Car Insurance Basics: An Explanation of Comprehensive and Collision Coverage

By Ryan Hurlbert on December 22nd, 2009

Auto Insurance

A few minutes into your car insurance quote your agent asks, "Do you want comp and collision, or just liability?"

You may wonder, "What is comp and collision? What does it cover? Do I need it?"

While often grouped together in the coverage discussion, collision and comprehensive coverage are very different and deserve a closer look.

What Is Collision Coverage?

Collision coverage pays for damage to your car caused by vehicle upset or collision. Vehicle upset is most easily described as an accident that involves the wheels of your vehicle leaving the pavement. This usually means your vehicle has rolled on its side, roof, or end-over-end.

On the other hand, collision describes almost any impact with your car and may include:

  • Hitting another vehicle or a stationary object
  • Scraping the side of your car on the garage
  • Backing into a light pole in a parking lost

What is Comprehensive Coverage?

Comprehensive coverage is nearly any damage to your car other than collision. Flood, wind, theft, vandalism, collision with an animal, and debris cracking the windshield are all examples of damage that would be paid for by comprehensive coverage.

Applying Collision and Comprehensive Coverage

So what happens if you swerve to avoid a deer in the road and land in a ditch? The accident was caused by an animal, so it must be a comprehensive claim, right?

Not so fast. The deer in the road may have contributed to the accident, but the animal did not cause any direct damage to your vehicle. In this case, the damage to the car would be paid under your collision coverage. However, if the damage was directly caused by an animal, your comprehensive coverage would pay for it.

Collision and comprehensive coverage may also be applied differently in other scenarios. For example, if you drove through an area with frequent rock slides and your car was damaged by a rock you might be covered under collision or comprehensive.

In most cases the coverage will be determined by the action or inaction of the rock. A rock that is in motion, such as one rolling off a hill, is considered to be "on the fly." In such a case, the damage is usually covered by comprehensive coverage. However, a rock that has stopped moving before impact is a "stationary object" and the damage claim would be filed against your collision coverage.

Why It Matters

Collision claims are generally chargeable. This means that your auto insurance company can add a premium surcharge after you file a collision claim. Comprehensive claims are usually not chargeable, so your premium is unaffected. Having the wrong or no coverage can leave you unprotected.

You may feel comfortable enough with your driving skills to save money by eliminating collision coverage. After all, you may never collide with anything. But there are many things outside of your control that can damage your car. Comprehensive coverage protects you against most of those losses. In most states, you cannot purchase collision coverage without also purchasing comprehensive coverage. However, you can usually purchase comprehensive coverage without collision.

Compare a variety of quotes on auto coverage customized to fit your specific needs, and get more protection out of your insurance dollars.


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