If you’re hitting the streets to do some holiday shopping, be prepared for car trouble — and not just the annoyance of jockeying for prime parking spots. Whether you’re leaving your car in a garage, on the street or in a mall parking lot, you risk being dinged by a careless driver or having your purchases stolen before you can get them home.
Despite the popularity of online shopping, more than half of holiday shoppers will venture out to discount stores, department stores and other physical locations to buy gifts, according to the National Retail Federation.
Here’s how to deal with two of this month’s most common insurance issues.
Protecting your car
With icy roads and crowded lots, hit-and-run damage is common this time of year. This type of accident is typically covered by collision insurance, if you have it. It might also be covered by uninsured motorist property damage insurance, an optional coverage that’s not available in all states.
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Even if you have the proper coverage, you might not want to file a claim for minor damage — you might not get much compensation after the insurance company subtracts your deductible.
But if the damage is significant, you’ll probably want to file. If you have the option, make an uninsured motorist claim rather than a collision claim. This lets your insurance company know that the accident wasn’t your fault. And it’s a really good idea to call police so you have documentation of the incident, says Kristen Shifflett, an insurance agent in Richmond, Virginia. Use the non-emergency number and handle the paperwork with the police yourself, if necessary.
Break-in damage is often covered by comprehensive coverage, which isn’t required by state laws, but is generally part of full-coverage auto insurance. As usual, let your deductible amount help you decide whether to file a claim. For example, if you have a $500 deductible and your repair costs only $300, you should pay for it out of pocket.
Protecting your purchases
Theft is another threat you’ll face when battling at the malls.
You might think that tossing your purchases in the trunk for storage keeps them safe, but experts caution that this may not be a good choice for two reasons:
- Technology is helping crooks. Tools called “scanner boxes” can override keyless entry systems, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Once the thief is inside your car, he or she can pop the trunk, take your gifts and go.
- Someone may be watching. According to Consumer Reports, criminals keep an eye out for shoppers who stash purchases in their cars. That guy smoking a cigarette outside the mall entrance might be taking note as you place half a dozen bags in your trunk.
You can reduce your theft risk by putting your items in the trunk and then moving your car to a different parking spot. A thief who sees you leaving the space will start looking for a new potential victim. And always make sure your doors are locked.
If you have items stolen from your car, there are a few ways you might be reimbursed:
- Use “purchase protection” through your credit card. This feature, which is available on some credit cards, replaces certain lost or stolen items purchased with the card. Benefits vary, but most policies won’t cover consumables, cash or jewelry, or items lost due to theft that you enabled — for example, by leaving your car unlocked. And you can’t wait too long to file a claim. Card issuers typically require you to do so within 30 days.
- File a renters or homeowners insurance claim. Auto insurance won’t cover items stolen from your car unless they’re permanently affixed to the vehicle, such as an in-dashboard radio. But if a crook takes your Christmas gifts from your car, your renters insurance or homeowners insurance policy could cover it, minus the deductible. Remember that if you file a claim, your premium might increase when it’s time to renew.
If you do file a claim to replace stolen items, you’ll almost always need to provide receipts. To make sure the proof isn’t stolen along with your merchandise, Garrett Parkinson, an independent insurance agent in Woodland Hills, California, recommends storing receipts in your pocket or purse, rather than leaving them in the bags.
If you do lose a receipt, you might be able to get a duplicate from the store or show your credit card statement as proof. And if a store offers a choice of a printed or e-mailed receipt? Ask for both. “You can never over-document,” Parkinson says.
Holiday shopping can already be fraught with long lines, crowds and worries about whether your gift budget will stretch far enough. Don’t leave your car vulnerable and increase your stress. Before you head out, familiarize yourself with the protection your auto insurance, credit card, or home or renters insurance will provide. Being prepared might not take away the frustration of vehicle damage or burglary, but at least you’ll know what to do.
Donna Freedman is a contributing writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
Image via iStock.