If you're shopping for auto insurance, now is a good time to understand the choices available. You don't want to learn later that you didn't buy the right car insurance when you need to make a claim. Here are the most common types of car insurance. 

1. Liability car insuranceLiability insurance pays for damage and injuries you cause to others. It's required in all states except New Hampshire. But even New Hampshire, drivers are wise to buy liability insurance in case they cause an accident.

2. Collision insurance: Pays for repairs to fix damage to your own car if you crash into something, like a sign post.

3. Comprehensive insuranceCovers damage to your own car due to fire, flood, hail, vandalism, falling objects like tree branches, and crashes with animals like a deer. It also covers car theft if your vehicle is stolen and not recovered.

4. Uninsured motorist coverageThis type pays for injuries to you and your passengers if you're hit by someone who does not have liability insurance. Even though liability insurance is required almost everywhere, plenty of people drive around without it. The Insurance Research Council estimates that about 13% of drivers nationwide are uninsured. In Florida about 27% of drivers are uninsured. Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is required in some states. 

5. Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Similar to UM coverage, this helps pay for injuries to you and your passengers if you're hit by someone who has some liability but not enough for the medical bills. It's often packaged with UM coverage and you may see it written as UM/UIM.

6. Personal injury protection: Pays for medical bills for you and/or your passengers no matter who caused the car accident. This can include bills for an ambulance, hospitalization, surgery, dental work, funeral costs and more. Personal injury protection (called PIP) can also cover lost wages if you can't work and expenses to hire services for tasks you can't do, like house cleaning.

7. Medical payments coverage: This is similar to PIP in that it pays for car accident medical bills no matter who was at fault. But it doesn't cover lost wages or expenses for services to replace tasks you can't do.

8. Roadside assistance: Flat tire? Locked out of your car? Ran out of gas? Roadside assistance insurance pays for professional help to come rescue you.

Summary: Types of car insurance coverage

What it covers Liability Collision & Comprehensive Uninsured/underinsured motorist PIP or MedPay
Property damage you cause to others
     
Injuries you cause to others
     
Damage to your own car  
   
Your injuries from an uninsured driver    
Your injuries no matter who was at fault      

Types of car insurance FAQ

What is "full coverage"?

Full coverage car insurance generally means that you have liability, collision and comprehensive insurance.

What is no-fault insurance?

Some states use a no-fault insurance system, which means you'll make a claim on your own insurance if you have minor injuries from a car accident. You can sue an at-fault driver if you have more severe injuries, and those are defined by the states. For example, some states let you sue the other driver if you have a permanent injury or permanent disfigurement.

What car insurance does my state require?

Each state decides the different types of auto insurance that car owners must buy in order to legally drive. These are typically combinations of liability, uninsured motorist coverage and PIP. No states require collision or comprehensive insurance, although if you have a car loan or lease the lender or leasor likely requires both.

Each state also decides its own penalties for driving without insurance.