Many of us don’t think about our auto policy until our premium increases. However, sufficient coverage is vital for protecting your finances if you’re involved in an accident. Almost every state requires a minimum level of liability coverage to drive legally. If you fail to meet these requirements, you could face fines, suspensions and in extreme cases, even time in jail. Whether you’re buying your first policy, filing a claim or shopping for new insurance, you might wonder, “What does car insurance cover?” Bankrate’s insurance editorial team has broken down what you need to know about car insurance to empower you as a well-informed policyholder.

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How does car insurance work?

When you buy an auto insurance policy, you select different coverage options to financially protect yourself and your car. Based on the coverage you select, your insurance company will pay up to a certain limit per coverage type or cover certain types of damage. Car insurance can protect you if you are injured, the other person if they are injured or if you cause property damage to your own car or someone else’s.

Some coverage types have a deductible, while others do not. A deductible is how much you pay out of pocket for a covered claim. Essentially, the deductible amount reduces the payout amount the insurance company pays. You can increase or decrease your deductible amount depending on your needs and financial situation.

Additionally, you can raise your coverage limits to reduce your financial risk in the event of an accident. Having higher limits could offer substantially more financial protection and may not require significantly higher car insurance costs.

Minimum liability coverage

Minimum liability coverage is the least amount of coverage you can buy as legally required by your state. Each state has its own minimum coverage requirements, but almost all of them require a certain amount of liability insurance. Depending on the state, you can decline certain coverage types, even when offered.

Bodily injury liability

Bodily injury liability pays for the other driver and their passengers’ injuries if you cause an accident. This coverage helps pay for their medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering from the accident. Most states require a minimum amount of bodily injury liability. There is no deductible to use this coverage, but there is a coverage limit. If you exceed your coverage limit, you’re responsible for the additional costs.

Property damage liability

If you cause an accident and damage someone’s property, property damage liability would pay for it. Property damage is most often caused to someone’s vehicle, but could also be a fence, mailbox, utility pole, guard rail or building. Just like bodily injury liability, this coverage is usually required and has a coverage limit, but does not have a deductible.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage

Though not required in all states, uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage protects you if someone hits you and does not have any insurance or enough coverage to pay for your injuries and, in some cases, property damage. This coverage is often used when you are a victim of a hit-and-run, when another driver is at fault and leaves the scene without providing insurance information. Uninsured motorist coverage may have the same limits as your liability coverage, but they can also differ depending on the amounts you choose and what is available in your state.

Personal injury protection

Personal injury protection (PIP) is required by some states, though some allow you to waive coverage. PIP insurance pays up to your coverage limits if you or your passengers are injured in an accident, regardless of fault. It also covers you as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle. If you include PIP coverage on your car insurance, it may cover:

  • Medical costs
  • Lost wages
  • Funeral expenses
  • Childcare
  • Household services

Childcare and household services are only covered if needed while you are recovering from your injuries. The amount you can buy varies by state, and there is no deductible to use this coverage.

Medical payments

Medical payments coverage pays for medical expenses you incur if you are injured in an accident, regardless of fault. If you select this coverage, it follows you when you are walking, riding a bike, on public transportation, driving your own car or someone else’s or if you are a passenger. Like PIP, there is no deductible to pay for coverage but you have a coverage limit. Medical payments coverage is available in states where PIP is not offered.

Full coverage car insurance

With minimum liability coverage, you miss out on physical damage coverage for your own car. If you want the insurance company to pay for repairs to your car in a covered claim, consider full coverage car insurance. If your vehicle is financed or leased, you will likely be required to carry full coverage. The national average cost of full coverage car insurance is $1,771 per year. However, your rate may differ based on your driving history, location, coverage types, and selected deductibles.

Collision

Collision insurance pays for the damage to your car caused by hitting another vehicle or object, regardless of fault. A deductible will apply to this coverage and is based on the deductible you select for the policy.

Comprehensive

Comprehensive insurance, also called other-than-collision coverage, pays for the damage to your car not covered by collision. This includes:

  • Broken windows or windshields
  • Hitting an animal
  • Theft of the car
  • Vandalism
  • Weather events

Like collision, the deductible you choose for comprehensive coverage applies when you file a comprehensive claim.

Other types of coverage

Most insurance companies offer add-on coverage types to round out your policy’s coverage. While options vary by state, other types of coverage could include:

  • Gap insurance: This coverage is for new vehicles that are financed or leased. If your car is totaled in an accident or stolen and unrecoverable, gap insurance will pay the difference between your totaled car’s worth and what you owe.
  • New car replacement: If your car is only a few years old and you have full coverage, you may qualify for this coverage. With new car replacement, if your car is totaled, you get the value to replace your car with the same year, make and model, instead of the depreciated value.
  • Roadside assistance: This coverage pays for service to assist you if your car breaks down. Coverage varies but usually includes towing, key lockout, bringing fuel, battery jump start and tire changes.
  • Rental car coverage: If your vehicle is under repair due to a covered claim, your insurance can help pay for a rental car.

Who is covered by my car insurance policy?

The people listed as insured drivers on your auto insurance policy are covered to drive your car. If someone not listed on your policy has permission to temporarily drive your car, they are also usually covered. This is called permissive use. For example, if you let your neighbor drive your car and they get into an accident, your insurance policy will likely cover the damages as if you were the driver of the vehicle. Keep in mind that if they get into an accident, it falls under your insurance policy and can affect your insurance premiums. Also, insurance companies have different criteria for what is considered permissive use, so before you hand over your keys, check with your company to ensure the driver is covered.

What does car insurance not cover?

What does car insurance cover and exclude? To find out, check your auto insurance policy for details regarding what is and is not covered in your policy. There are a few things that are not covered by car insurance with many insurance companies:

  • Damage beyond coverage limits: When you purchase car insurance, you choose coverage limits. The policy declarations page will outline your limits, which is the maximum amount your auto insurance company must pay in a covered claim. You handle the rest of the expenses out of pocket, so most insurance experts recommend buying as much coverage as you need to be financially protected.
  • Specialty vehicles: High value, exotic, performance or vintage vehicles may not be eligible for coverage or properly covered under a standard auto insurance policy. Some companies offer specialty insurance policies tailored to meet the needs of these types of vehicles.
  • Maintenance and repairs: Car insurance does not cover your vehicle’s maintenance and normal wear and tear. You are responsible for keeping your car running, including regular maintenance the manufacturer recommends. Some insurance companies may offer mechanical breakdown insurance, which could provide some coverage.
  • Rideshare: If you rideshare, there is likely a gap in coverage where you are not covered when not actively completing a ride. You should check to see what coverage the rideshare company provides and if you consider what personal rideshare insurance you could purchase to offer more financial protection.
  • Racing: If you damage your car while racing, your auto insurance will not cover the damages. This includes racing on the street or highway with another driver or participating in a race on a race track.
  • Delivery: If you use your car for delivery purposes, like delivering pizzas, your car insurance will likely not cover any damages that occur while driving for hire. Driving for hire is any driving you do with your personal vehicle that earns you money. Some insurance companies offer delivery coverage on your personal policy, or a commercial policy, for these purposes.

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