The key difference in collision vs. comprehensive coverage is that, to a certain extent, the element of the car driver's control. As we have stated before, collision insurance will typically cover events within a motorist's control, or when another vehicle collides with your car. Comprehensive coverage generally falls under "acts of God or nature," that are typically out of your control when driving. These can include such events as a spooked deer, a heavy hailstorm, or a carjacking.
For some, the best coverage is the cheapest car insurance policy that makes them able to legally drive on the road. For others, the best coverage is the type that covers the full cost of repairs on your vehicle when you file a claim. The only way to be certain you are fully protected is to purchase both comprehensive coverage and collision coverage. Each coverage has its own job to do.
Liability insurance coverage on a personal auto policy follows the driver no matter whose vehicle is being operated, provided it is an eligible vehicle. All states, except for one (New Hampshire), require at least liability coverage. Liability coverage protects the insured (i.e., follows the driver) when the insured operates a vehicle owned by someone else. In such a situation, they will still usually be covered under their own auto insurance policy. However, the best rule of thumb in looking for coverage under a policy is to begin with the exclusions.
When an insured allows other drivers to drive his vehicle, then, and only then, does the question of whether insurance follows the car or the vehicle become even awkwardly relevant. The right question to be asking is not whether insurance follows the car or the driver, but whether or not other drivers will be covered by the insured’s auto insurance.
In some cases, if a family member is visiting and has permission from the insured to drive the family vehicle, there will be coverage if there is an accident, but the coverage may be limited. All policies should be reviewed to determine if there are any excluded drivers and any limitations on coverage for anyone driving the car that is not specifically named on the policy.
When an insured borrows a vehicle from a friend, the insured’s liability coverage usually steps in only when the insured’s policy limits are exceeded. Collision and comprehensive coverage do not apply to a borrowed vehicle. Medical Payments (Med Pay) and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, as we will see below, also follow the insured into a borrowed vehicle.
Let's use the aftermath of a major storm to illustrate the differences between collision and comprehensive. Within that storm, let's consider two hypothetical events: First, a heavy telephone pole was blown down and fell on your truck, or second, you swerved to avoid a falling tree and wound up crashing into a guardrail. In the first event, you couldn't control when or why a tree fell on your car. This kind of accident would get reimbursed under your comprehensive policy. In the second situation, you were driving the car and ultimately swerved into the guardrail. This makes it a collision, and collision insurance pays for the damages.
Auto insurance premiums depend on the insured party's driving record. A record free of accidents or serious traffic violations typically results in a lower premium. Drivers with histories of accidents or serious traffic violations may pay higher premiums. Likewise, because mature drivers tend to have fewer accidents than less-experienced drivers, insurers typically charge more for drivers below age 25.
This coverage reimburses you for loss due to theft or damage caused by something other than a collision with another car or object. Comprehensive covers events such as fire, falling objects, missiles, explosion, earthquake, windstorm, hail, flood, vandalism, riot, or contact with animals such as birds or deer. It will also pay to repair your windshield if it is cracked or shattered.
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Let's use the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy as an example to illustrate the differences between collision and comprehensive. Within that storm, let's consider two events that might have happened: 1) a heavy tree branch fell on your car, or 2) you swerved to avoid a falling tree branch and wound up crashing into a tree. In the first event, you had no control over when or why a tree branch would fall on your car. This kind of accident would get reimbursed under your comprehensive policy. In the second situation, you were driving the car and ultimately swerved into the tree, which makes it a collision, and collision insurance therefore pays for the damages. Events like the hypothetical ones stated above are why it's important to differentiate between the two types of coverage.