Hearing the term "comprehensive car insurance" probably makes your eyelids droop or your wallet cringe, but it's a term you don't want to write off. Knowing what's covered by comprehensive coverage (versus collision coverage) will help you determine what car insurance policy is right for you.

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Comprehensive vs. Collision Coverage

Comprehensive car coverage does not, as the name might suggest, cover you in any circumstance. Comprehensive insurance is also known as other than collision coverage, since it covers—you guessed it—vehicle damage not caused by a collision. This includes damage from:

  • Fire
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Flooding
  • Earthquakes
  • Falling objects
  • Animals
  • Riots

In a nutshell, comprehensive coverage applies to perils that are outside your control as a driver, like a falling tree branch, a deer jumping in front of your vehicle, a hail storm, or an instance of vandalism.

Collision coverage, on the other hand, covers damages caused in an accident with another vehicle or with a stationary object. It's important to know the distinction between what's considered a collision and what's considered a comprehensive event on your policy because your carrier treats these instances differently.

Comprehensive coverage claims are usually non-surchargeable events, and should not impact your future insurance premiums. Collision events, on the other hand, could be surchargeable, depending on the percentage of fault you have in the accident.

Do I Need Comprehensive Coverage?

Some insurance companies require drivers to have both comprehensive and collision coverage, while other carriers allow drivers to opt for only comprehensive coverage.  In order to have collision coverage on your vehicle, you will normally be required to have comprehensive coverage as well.

If there is a loan or lease contract on your vehicle, comprehensive coverage is typically required.  This requirement protects the lender or leasing company when a vehicle needs expensive repairs that the insured might not otherwise be able to afford.

If you own your vehicle, you can decide whether or not to purchase comprehensive insurance. To weigh the costs and benefits, determine the value of your car and see whether or not you would be able to pay for damages or replacement if something happened. These expenses can be especially high if you own a newer model vehicle, so be sure that you can afford to go without coverage before deciding against it.

Opting out might save you on your car insurance premium, but if you don’t have the financial means to pay out of pocket, comprehensive (and perhaps collision) coverage is a good investment.

As always, consult with your insurance company representative or trusted insurance agent to get guidance on which coverage makes the most sense for you.

Other Comprehensive Insurance Considerations

Some insurance companies offer a separate glass deductible option since broken windshields can be a recurring problem for people who frequently travel on highways.  If this issue applies to you and your insurance carrier offers a separate glass deductible, opt for a lower glass deductible to avoid paying out-of-pocket for windshield repair or replacement.

Another common choice for car or motorcycle owners who use their vehicles seasonally is opting for comprehensive-only coverage while their vehicle is parked or garaged during the off-season.  This is normally only available for clients who do not have a loan or lease agreement on their vehicle. When a vehicle is parked and/or garaged for long periods of time (like during the winter or when college students head back to school), clients can reduce their insurance premiums considerably by leaving only comprehensive coverage, since any damage that occurs while the vehicle is garaged would most likely be considered a comprehensive event.