policy—including both bodily and property coverage—will usually cost between $900 and $1400 a year, depending on the policy's limits. However, additional coverages will come with their own monthly premium, which, of course, also adds valuable protection that might justify their costs. So, if your car is worth $10,000, and you don't have comprehensive or collision insurance, you would likely need to pay the full cost of a replacement vehicle if yours is declared a total loss. In that case, comprehensive and collision policies would cover you for the car's Actual Cash Value, less the deductible. If your car is less than a year old, it's ACV will likely be substantially lower than its replacement value. In this case, gap insurance will cover the vehicle's replacement cost, above and beyond what a standard comprehensive or collision policy would provide.

If you want additional coverage, but want to keep premiums low, you can elect to pay a higher deductible plan, which typically results in a lower monthly payment. Don't forget, though, that the higher your deductible, the more you'll have to pay before your insurance policy reimburses you for any expense.

Am I Paying for Coverage I Don't Need?

Having more insurance than you need is usually preferable to having less than you need, and we always recommend having at least enough to cover all of your personal assets. However, certain types of coverage might not be necessary, depending on the car you own. For example, gap insurance is usually unnecessary for drivers whose cars are over a year old, since the replacement cost of those vehicles is much lower than it was when the car was newer. Likewise, if your car is worth less than $3,000, your collision and comprehensive premiums—plus their deductibles—will often exceed the coverage they would provide if something eventually happens to your car. You should review your coverage on an annual basis to see if your coverage needs have changed.

Mark is a Senior Research Analyst for ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry, primarily auto insurance. He previously worked in financial risk management at State Street Corporation.

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