Collision vs. Comprehensive Car Insurance: What Is the Difference?

Collision vs. Comprehensive Car Insurance: What Is the Difference?

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Collision and comprehensive insurance are two types of auto insurance coverages. They are both legally optional and pay for the cost of damage to your car, but do so in different situations.

Collision coverage pays for damage to your car that occurs in a crash, while comprehensive coverage pays for damage due to (almost) everything else. They work hand in hand to repair or replace most types of damage to your car. However, they don't pay for damage to other vehicles, or for injuries. It's important to know the difference and make sure you're adequately covered.

What is comprehensive insurance?

Comprehensive car insurance pays for damages caused by something besides your car driving into something else.

These are sometimes referred to as "acts of God." For example, an "act of God" can include things like damage due to a tree branch falling on your car. Since you have no control over when or why a tree branch would fall on your car, this kind of accident would be covered under your comprehensive policy.

Comprehensive coverage also pays for theft. If your car is stolen, comprehensive covers the cost to replace your car or to repair any damage if it's recovered.

Types of damages covered under comprehensive auto insurance

  • Natural disasters, including storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and hailstorms
  • Fire, civil commotions and explosions
  • Vandalism and theft
  • Damage from impacts with animals, such as a deer
  • Broken or shattered windows or windshield
  • Falling objects
  • Acts of terrorism

Comprehensive insurance is usually subject to a deductible. This is the amount you have to pay before your coverage kicks in. For example, say you have a $500 deductible. If your car is damaged in a hailstorm and the damage costs $900 to repair, you would be responsible for $500 and your insurer would cover the remaining $400.

What are the benefits of comprehensive coverage?

The main benefit of comprehensive coverage is that it can provide peace of mind while you're away from your car. Carrying comprehensive coverage ensures that you'll be reimbursed if your car is severely damaged or stolen.

However, keep in mind that because of your deductible, comprehensive usually isn't beneficial for minor damage, like a cracked bumper or minor vandalism. For instance, if a vandal keys your car and the repair costs $600, your comprehensive policy with a $1,000 deductible won't pay for any of the repairs.

What is collision insurance?

Collision coverage pays for damage to your car that happens as a result of a crash.

This includes a collision with another vehicle or a single-vehicle crash, such as if you slide on ice into a tree.

Types of damage covered under collision auto insurance

  • You crash into another car, or another car crashes into you while you're parked.
  • You drive into a stationary object, such as a tree, streetlight or pole.
  • You crash into a ditch or a pothole.
  • Your car flips over.
  • A hit-and-run, if you can't use uninsured motorist coverage.

Like comprehensive insurance, collision coverage has a deductible: the amount you have to pay before your insurance will cover additional losses. You'll set this amount when you buy your policy. A higher deductible results in more affordable monthly premiums.

What are the benefits of collision insurance?

The main benefits of collision insurance are that you won't have to worry about high repair costs after an accident, if you would be unable to afford repair costs or if you simply value peace of mind.

Additionally, if you carry collision insurance, you can typically initiate the repair process very soon after a crash. If you're counting on the other driver's liability coverage to pay for the damage, you may need to wait for the insurance companies to determine who was at fault. If you file a collision claim and it's later determined that the other driver's liability coverage should pay, you'll generally be reimbursed automatically.

Another benefit is that you only deal with your own insurance company, rather than another insurer with less incentive to pay for your claim. Collision insurance can also be used toward a rental car in most cases, which can spare you from having to buy rental car insurance.

When should you drop comprehensive and collision insurance?

While there is no perfect formula or rule on when to drop comprehensive and collision insurance, you should generally drop them once the value of your car and its replacement parts approaches the cost of your premiums and deductible.

For example, if the annual cost of your comprehensive and collision insurance is $400 and your deductible is $600, you could save money by dropping them if your car is worth $1,000 or less.

What is the difference between collision vs. comprehensive?

The key difference between collision versus comprehensive coverage is the driver's control over the car accident.

  • Collision insurance typically covers events within a motorist's control, or when another vehicle collides with your car.
  • Comprehensive coverage generally falls under "acts of God or nature," which are typically out of your control when driving. These can include such events as a spooked deer, a heavy hailstorm or a carjacking.

Let's use the aftermath of a hurricane as an example to illustrate the differences between collision and comprehensive. Within that storm, let's consider two events that might have happened:

  1. A heavy tree branch fell on your car, or
  2. You swerved to avoid a falling tree branch and wound up crashing into a tree.

In the first event, you had no control over when or why a tree branch would fall on your car. This kind of accident would get reimbursed under your comprehensive policy. In the second situation, you were driving the car and swerved into the tree, which makes it a collision. Therefore, collision insurance pays for the damages.

Events like the hypothetical ones stated above are why it's important to differentiate between the two types of coverage.

Do you need collision and comprehensive insurance?

Collision and comprehensive insurance ensure you won't be on the hook for any costly car damage, so we generally recommend that most drivers have both.

If you have a lease or loan on your car, you may be required to have collision and comprehensive insurance. Your lender wants to protect their investment and ensure there are sufficient funds to allow the driver to repair the vehicle if it's damaged.

We also suggest you have both comprehensive and collision coverages if:

  • Your car is less than 10 years old.
  • Your car is worth more than $3,000.

However, as a car ages, collision and comprehensive coverages tend to offer less value to you. While the costs of comprehensive and collision shrink over time as your car decreases in value, the lower premium tends not to keep pace with the lowered possible payout if the car is completely destroyed, or totaled.

What if I only get comprehensive insurance?

There is a case to be made for getting just comprehensive and not collision insurance, even if your car is not valuable. Comprehensive covers you for a lot more perils than collision coverage does — including theft.

Regardless of what your car is worth, having it stolen is a major inconvenience, especially if you depend on it to get to work every day. Even if your car is worth only $2,000 at the time of the theft, and your insurer gives you $1,500, that sum would go a long way towards buying a new vehicle.

As we discuss in more detail below, comprehensive insurance is generally quoted at no more than $200 per year, so a $1,500 reimbursement would make the coverage valuable.

However, only 3% of drivers who have comprehensive insurance make a claim in a given year, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to add that coverage to your policy.

How much do collision and comprehensive coverage cost?

In our survey of 10 of the most popular vehicles in America, we found a typical price of $1,969 per year for collision coverage and $164 for comprehensive coverage for new vehicles.

In general, the cost of collision coverage is comparable to liability coverage, while comprehensive is about a tenth as expensive as liability protection.

See a full breakdown of the costs of comprehensive, collision and liability coverages for some of the most popular cars in the United States:

Comparing quotes across at least three companies can get you lower car insurance rates.

Cost of liability, collision and comprehensive coverages

Vehicle
Liability coverage
Collision coverage
Comprehensive coverage
Total cost of full coverage
Toyota Camry$1,986$1,939$185$4,110
Honda Accord$1,644$2,304$168$4,116
Honda Civic$1,662$2,029$131$3,822
Nissan Altima$1,704$2,043$177$3,924
Toyota Corolla$1,800$1,875$153$3,828
Honda CR-V$1,596$1,522$146$3,264
Ford Escape$1,668$1,622$118$3,408
Ford F-150$1,704$1,569$189$3,462
Chevrolet Silverado$1,986$2,696$184$4,866
Ram 1500$1,716$2,086$188$3,990

To find the typical added cost of comprehensive and collision coverages, we gathered quotes for liability-only, liability plus comprehensive and full-coverage policies for 10 of the bestselling vehicles in America for a 30-year-old male from New York across four different insurance companies.

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.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.