Comprehensive car insurance can help in many troubling situations, including flood damage due to hurricanes, vehicle fires tied to recalled auto parts and even if a car is tipped over by pranksters or during a riot.
So, with hurricane season starting June 1, vehicle recalls being issued at a rapid clip lately and recent reports of tiny Smart cars getting flipped on the streets of San Francisco, it's a good time to look at how comprehensive coverage fits into your auto insurance policy.
Comprehensive is optional, so it's not included in the liability protection you buy. Simply put, comprehensive covers damages to your vehicle that are separate from a crash, which is mostly covered by the collision portion of your insurance.
Here are eight things that comprehensive covers, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), that you may not be familiar with:
Your vehicle is protected from damage caused by earthquakes, both big and small, and from flooding, a growing danger for many states in the approaching hurricane season, which begins June 1 Comprehensive can also help with havoc from tornadoes and even volcanic eruptions.
Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com, notes that you have to think ahead when buying the protection. "If you don't have comprehensive and collision coverage, you need to get it before hurricane or flood warnings are given for your area," she says. "Insurance companies can't add new coverage or write a new insurance policy when a storm warning has been issued."
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says that a vehicle fire breaks out every 96 seconds in the U.S. Most are from accidents, but non-crash fires can start because of electrical problems or faulty fuel systems. Recalls by Tesla and General Motors have made headlines in recent weeks, and the III points out that "nearly every major car company has recalled one of its vehicles due to a fire-related defect."
Comprehensive protects you if your car is damaged from a defective or recalled part. And a new study from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows the claim frequency for vehicles with fire-related defects -- prior to a recall -- is 23 percent higher than for other vehicles.
Rodents can be a nuisance, especially if they manage to sneak into your car. You're probably covered if, say, a squirrel manages to get inside and chew at the car's wiring system or do any other mischief requiring repairs. The III recommends taking a look at your policy or talking to an agent to make sure your insurer includes rodents in its comprehensive coverage.
Sure, it's unlikely your car will be struck by something from the way beyond, but it could happen. If so, you're protected. And the III points out that the coverage extends to other falling objects, "including hail, trees and the neighbor's kid's baseball."
Hail damage occurs more often that you might think. The HLDI says comprehensive hail-related claims more than doubled in 2011 compared with the previous three years, and about 250,000 cars are damaged by hail every year. The institute adds that the average claim is about $3,100.
But keep in mind that if the damage falls below that figure, it may be smart to pass on filing a claim because the typical comprehensive deductible is between $500 and $1,500.
If the owners of the Smart cars recently tipped over in San Francisco have comprehensive car insurance, they can file a claim for any damage to their vehicles. Comprehensive also ensures that your vehicle would be repaired if it's damaged by boisterous sports fans during a victory party -- any damage from a riot is covered.
"Unfortunately, every now and then a victory celebration or peaceful protest can get out of hand and morph into a full blown riot," says the III. "If your car were to get caught in the middle, any damage resulting from the incident - from being flipped, or from such things as explosions, fire and smoke - would be covered. The same goes for acts of vandalism."
State Farm, in an analysis of its own insurance claims and accident statistics gathered from the Federal Highway Administration, predicts that motorists face a one in 174 chance of crashing into a deer this year. That compares to the one in 167 odds the year before. And the average property-damage cost of such incidents is about $3,400, compared to about $3,300 for the previous year.
The III adds that about 1.22 million deer-vehicle collision occurred in the U.S. between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013. "But deer aren't the only animals that can damage your car," says the III. "Bears have a habit of breaking into cars around national parks, looking for food that visitors leave behind. Your trail-mix supply might be a goner, but with comprehensive, you won't have to 'bear' the damage alone."
Comprehensive protects you if your car is stolen. The III notes that vehicle theft resulted in more than $4.3 billion in losses in 2012, with the average loss reaching $6,019.
Anyone who's watched a small ding on the windshield caused by a rock or other road debris turn into a major crack knows what a hassle this can be. But comprehensive covers any damage to the windshield that occurs while driving.
"In many states it is illegal to drive with a cracked or broken windshield," says the III. "Not only is such damage covered by your comprehensive policy, many companies offer the option of no-deductible coverage for glass damage specifically."
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