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Motorcycle insurance: What you need to know

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Motorcycle insurance

Ride a motorcycle? Better make sure all your insurance coverage is in place, and get multiple quotes to ensure you get the best motorcycle insurance.

"Best" doesn't just mean cheapest. The minimum required coverage may leave you with stacks of bills if you have to lay your bike down.

Yet motorcycle insurance can be less expensive than car insurance, and you are entitled to most of the same discounts.

What insurance is needed to cover motorcycle injuries?

Liability insurance pays for the damage you do to others. Comprehensive and collision pay to repair or replace your ride. Unless you buy some kind of specific medical coverage (either personal injury protection or medical payments), if you are at fault in an accident your own treatment costs are either paid by your health insurance or out of your own pocket.

Your own health insurance, if you have it, is likely to cover hospitalization costs, but not all policies do. Ask. It may have a deductible -- in some cases, as much as $5,000 to $10,000.

Click here to get motorcycle insurance quotes in your area.

Even if you have health insurance, it won't cover injuries to your passenger.

If another driver is to blame, it's crucial to understand the importance of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, says Alex Hladkevych, motorcycle product director at Liberty Mutual. "If the driver responsible for a crash does not have adequate coverage," he says, "you could be stuck with a big hospital bill."

The average treatment cost for a rider with traumatic brain injury was about $48,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

How much is motorcycle insurance?

Motorcycle insurance can be anywhere from $71 to $297 a year depending on multiple factors like where you live and what type of coverage you get. Motorcycle insurance can be cheaper to insure than car insurance, but it depends a lot on where you live and the cost and performance level of the motorcycle you want to insure. Here's a couple of examples to give you a clearer picture of how state and coverage affect rates. Also, how motorcycle rates compare to car insurance rates.

Pricing out coverage on a used Honda Shadow Spirit 750, a 24-year-old rider in Jacksonville, Florida, looking for state minimum liability levels would pay about $71 a year, according to quotes provided by Insurance.com. The same driver would pay about $830 a year for basic liability coverage on a 1998 Honda Civic.

Upgrading to a newer bike that's financed, a 2013 Honda CBR250R, requires collision and comprehensive coverage; that would bring the annual bill for the 24-year-old to $297. The same level of coverage on a financed 2007 Mazda3 would be $1,558.

In California, those numbers look a lot different: $209 a year to insure the paid-off motorcycle, but $1,940 for full coverage on the new bike. Insuring the paid-off Civic would cost the driver $768 a year, and the financed Mazda is actually cheaper than the new motorcycle at $1,544 a year.

You typically pay more to insure a sport bike or high-performance bike than a cruiser.

Many motorcycle policies include some level of accessories coverage -- $3,000 is typical -- and roadside assistance.

Recommended motorcycle insurance coverage

Like auto insurance, motorcycle insurance requirements vary from state to state. Insurance.com Managing Editor Des Toups and experts at Liberty Mutual Insurance and Progressive Insurance recommend:

  • Bodily injury and property damage liability, which covers you if you're at fault for an accident that injures another person or damages someone's property. This is mandatory in most states.

  • Guest passenger liability, which covers anyone riding pillion. “Not all liability policies automatically cover your passenger,” Toups says. “You may have to buy additional coverage, depending on your state laws and your insurance company. Ask.

  • Comprehensive and collision coverage, which pays to repair or replace your motorcycle if it's stolen or damaged in an accident or stolen. This is optional unless your lender requires it.

  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which covers you when the person at fault for an accident doesn't have insurance or doesn't have enough insurance. Some states require it; others don’t.

  • Medical payments, which covers the cost of medical care you require as the result of a motorcycle accident. It can be used regardless of who is at fault. (States with “no fault” laws requiring automobile owners to buy personal injury protection typically exempt motorcycles, making this coverage even more important.) It can also be used to pay the deductible on your health insurance.

What kinds of motorcycle insurance discounts are offered?

Most discounts that are available to automobile drivers are available to those insuring a motorcycle. A few are specific to bikes, though. Ask your insurance company about:

Safety course discount: Almost all insurers will give you a discount of at least 5 percent for completing an approved safety course, usually within the previous three years.

Riding association or affinity discount: Usually 10 percent, for members of approved ridership groups such as the American Motorcycle Association, BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, Gold Wing Touring or Road Riders Association, Harley Owners Group, Honda Riders Club of America, Motorcycle Safety Foundation or Motorcycle Touring Association.

Good rider or safe rider discount: Depending on the carrier, three to five years without a claim or major violation wins you preferred status.

Layup discount: Bikes stored for the winter typically can get reduced rates.

Anti-theft discount: Motorcycles equipped with a GPS-driven locating device get as much as 20 percent off comprehensive coverage. Some carriers will waive your deductible.

Antilock brake and airbag discounts: While these features are not common, they are becoming more so. Nationwide and Farmers offer discounts for antilock brakes; Farmers has one for airbags as well.

Helmet discounts: Not a discount, exactly, but you can save money by wearing one. For example, Farmers Insurance offers additional medical payments coverage for riders who use a DOT-approved helmet. The state of Florida requires that riders who go without a helmet carry at least $10,000 worth of medical payments coverage.

Can I get a multi-policy discount? How about a home and auto bundle?

If you insure more than one vehicle or have multiple types of policies with the same company, there is almost always a discount. It may be a:

Multi-bike discount: For those with more than one insured motorcycle with the same carrier.

Multi-policy discount: If you have a car insurance policy and a motorcycle policy with the same company. (Multi-car policies typically require two automobiles rather than a bike and a car.)

Bundling discount: A home and auto bundle isn't the only way to get a discount. A motorcycle insured with the same company that insures your home typically will get you a discount on both. Bundling works with renters insurance, too.

Most other forms of automotive discounts apply to your motorcycle coverage as well. You can get discounts for early renewal, payment in full and even a transfer discount for switching companies.

Bear in mind that while discounts can add up, the total amount is almost always capped at no more than 40 percent of your premium. That means it always makes sense to shop around and start with the cheapest rates you can.

Do I need to insure a scooter?

Yes, in most states, if the engine has a displacement of 50 cc or more. (See "Do scooters need insurance?")