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.
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Comprehensive and collision auto insurance coverage, on the other hand, are tied to the insured vehicle (they follow the car). These coverages pay for damage that befalls the insured vehicle as a result of an accident or vandalism. One could say that if you loan your vehicle, you loan your insurance. With comprehensive insurance which covers almost everything, it is the car rather than the driver that is covered. This, however, requires many stipulations to be put in place, such as who is allowed to drive the car. If someone other than the insured is driving a vehicle covered by comprehensive coverage and is not listed as a covered driver – even if the other person has permission – the other person might not be covered in an accident. Family members (such as children or a spouse) are generally already included in the policy definition of “insured.” However, rarely will insurance cover a driver operating a vehicle without the owner’s permission.
Underinsured motorist coverage reimburses you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if one of you is hit by an uninsured driver or a driver who doesn’t have sufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. This coverage also offers protection in the event a covered driver is the victim of a hit-and-run or if, as a pedestrian, you are struck by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
Insurance terms, definitions and explanations are intended for informational purposes only and do not in any way replace or modify the definitions and information contained in individual insurance contracts, policies or declaration pages, which are controlling. Such terms and availability may vary by state and exclusions may apply. Discounts may not be applied to all policy coverages.
There is a case to be made for getting just comprehensive and not collision insurance, even if your car is not valuable. Comprehensive covers you for a lot more perils than does collision--including, most importantly, against theft. Regardless of the value of your car, having it stolen is a major inconvenience. Even if your car is worth only $2,000 at the time of the theft, and your insurer gives you $1,500, that sum would go a long way in buying yourself a new vehicle. As we discuss in more detail below, comprehensive insurance generally costs no more than $200 per year, so a $1,500 reimbursement would make the coverage valuable.
While there are a couple of benefits of collision insurance, the main one is that you can file a claim and receive reimbursement regardless of who was at fault. Collision claims usually get processed faster than property damage claims because the insurance company does not have to spend time investigating who was at-fault. Another benefit is that you only deal with your own insurance company, rather than another insurer with less incentive to pay for your claim. Collision insurance can also be used toward your rental car in most cases, which can spare you from having to buy rental car insurance.