Do I Need Special Auto Insurance Coverage If I Modify My Car?

Do I Need Special Auto Insurance Coverage If I Modify My Car?

According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, consumers spent a whopping $50.9 billion in 2021 on automotive specialty equipment parts and accessories. If you're one of those people adding features or modifying your car, you most likely need special auto insurance coverage.

Whether it's a custom paint job or a major modification like a supercharger, customizing your car can have automobile insurance consequences.

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Modifications a standard policy will and won't cover

The terms modification and customization are often interchangeably used in the car industry and basically mean the same thing. These are changes or additions not made at the factory — including aftermarket parts — and they are typically excluded from standard insurance policies.

Some insurers regard an automobile as "customized/modified" when the chassis, body and/or frame are structurally modified, the car's performance is considerably augmented or the value of a custom paint job exceeds several thousands of dollars.

"An auto insurance company generally does not provide any coverage for enhancements to an automobile. The exception is tires and rims — for which you’ll need to furnish receipts, and even then only a portion of their value will typically be reimbursed in a loss settlement," says Christopher Paradiso, owner of Connecticut-based Paradiso Insurance. Paradiso adds that vehicle value is typically based on the factory-installed components of the vehicle.

The coverage you need for customizations

Although a standard policy won't reimburse the value of a customization if you need to file a loss claim, you may have two options:

  • Supplemental coverage: Many insurers offer endorsements that provide supplemental coverage for modifications and aftermarket components. For example, Esurance offers optional customized parts and equipment coverage that will pay up to $4,000 if those parts or equipment are damaged or need to be replaced. Depending on the insurer, the premium for this extra coverage can equate to approximately 10% of the value of the modifications.
  • Classic/collectible car insurance: Some insurance companies specialize in policies for exotic, antique or modified cars. This includes companies like Hagerty, J.C. Taylor, Condon Skelly, Grundy and American National. The coverage limits may be higher with this option than for supplemental coverage.

Insurance considerations before modifying your car

Before tricking out your ride — or even making a minor modification — consider the following.

  • Read your existing policy thoroughly to understand coverage exclusions and exceptions.
  • Consult with your insurer. "Let your agent know if you plan to make changes to your vehicle at any time before or during the policy term," says Kristofer Kirchen, president of Tampa, Florida-based Advanced Insurance Managers, LLC.
  • Ask for clarifications in writing. To ensure that your modifications are properly covered, ask your agent to clarify any confusing policy language and request that confirmation in a written letter, email or document. Your insurer is obligated to honor whatever its agent promises you in writing.
  • Don't hide a customization from your insurer. "If your car is worth more after being modified, and you’re involved in an accident and the car isn't insured for the right amount, you’ll only be paid for the car based on its original amount, as the losses weren't originally priced in the policy," says Loretta Worters, a vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. Even worse, your insurer may cancel/void your policy and deny the claim because you didn't disclose the customizations, which can be considered a "material misrepresentation" for which they can legally drop you as a customer. That would leave you on the hook for paying for losses out of your own pocket.
  • Ponder cost and risk factors carefully. Even if your insurer covers you, it may result in a higher annual increase in your premiums.

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Common customizations

Examples of popular modifications that drivers make to their vehicles, and which usually require supplemental or separate insurance, include:

  • Custom paint job, murals, graphics or decals
  • Electronic equipment like a custom stereo, PC, TV or video system
  • Custom tires, wheels or spinners
  • Custom spoilers, louvers, scoops or grilles
  • Speed enhancements like turbochargers, blowers and strokers
  • Anti-roll/anti-sway bars or winches
  • Added chrome
  • Accent/auxiliary lights
  • Suspension enhancers or hydraulics

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