What Is Comprehensive Auto Insurance?

I imagine the person who decided colonel was pronounced kernel also came up with the term “comprehensive auto insurance.”

Because it isn’t comprehensive at all. 

Instead, comprehensive insurance only covers “incidents” that happen to your car outside of the context of a road accident: things like theft, vandalism, weather damage, bear attacks, and more. “Incident coverage” would’ve been a better name. 

So, what does comprehensive insurance cover? What doesn’t it cover? How much does it cost, and how often do you even use it?

Erika Taught Me

  • Comprehensive insurance costs about $134 per year and might be worth it if you park under a tree, live in a flood zone, or have other risk factors.
  • The best way to save on comprehensive insurance is to get multiple quotes from several major providers.
  • You can bring a competitor’s quote to your existing provider and ask them to match it.

. . .

What Is Comprehensive Insurance? 

Comprehensive insurance helps to cover the cost of repairing or replacing your car if something happens to it outside of a road accident. 

In other words, think of all the things that can happen to your car that don’t involve you crashing into something — or someone else crashing into you. That can include: 

  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Fire
  • Weather damage (floods, hail, lightning, earthquakes)
  • Falling trees
  • Getting hit by road debris
  • Accidents involving animals (RIP, we love animals)

All of these “non-collision” incidents are typically covered by comprehensive insurance. 

Comprehensive vs. collision

Most insurance providers will tell you that the difference between collision and comprehensive insurance is that comprehensive covers “incidents” while collision covers “accidents.” 

  • If you were behind the wheel and hit something (or someone else hit you) that would most likely be an “accident” covered by collision insurance.
  • If something happened to your car while it was parked — such as a tree falling or a bear tearing up your interior looking for your Nature Valley bar — these “incidents” would mostly be covered by comprehensive insurance.

Some say that as a general rule of thumb, collision covers your car when it’s moving, and comprehensive covers your car while it’s still. 

That’s true 90% of the time, but there are exceptions: 

  • Collision covers hit-and-runs where you’re the victim.
  • Comprehensive covers damage from road debris and collisions with wild animals.

Comprehensive vs. liability

Comprehensive and liability insurance are wildly different: 

  • Liability covers the other driver’s bills after an accident.
  • Comprehensive covers your bills after a non-accident. 

If you’re found to be at fault for an accident, liability insurance helps to cover the other driver’s repair bills and medical bills. It can also help to cover your legal bills if the other driver takes you to court. 

That’s why every state but Virginia and New Hampshire requires drivers to carry liability insurance; it protects at-fault drivers and victims alike from going bankrupt. 

Comprehensive vs. full coverage 

“Full coverage” just means comprehensive, collision, and liability insurance bundled together. 

Virtually all auto loan or lease agreements require you to carry full coverage for the life of the contract. That’s because whoever currently holds the title (your lender or the dealer) wants to know that you can replace it if it’s totaled. 

Once you’ve fully paid off your car, you no longer need full coverage — just liability in most states. Society wants to know that you can cover someone else’s bills if you crash into them but leaves the decision of insuring your own car up to you. 

READ MORE: Here’s the Best Way To Shop for Car Insurance

Is Comprehensive Insurance Required? 

It depends. 

If you’re leasing or making car payments, your loan/lease agreement probably requires you to carry full coverage. That means you’ll need at least some comprehensive, collision, and liability insurance throughout the term of the loan/lease. 

Once you’ve fully paid off your car, comprehensive and collision both become optional. 

How Much Does Comprehensive Insurance Cost? 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost of comprehensive insurance is a little over $134 per year. That said, the quotes you receive can be all over the place depending on numerous factors: 

  • Local weather: If you live inside Tornado Alley or within a FEMA floodplain, you can expect to pay more for comprehensive insurance. 
  • Local crime rate: If you live in a ZIP code with an above-average crime rate, especially for grand theft auto, you’ll probably end up paying more for comprehensive insurance. 
  • Parking situation: If you park in a parking deck or, better yet, your own covered garage, your comprehensive quote will likely go down. 
  • Value of your car: If you have a vehicle that’s expensive to fix or replace, you can expect to pay more for both collision and comprehensive.

The provider you choose also makes a difference. I once collected five quotes for full coverage on my 2001 Mazda Miata. The quotes ranged from $893 for the year up to $4,079! 

That’s because every insurance provider has its own algorithm for assessing risk. One provider clearly viewed me as a docile driving instructor while another saw Evel Knievel with a blindfold on. 

The no. 1 thing you can do to save on comprehensive insurance is to get multiple quotes. Or, if you’re not ready to switch providers just to save ~$25 on comprehensive insurance, you can always email a competitor’s quote to your provider and kindly ask them to match it. 

READ MORE: What Is an Insurance Deductible?

Is Comprehensive Insurance Worth It? 

Comprehensive insurance is cheap because comprehensive claims aren’t very common. The Insurance Information Institute says that only 3% of drivers with comprehensive insurance filed a claim in 2018, compared to 6.1% of drivers with collision insurance.

Even still, it might be a good idea to have comprehensive insurance on your policy if you and your car are at increased risk of any of the things it covers. 

Off the top of my head, here are some people who I think would greatly benefit from having comprehensive insurance: 

  • Owners of 2015-2019 Hyundai Kia models, since your vehicles are twice as likely to be stolen as other vehicles, reports CNN
  • People who park underneath trees, since falling branches can weigh well over 100 pounds and the cost to replace a moonroof isn’t free. 
  • People living in bear country, since bears are known to completely total cars in their efforts to reach a single bag of groceries. This happened to my friend Liz and her poor Lexus RX 350. 
  • People in a FEMA floodplain, since six inches is sometimes all it takes to fully total a car. 

Even if you don’t fall into one of those categories, you might still want comprehensive insurance because it’s cheap and lends tremendous peace of mind. 

TL;DR

Comprehensive auto insurance covers most “incidents” that occur while your vehicle is stationary (e.g., theft, vandalism, weather). 

You may already need comprehensive insurance if you have an auto loan or lease since it’s technically part of “full coverage” along with collision and liability. Even if you don’t, it’s still a good idea if your vehicle is at increased risk or if you simply want added peace of mind. 

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.