Auto Insurance Basics

Collision vs. Comprehensive Car Insurance

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Collision and comprehensive insurance are two optional types of auto insurance where your insurer pays for repairs to your vehicle. While there are other optional auto insurance coverages, liability, comprehensive, and collision are three of the most common. These coverages work hand-in-hand to repair or replace most of the damages to your car. It's important to know the difference, and make sure you're adequately covered.

What is Comprehensive Insurance?

Comprehensive car insurance covers damages from an "act of God," or events that are not caused by a car driving into something else. An "act of God" can include things like damage from a heavy 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.

Types of Damages Covered Under Comprehensive Auto Insurance

Below are a couple examples of accidents and mishaps excluding fender-benders:

  • Natural disasters: storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, hailstorms.
  • Fire, civil commotions, explosions.
  • Vandalism and theft.
  • Damage from impacts with animals, such as a deer. Note: a crash from swerving to avoid animals will likely fall under collision.
  • Broken or shattered windows and windshield.
  • Falling objects.
  • A hit-and-run, if you can't use uninsured motorist coverage.
  • Acts of terrorism.

Policies typically use vague language when referring to acts of terrorism, but they are generally insured by the comprehensive portion of your policy. For example, if there is an act of terror and you need to make a claim on your car, that can only be made if you have comprehensive coverage. Since some circumstances are out of our control, comprehensive insurance is certainly important to have in your policy.

What is Collision Insurance?

Whether your vehicle is involved in a crash with another vehicle or rammed into a fixed structure, you can rely on collision insurance to offer you coverage. Most car crashes and auto accidents fall under this kind of insurance policy. The following list includes a few examples of crashes that would be covered by collision 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

While there are a couple of benefits of collision insurance, the main one is that you can file a claim and receive reimbursement regardless of who was at fault. Collision claims usually get processed faster than property damage claims because the insurance company does not have to spend time investigating who was at-fault. 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 your rental car in most cases, which can spare you from having to buy rental car insurance.

The Difference between Comprehensive and Collision Insurance

The key difference in collision vs. comprehensive coverage is that, to a certain extent, the element of the car driver's control. As we have stated before, collision insurance will typically cover events within a motorist's control, or when another vehicle collides with your car. Comprehensive coverage generally falls under "acts of God or nature," that 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 Superstorm Sandy 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 ultimately swerved into the tree, which makes it a collision, and collision insurance therefore 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, for the most part, we recommend that most drivers have both. Even if you have property damage liability, it isn't helpful in this scenario because it doesn't pay for your car's repairs. Get both coverages if:

  • You lease or finance your car
  • Your car is less than 10 years of age
  • Your car is worth more than $3,000

If you lease or finance your car, you may actually be required to have collision and comprehensive insurance. Your leasing agent will want to protect their investment, and to ensure there are sufficient funds to allow the vehicle to be repaired by the driver.

If your car is worth more than $3,000 and/or is less than 10 years old, we'd also suggest both collision and comprehensive coverage, too. Our estimates suggest drivers can buy comprehensive and collision insurance for an average of $600 to $700 per year (however, the cost may be higher for some cars), so you would spend $3,000 to $3,500 in premiums over five years. If your car is currently worth less than $3,000, you will have spent more on insurance than your car is worth. You can obtain the estimated value of your car from sites like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds. Once you have both the value and a quite for coverage, you can determine whether collision insurance will be worth it.

Collision claims are usually a bit higher than comprehensive ones, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), but both are above $1,000 on average. In 2015, about 6% of drivers with collision insurance filed a claim that was on average worth $3,350, while 2.73% filed a comprehensive claim that was worth $1,671.

Getting Just 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 does collision—including, most importantly, against theft. Regardless of the value of your car, having it stolen is a major inconvenience. 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 in buying yourself a new vehicle. As we discuss in more detail below, comprehensive insurance generally costs no more than $200 per year, so a $1,500 reimbursement would make the coverage valuable.

How Much Do Collision and Comprehensive Coverage Cost?

To calculate the added cost in purchasing comprehensive and/or collision coverage we looked at annual insurance quotes for a 30 year old male from New York across four different insurance companies, and the ten best-selling vehicles in the US. We look at the range of rates you could pay from basic liability to policy plans with comprehensive and collision coverage. Collision typically costs more than comprehensive, although some companies require you to carry both rather than just one. Comparing quotes across at least three companies can get you lower car insurance rates.

Car TypeBasic LiabilityWith ComprehensiveWith Comprehensive and CollisionYearly Rate Difference
Ford F-150$1,704$1,893$3,462$1,758
Chevrolet Silverado$1,986$2,170$4,866$2,880
Toyota Camry$1,986$2,171$4,110$2,124
Honda Accord$1,644$1,812$4,116$2,472
Ram 1500$1,716$1,904$3,990$2,274
Honda Civic$1,662$1,793$3,822$2,160
Nissan Altima$1,704$1,881$3,924$2,220
Toyota Corolla$1,800$1,953$3,828$2,028
Honda CR-V$1,596$1,742$3,264$1,668
Ford Escape$1,668$1,786$3,408$1,740

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