'Acts of God': Are you protected against natural disasters?

By Mark Chalon Smith on November 16th, 2011

"Acts of God" may sound portentous, but it's really just a car insurance term for natural events we can't control that damage our rides.

Insurers also refer to acts of God as "acts of nature" because they usually arrive when disaster strikes. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, hail and brutal snowstorms are some of the more common acts of God.

Are you protected?

Your car insurance policy generally will cover damages related to these events if you buy optional comprehensive coverage, but some insurers exclude certain acts of God from coverage in high-risk areas. You'll need to read your policy's fine print or talk to an agent to make sure your insurance will cover you.

This is especially important if you live in a hurricane-prone region like Florida and the Eastern Seaboard, an earthquake-prone state like California, or any of the areas prone to tornadoes or flooding. Insurers may charge more for comprehensive in these regions to reflect the increased risk they've taken on. However, unlike with home insurance, you shouldn't have to pay extra for an add-on to protect you against a specific act of God.

Examples of acts of God include:

  • A hurricane tears through your seafront neighborhood, uprooting trees that dent your car's hood or smash the windshield.
  • A deer runs into your path and you don't have time to swerve, resulting in damage to the car's front end.
  • An earthquake levels a nearby building, tossing debris on your car, that causes dents and chipping.
  • A severe hail storm leaves your vehicle's exterior pitted and the windshield cracked.

Is comprehensive insurance worth buying?

If your car is fairly new or valuable, opting for comprehensive coverage may be essential if you want it fully restored. But if the vehicle is older and worth less than $1,000, you may want to pass on the extra cost to your car insurance rates, says Michael Barry, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

He adds that comprehensive insurance is usually sold with a $100 to $300 deductible, which reduces the premium for the added coverage. Barry notes that about 77 percent of insured drivers buy comprehensive, according to the most recent data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

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