If you’re unsure about where to start as you begin to compare car insurance quotes, you’ll find our recommendations for coverage levels below.
While every state has different laws and every driver has different needs, the purpose of car insurance remains the same: to prevent financial disaster after an accident.
No policy will cover everything (see “What is full coverage?”) or make you financially whole in every case. But any car insurance policy you buy should protect the assets you own, shield you from crippling medical bills if you lack health insurance, and pay for the damage you do to other people and property.
Another good starting point is the car insurance calculator below, which allows you to see the liability and collision coverage choices made by drivers in your state with a profile similar to yours.
Liability insurance stands between you and a lawsuit when you are at fault in an accident.
No house and little or no savings? We recommend you purchase at least $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident bodily injury coverage and at least $25,000 for property damage (usually expressed as 25/50/25). Some states require less -- but less will rarely cover all the bills. California, for example, requires just $5,000 for property damage liability, and most cars are worth more than that. You’re responsible for anything left over.
A house, a car, some savings? Leased your car? The more liability insurance you buy, the cheaper it gets. You’ll find that moving up to 50/100/50 for bodily injury and property damage coverage costs only a few dollars more a month. If you lease a car, you’ll be required to carry to even higher levels, usually 100/300/50.
Teen drivers, a house, investments? Buy the highest limits available from your carrier, usually 250/500/100. Consider an umbrella liability policy on top of that if your net worth exceeds the highest available liability limits.
Collision and comprehensive pay to repair or replace your car after an at-fault accident, theft, fire or other covered peril, minus your deductible.
If you have a loan or lease on the vehicle, your lender or leasing company will require you to buy collision and comprehensive.
If you own the car outright, the decision to drop comprehensive and collision is yours alone.
More than 90 percent of owners keep comp and collision on cars less than eight years old; that drops to less than 50 percent at 12 years old. We recommend you drop comp and collision when you would no longer make a major mechanical repair such as a new engine or transmission, getting rid of the car instead, but there are many different rules of thumb. (See “When should I drop collision coverage?”)
Deductibles can range from $0 to $2,500, but most drivers choose $500, an amount we recommend. A higher deductible may save you money, but it should never exceed an amount you can pay easily. Your car won’t be repaired until you’ve kicked in your share.
You typically cannot buy collision coverage without also buying comprehensive. You may be able to buy comprehensive coverage by itself – a good idea if you live in a theft- or disaster-prone area and drive an older car.
Gap insurance pays off your loan if your car is totaled and you owe more than it is worth.
You can buy gap insurance (or loan-lease payoff coverage) through your lender. It’s also available through stand-alone gap providers and through many insurance companies. It is typically cheapest through your insurance company, though not all offer it. Expect to pay 5 to 6 percent of your premium for comprehensive and collision; if your comp and collision cost $1,000 a year, expect gap insurance to cost about $50 to $60.
You must buy comprehensive and collision coverage to also buy gap insurance. The car must be a total loss, and you must pay your deductible before gap insurance will pay the difference on the loan.
Once your car is worth more than you owe on it, gap insurance is pointless. We recommend you buy gap insurance if you have a loan longer than 48 months or made a down payment of less than 20 percent.
Uninsured motorist bodily injury – it’s usually called simply uninsured motorist – pays your medical expenses if you are injured by an uninsured driver. Even if you have health insurance that might pay for your hospital bills, uninsured motorist would pay the bills for your passengers who aren’t covered by health insurance. It also can cover lost wages and pain and suffering.
Uninsured motorist property damage pays for repairing damage to your car if you are hit by an uninsured motorist. If you also carry collision, it will pay your deductible. If you don’t have collision, it will pay some predetermined amount toward your repairs -- it can vary by state, from as much as $25,000 to as little as $3,500 – and sometimes has a deductible attached. It does not cover hit-and-run accident damage.
Some states require one or both of these coverages. (See “Which states require uninsured motorist?”)
Typically your uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage limits cannot be greater than the amount of liability insurance you have.
We recommend that you buy uninsured motorist bodily injury – and strongly recommend it if you are not covered by health insurance otherwise. Select limits that match your liability coverage.
We recommend you buy uninsured motorist property damage if you do not have collision coverage.
Personal injury protection and medical payments pay for the costs of treating injuries that you, authorized drivers or your passengers suffer in a car accident when you are at fault.
Personal injury protection is required in the 12 “no-fault” states where each driver’s insurance coverage pays for his own injuries no matter who is to blame for the accident. Delaware and Oregon also require it.
Medical payments coverage is mandatory only in Maine and for insured drivers in New Hampshire, where insurance coverage is not compulsory.
If personal injury protection or medical payments is optional in your state and you have health insurance already, we recommend that you buy enough to cover your deductible. If you do not have health insurance, we strongly recommend you buy at least $10,000 in personal injury protection or $5,000 in medical payments coverage.
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