Auto Insurance: How Much Car Insurance Do You Need?
Make sure you can cover the costs of an accident.
An auto insurance policy can include several different kinds of coverage.
Your independent insurance agent will provide professional advice on the type and amount of car insurance coverage you should have to meet your individual needs and comply with the laws of your state.
If you are shopping for insurance, an important question to ask yourself is: How much car insurance do I need? To find the best deal, it is helpful to first break down your personal requirements before you comparison shop.
Read on for details on how to evaluate liability insurance, collision insurance, comprehensive insurance, and more. If you find that, by the end, you’re ready to reach out for an auto insurance quote.
What Does Car Insurance Cover?
The short answer is that car insurance helps you protect your assets, but what exactly that means can vary extensively from person to person.
Car insurance coverage is much more than just collision insurance. Liability coverage, for most drivers, is sometimes a more important consideration than whether or not insurance companies will repair or replace your damaged vehicle.
The major expenses likely to emerge from a severe car accident are often medical costs from accident-related injuries and lawsuits that include compensation for pain and suffering.
Those are just two of the standard types of coverage offered by most insurance companies. You should also do your homework on personal injury protection, medical payments, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and comprehensive coverage before shopping around for a policy.
Bodily Injury Liability Coverage
Bodily injury liability (BI or BIL) insurance coverage pays for injury caused to others, including legal, medical, and funeral costs. BIL covers the cost of expensive medical bills you may be liable for. This type of coverage is meant to protect you from paying out-of-pocket.
State requirements for mandatory minimum coverage are seldom adequate enough to cover the costs of a serious accident. All bodily injury liability coverage has a limit, and in most states, a driver can be sued for any medical costs beyond a policy’s maximum coverage. So even a generous buffer of $100,000 of BIL coverage per accident might not be enough.
Beyond your state’s minimum requirements, how much bodily injury coverage you choose is ultimately up to you. If you opt for a lower dollar amount, make sure you have the ability to cover costs that may exceed that amount.
Personal Injury Protection And Medical Payments
Personal injury protection (PIP) covers medical costs for you and your passengers and compensates you for lost wages. Some PIP plans offer wage replacement due to hospitalization or injury for up to a year. Insurance policies vary in terms of the details, but PIP insurance also covers some day-to-day costs, such as compensation for childcare if a primary caregiver is hospitalized for more than 24 hours.
What insurance will cover varies from state to state and accident to accident. As a general rule, if you have health insurance and disability insurance through your employer, you can probably get away with a minimum PIP plan.
Medical payments (MedPay) is similar to PIP but covers medical expenses alone – and typically only up to $5,000. It is a useful add-on for covering the cost of relatively minor injuries. MedPay is a smart auto insurance coverage option for consumers who have high-deductible personal health insurance.
However, not all health insurance plans cover injuries from car accidents, so it is a good idea to check with your employer’s human resources office or directly with your health insurance provider before deciding how much PIP and MedPay coverage you need.
It is also possible, depending on your health insurance provider, that medical insurance coverage will be denied until PIP and MedPay limits have been reached.
Collision insurance pays for the repair or replacement of your own vehicle in the case of an accident with another vehicle or a fixed object.
The decision to repair or replace a wrecked vehicle depends on the insurance company’s calculation of fair market value. This is important to keep in mind, because market value does not take into account how much you paid for your vehicle or how much you may still owe on a lease or lien.
The average loan amount for car purchases in 2019 approached $33,000. If you have a lease or lien on your vehicle, then you might want to consider gap insurance, which covers the difference between the fair market value and what you still owe for the car.
Older cars may or may not need collision insurance. On the other hand, if you don’t have the money on hand to replace a totaled vehicle, then it might be a good idea to get collision insurance even if your car isn’t worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Property Damage Liability Coverage
Property damage liability (PD or PDL) covers the cost of damages you cause to others’ property, including vehicles. PDL pays to repair or replace wrecked cars, front yard fences, and more.
Property damage is unlikely to cost as much as a serious injury. Medical bills can climb higher than a brand new, fully optioned Rolls Royce Phantom in a particularly bad accident.
Higher coverage amounts mean higher premiums, but there is likely a reasonable ceiling consumers can expect in terms of maximum property damage. We recommend careful consideration when balancing whether higher premiums are worth higher coverage amounts.
Keep in mind that the average property damage liability claim in 2018 was less than $4,000.
As with all types of coverage, we recommend purchasing more than the minimum state requirement for peace of mind.
Comprehensive is a type of insurance that covers the cost of damage to your car or truck outside of collisions with fixed objects or vehicles. That includes things like deer accidents, theft, floods, and vandalism.
Comprehensive insurance combined with collision insurance is what is typically referred to as full coverage and is required by many banks for leased and financed vehicles.
Although comprehensive coverage is a relatively cheap insurance option, it is possible that if you have an older car, the fair market value of your car is less than the combined premiums and deductible of comprehensive insurance. Like collision insurance, comprehensive is optional unless required by a lender.
Uninsured And Underinsured Motorist Coverage
If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, this car insurance coverage takes care of your expenses. Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) covers both property damage and medical costs, and underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) pays for medical costs beyond an at-fault driver’s insurance limits.
While technically you could sue for medical costs, a person who drives uninsured or underinsured likely has limited assets and may be unable to pay even if court-ordered to do so. UM and UIM help you avoid lawsuits and protect your assets.
Umbrella insurance policies are generally available from your auto insurance provider once you’ve reached a minimum threshold of liability coverage – about $500,000 in bodily injury liability, for example.
An umbrella policy will cover you for virtually all liability arising from an auto accident. These policies are generally very cost effective, as they are sold in $1 million increments. The first million dollars cost between $150 and $300 per year, with every subsequent million costing half as much as the previous.
If you can’t get an umbrella policy through your current auto insurance company, you can ask an independent agent to find you a standalone umbrella policy.
Minimum State Requirements For Auto Insurance
State requirements for auto insurance coverage are all different and depend on a number of factors. While something is better than nothing, the required bodily injury liability coverage in most states is less than you probably need.
State requirements for BIL range between $20,000 per accident in Florida to $100,000 in Alaska and Maine. Virginia and New Hampshire are the only states that do not require auto insurance, although drivers are liable for all property damage and medical bills in accidents they cause and sometimes have to pay a fee for not having insurance.
Do You Need More Than The Minimum?
We don’t recommend purchasing only the minimum required state insurance. It would not take long to burn through most state minimum requirements in the case of a serious collision. For example, ankle fractures – a common injury in frontal collisions – can cost over $11,000 including a hospital stay.
Once your maximum limits are met by your insurance company, you become liable for every dollar over. For example, if you are responsible for a collision that results in the total loss of a 2018 Lexus GS – a car with a market value of about $40,000 – and you are a Florida driver with minimum coverage of $10,000 property damage liability, then you would be personally responsible for paying the $30,000 difference between the value of the car and the amount your insurance company would cover.
If you are unable to pay $30,000 on the spot, you might be required to take out a loan or a second mortgage. In a worst-case scenario, you could be looking at a bankruptcy, having the DMV suspend your license until you are able to pay, or repossession of your assets to cover your financial liability. A life-changing hassle can be avoided by being adequately insured.
So, How Much Auto Insurance Do I Need?
Let’s review the top things to think about when deciding on your desired level of car insurance coverage.
The first question to ask when considering how much insurance to purchase is: How robust is your private health insurance? Not all private health insurance plans cover car accidents, and if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan or a plan that exempts car accidents, then you should get a higher amount of PIP insurance.
Serious injuries that require surgery and rehabilitation can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a few years. Above all, you should ensure that your medical costs will be covered, so you receive the best care without worrying about medical bankruptcy or other limitations.
Our recommendation is that your liability insurance should equal or exceed your net worth. Insurance is primarily an asset protection product. While collision and comprehensive coverage – or other perks like rental car reimbursement – are nice, insurance is for protection, not convenience.
We recommend that if you spend money on roadside assistance or windshield replacement, you only add on these options after maximizing standard coverages.
Cash Flow Considerations
If you have minimal assets, car accidents can bring unexpected expenses. Do you have cash on hand to pay a high deductible? If not, then you should consider a low- or no-deductible insurance policy or windshield replacement add-on so you can avoid unexpected costs.
The same can be said about collision and comprehensive coverage. If your car is paid for, but you don’t have the cash or budget flexibility to buy a replacement right away, opt for full coverage.
Finally, you should consider add-ons, such as breakdown insurance, roadside assistance, and rental car reimbursement.
Particularly for single parents or others whose schedules are tightly packed, a small thing like paying extra up front to ensure you have transportation in the case of a damaged vehicle could more than pay for itself in convenience.
Other Types Of Insurance Coverage
The auto industry is robust and serves nearly every need imaginable. Non-standard coverage is available for classic cars through providers like Hagerty Insurance.
These companies negotiate the value of your vehicle with you, rather than relying on their own assessment of fair market value.
The same principle applies with Progressive’s custom parts and equipment coverage, which adds additional value to your vehicle for custom electronics installation, custom paint, aftermarket wheels and tires, and more.
Roadside assistance is a standard add-on for most insurance providers. If you are a car fanatic and want to take care of your prized possession, some companies like Heacock Classic offer impressive attention to detail, as its roadside assistance guarantees flat-bed towing.