What Is Comprehensive Insurance, and What Does It Cover?

No state requires you to purchase comprehensive coverage, but lenders and car leases might. Here's when you need it.

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Key takeaways

  • Comprehensive insurance pays for damage to your car from hail, flooding, fire and other causes that don’t involve collisions with other vehicles.

  • Though it isn’t mandated by state law, your lender may require you to have comprehensive coverage.

  • Comprehensive car insurance may not be worth buying for older vehicles that aren’t worth much.

Comprehensive insurance is like bad luck coverage for your car. It pays for damage to your vehicle from just about anything except a traffic collision or rollover. That includes an array of random events outside of your control, from a chipped windshield or hail dent to explosions or damage from riots.

While comprehensive coverage is optional as far as your insurer and state government are concerned, lenders typically require it if you finance or lease a car. Here’s a little more about what comprehensive car insurance will pay for, plus a quick way to calculate if the coverage is worth what it costs.

What does comprehensive insurance cover?

Comprehensive insurance covers damage to your vehicle from any of the following causes:

  • Hail, floods or lightning from thunderstorms, hurricanes or tornadoes.

  • Falling objects, such as tree limbs.

  • Fire or explosions.

  • Hitting an animal.

  • Theft.

  • Earthquakes.

  • Vandalism or civil disobedience, such as a riot.

In many states, comprehensive auto insurance also pays to repair glass damage to your windshield.

What’s not covered by comprehensive car insurance:

  • Damage or injuries you cause to others. Liability insurance, which is required in every state except Virginia and New Hampshire, covers those events.

  • Your injuries. Comprehensive insurance pays only for damage to your vehicle. Your injuries may be covered by the other driver's insurance (if they're at fault) or by your health insurance (if you're at fault).

  • Damage to your car from a collision. If the accident was your fault, this would be covered by collision insurance, as long as you have it on your policy. For accidents in which the other driver is at fault, their insurance would typically pay for damage to your vehicle.

Comprehensive insurance will pay out only up to the total value of your car, minus your deductible — so the older and less valuable your car is, the less benefit you’ll get from the coverage.

How your comprehensive deductible works

In most cases, comprehensive insurance is subject to a deductible, or a predetermined amount subtracted from a claim check — typically $500 to $1,500.

Say your car was hit by a severe hailstorm, causing $1,500 worth of damage to the roof and hood. If you had a deductible of $500 and filed a comprehensive claim, your insurer would pay out $1,000 to repair the damage (the total repair cost minus your deductible). If the vehicle was destroyed by the hail, your insurer would subtract $500 from your car’s value before the storm and send you a payment for that amount.

Once the repair cost exceeds the value, or even gets close to it in some cases, the insurer declares a car totaled. You could still opt to fix your car, in which case your insurer would subtract its salvage value from your payout. The car would also be recorded as salvaged on the title. Some auto insurance companies won’t cover salvage title cars or will charge more to do so.

Raising your deductible can lower the cost of comprehensive insurance, as long as you’re sure you can come up with that amount out of pocket in an emergency.

Is comprehensive insurance full coverage?

Comprehensive insurance is one of several types of coverage that together are often referred to as full coverage insurance. Also included in full coverage insurance are liability and collision insurance, plus uninsured motorist coverage in some states.

Nerdy tip: Your state’s minimum required coverage doesn’t include comprehensive insurance and costs less than half of what full coverage does, on average. But it generally pays out only for injuries to other people or damage to their cars — and won’t cover your own expenses.

How much does comprehensive coverage cost?

Though you can’t buy it alone for a car you want to drive, the average annual cost of comprehensive coverage in the U.S. was about $168 in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. This figure includes discounts and may account for group policies that are typically cheaper than a policy you’d buy online.

In many cases, you can’t buy comprehensive insurance without collision coverage, or vice versa. This can be because your auto lender requires both, or your insurer requires one to purchase the other.

See info on both types of coverage in our comprehensive versus collision insurance explainer.

Nerdy tip: Not sure how much your comprehensive coverage is costing you? Check the declarations page of your auto policy or your insurer’s web portal for an itemized list of how much you’re paying for each type of coverage.

Do you need comprehensive insurance?

Comprehensive coverage becomes less valuable as your car depreciates, since it will never pay out more than the vehicle’s value minus your deductible. So if you don’t have a financing contract that requires it, at some point you may decide to forgo comprehensive insurance.

To figure out when to drop comprehensive coverage, first consider the actual cash value of your car and your deductible. If you have a $1,500 comprehensive deductible on a vehicle worth $1,500, you’re paying for insurance that won’t pay out when you need it.

Then, consider how much you’re paying for the coverage. If your premium for the policy period and deductible add up to more than your car is worth, comprehensive coverage won’t benefit you.

Here’s the math:

  1. Subtract your comprehensive deductible from your car’s value. (If you could easily pay this amount out of pocket in a jam, you could cut the coverage, knowing you’d have to pay for your own car’s damage.)

  2. Take that amount and subtract the cost of your comprehensive coverage for the policy period, usually six months.

If you see:

  • A negative number, you’re paying more for comprehensive coverage than it’s worth.

  • A small but positive number, comprehensive coverage can still benefit you, but a potential claim check would be small. Since it’s unlikely you’ll file a claim in a short time, it might be worth the extra pocket money to bet on your own good luck.

  • A large and positive number, or an amount you wouldn’t be able to come up with in an emergency, keeping comprehensive coverage makes sense.

Even if you decide comprehensive insurance is worth it for now, revisit this math as your car ages and you get new car insurance quotes.

The bottom line: Is comprehensive insurance worth it?

Not everyone has a choice about whether to get comprehensive coverage. If you’re leasing or financing your car, it’s likely required. But if you do have the option to drop the coverage, consider the value of your car as well as these pros and cons:

Pros

Cons

Covers a variety of unexpected events.

Costs more than minimum required coverage.

Could save you a lot of money on repair or replacement costs if your car is newer and has a high value.

Isn't worth the price if your car is older and has little value.

Frequently asked questions

If you don’t have a loan or lease on your car, comprehensive insurance likely isn’t required. And if the vehicle isn’t worth much, it may not make financial sense to keep the coverage. Compare the value of your car to your comprehensive deductible plus the amount you pay for the coverage. If there’s not much difference, you’re paying for coverage you don’t need.

Yes, comprehensive coverage will pay to replace your car if it’s stolen. You'll be paid the value of the vehicle at the time of the theft, minus your deductible.

Some types of car insurance, such as liability and uninsured motorist coverage, require you to choose a coverage limit, but comprehensive insurance automatically covers you up to the value of your vehicle minus your deductible. That means all you need to decide is whether you need comprehensive insurance at all and how high your deductible should be.

You typically can’t buy comprehensive coverage by itself. Each state has its own minimum car insurance requirements, so you’ll need to purchase those types of coverage along with comprehensive coverage. Some companies may also require that you purchase collision coverage along with comprehensive.

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