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The worst months for comprehensive claims

By Mark Vallet Posted : 06/26/2014

Hail damageWhen severe weather strikes, your car takes a beating.

Falling branches, golf ball-sized hail and rising floodwaters are just a few dangers your ride might encounter. In the path of a tornado, your vehicle could end up several neighborhoods over, wrapped around a tree.

While comprehensive car insurance coverage - if you bought it -- protects against most non-collision calamities such as theft, vandalism, deer strikes and fire, most of the claims filed against it are weather-related. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), 67 percent of all comprehensive claims are the result of severe weather.

And it's claims season.

Progressive Insurance recently examined its 2013 claims data and says roughly 30 percent of all wind and flood claims occurred in just two months: June and July. The worst months for each type of claim were:

  • Flood: June, July, September
  • Wind: June, May, July
  • Hail: May, March, April

Poor Texas managed to hit the trifecta in 2013, claiming the top spot for most wind and hail claims and ranking second worst for flood claims.

The top 10 states for flood claims, according to Progressive:

  1. Florida
  2. Texas
  3. Colorado
  4. Louisiana
  5. Illinois
  6. Ohio
  7. New Jersey
  8. New York
  9. Georgia
  10. Pennsylvania

Progressive's top 10 states for wind claims:

  1. Texas
  2. Ohio
  3. Florida
  4. Georgia
  5. Michigan
  6. Minnesota
  7. California
  8. Illinois
  9. Indiana
  10. New York

And the 10 worst states for hail claims in 2013, according to Progressive:

  1. Texas
  2. Georgia
  3. Mississippi
  4. Louisiana
  5. Minnesota
  6. Kansas
  7. Oklahoma
  8. South Dakota
  9. Indiana
  10. Nebraska

Drivers of newer cars typically carry comprehensive, but those with older vehicles face a dilemma on whether to drop comprehensive. To see what drivers in your area, with cars your age, are buying, see "What insurance drivers like you buy."

Are you in the hail belt?

The damage done by summer storms can be expensive.

HLDI data puts the average hail claim in 2010 at $3,389 and says they seem to be happening more often. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that hail damage claims have risen 84 percent since 2010.

While Progressive didn't release claim amounts, a spokesperson said, "Roughly 56 percent of the hail claims we receive are due to hail the size of a golf ball or bigger. In some instances, as large as a grapefruit."

In many cases this type of hail can result in the vehicle being totaled.

Unlike collision damage, which often renders a vehicle undrivable, hail damage is usually cosmetic. This often leads to a dilemma: Get the car fixed, or embrace the dings and buy yourself a new video game system. While most insurers are happy to let you cash the check and forget the repairs, they will note the damage on your account.

According to Penny Gusner, consumer analyst with Insure.com, "Even an inquiry about coverage for hail damage will be noted on your account. If you decide not to make a claim, it will be recorded so that if you have hail damage again and do claim it your insurer will deduct for the previous damage."

When it rains, it pours

Wind damage and flooding often go hand in hand and both can be deadly to your vehicle. According to CarFax, Hurricane Ivan in 2004 left more than 100,000 cars submerged in floodwaters.

Floodwater can wreak havoc with the engine, electrical systems and often leads to mold or mildew. Floodwater tends to be corrosive and can work itself into the smallest crevices of your car. Severely flooded vehicles are usually totaled, but many of them end up back on the road in the hands of unsuspecting buyers.

The only good news with severe weather damage is that in most cases, a comprehensive claim will not raise your premiums.

"Some states don't allow insurers to surcharge for comprehensive claims," says Gusner. "However, if you make multiple claims, even if they are all comprehensive, the amount of claims you made can raise your rates," she warns.

Unfortunately, in some cases, your rates could go up even if you don't file a claim.

"Policy rates for an area strongly affected by a storm could see an increase due to the frequency of claims. In this case, even those who don't file claims may see their rate increase depending on how catastrophe-prone the location is," says a Progressive spokesperson.

Filing a claim

If your car ends up as a whipping boy for a local tornado, you should file a claim quickly, advises Billy Wagner, with Brightway Insurance in Florida.

"File as soon as possible," he says. "In many cases there will be numerous people in your area with the same problem. You don't want to be at the end of the claims line and have to wait until an adjuster gets to your case."

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, be sure to secure your vehicle, and prevent any further damage.

Gusner explains, "If hail breaks your window and you don't cover it, rain could get into the vehicle and ruin upholstery and electronics. Your insurer is going to say you didn't take reasonable care to protect your car from this secondary damage and may not cover it."

Good documentation may help speed up the claims process. Mark Carrasquillo, an insurance broker with E.G. Bowman Co. in New York City, advises clients to secure an estimate of repairs and provide photos of the damage to expedite the loss. "These storms often cause extensive damage throughout a large area and company adjusters may settle minor claims sight unseen if they have a reasonable estimate and photos in hand," says Carrasquillo.

Progressive offers the following tips if you find yourself in the path of severe weather.

  • Move your vehicle to higher ground and indoors if possible. Park your car away from trees and other items that may fall on to your vehicle.
  • If possible, cover your vehicle with a tarp and seal windows with tape.
  • Avoid streets that are submerged in water, as it may be deeper than it looks.
  • Abandon a stalled vehicle immediately.
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