What Is Comprehensive Auto Insurance?

Comprehensive Car Insurance Explained

Two mechanics debate the costs of repairing a car under comprehensive car insurance.
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Comprehensive car insurance pays for losses that don’t occur as the result of a road accident. If a thief makes off with your vehicle, or your car is damaged by a natural disaster or troublemakers, comprehensive coverage can help pay repair or replacement costs.

Comprehensive auto insurance isn’t generally required, but it’s relatively inexpensive and provides valuable protection, especially for vehicles that have a high market value. Comprehensive insurance is part of what insurers sometimes call a “full-coverage auto policy,” but if you buy or lease a new vehicle, you might need additional coverage to round out its protections.

Definition and Examples of Comprehensive Auto Insurance

Comprehensive car insurance—also referred to as “other than collision” coverage—pays to repair your vehicle if it sustains damage caused by accidents involving animals, falling objects, fire, vandalism, or weather events. Comprehensive insurance also helps pay to replace stolen automobiles.

Other names for comprehensive coverage:

What Does Comprehensive Insurance Cover? 

Comprehensive car insurance only covers losses caused by events other than a collision with another vehicle or an object, like a fence or telephone pole. Although damages caused by hazards “other than collision” might seem broad, comprehensive coverage is limited to a few types of perils, including:

  • Animal contact, such as crashing into a deer
  • Broken, chipped, or cracked windows or windshields
  • Earthquakes, floods, hail, hurricanes, and tornadoes
  • Explosions, fires, and smoke 
  • Falling objects, like a tree limb
  • Auto theft, stolen parts, or damage caused during an automobile break-in
  • Vandalism, such as if someone eggs or keys your car

Comprehensive policies vary by insurer. Some providers may include a few extras in their comprehensive coverage, like rental car reimbursement and towing, while others may only cover these expenses if you purchase optional endorsements.

Comprehensive coverage may pay to repair or replace a broken window or windshield. Glass repairs are usually subject to your policy’s deductible, but some insurers offer optional “full glass coverage” endorsements, and others offer full glass coverage with no deductible.

Comprehensive insurance doesn’t cover collision damage, whether you collide with another vehicle or an object such as a building, fence, or utility pole—to cover these types of damages, you’d need to purchase collision insurance. Comprehensive coverage also excludes damage caused by hitting a pothole, along with regular wear and tear on belts, brakes, hoses, tires, and windshield wipers.

Comprehensive coverage usually doesn’t cover personal items stolen from your automobile. However, your homeowners or renters insurance policy might, so check your policy’s wording. 

How Comprehensive Auto Insurance Works

Let’s say you emerge from your house after a windy night to find that a tree branch has fallen onto your car’s roof, leaving a substantial dent. This type of damage is covered by your comprehensive insurance, so you can file a claim through your insurance company and await your payout. Here are a few factors that affect the process.

Deductibles

Comprehensive auto insurance is subject to a deductible. Choosing a high deductible can help keep your premium affordable, but it also limits the payout you’ll receive if you file a comprehensive claim. For instance, if you have a $1,000 deductible and your vehicle sustains $1,500 in storm damage, you’ll have to pay $1,000 for repairs and the insurance company will only pay $500.

Typically, you can choose a comprehensive deductible that is separate from the one on your collision coverage. For example, you could choose a $2,000 collision deductible, but a $500 comprehensive deductible.

You may choose your deductible based on how much you can afford to pay out of pocket. A comprehensive deductible of $1,000 or more might be a good choice if you can afford to pay for minor repairs, like a chipped windshield, but if someone steals your car, the payout might not be enough to replace it. Choose your deductible wisely because it applies to each comprehensive claim you file.

Actual Cash Value Payout 

Typically, comprehensive insurance pays actual cash value for your vehicle if it’s stolen or totaled by a covered peril such as a flood. Actual cash value applies depreciation to your car’s value based on its age, condition, make and model, and mileage. The average automobile depreciates by 49.1% during its first five years, but depreciation rates vary widely. For instance, a Jeep Wrangler will depreciate at a rate of about 32.8% in its first five years, while a Lincoln MKZ will depreciate by 67.1%.

Your car’s actual cash value and your policy’s deductible work hand in hand to determine how much you’ll receive if it's stolen or totaled. For example, if your 2018 Chevrolet Malibu valued at $10,322 is stolen and you had a $500 deductible, you’d receive a maximum payout of $9,822. But if you had a $1,000 deductible, the most you’d receive would be $9,322.

Gap Insurance 

Since cars depreciate so steeply and rapidly in their first five years, it’s important to add gap insurance to new financed or leased vehicles. If your financed vehicle is stolen or totaled in its first couple of years, the insurance settlement likely won’t provide enough to pay off your auto loan.

But if you buy gap insurance, the coverage will pay the difference. For example, if you buy a new 2021 Toyota Highlander 4WD for $34,412 and a thief steals it in the first year, the insurer will likely settle for around $32,086. If you don’t carry gap insurance, you’ll be on the hook for $2,326 in outstanding car payments. But if you do, the coverage will kick in to fill that gap.

The Insurance Information Institute estimates that you can add gap insurance to your policy for around $20 per year. Gap insurance is advisable if you:

  • Finance a vehicle for five years or longer
  • Lease a vehicle (leasing companies typically require gap insurance)
  • Make a down payment of less than 20%
  • Buy an automobile with a higher-than-average depreciation rate
  • Roll over negative equity from a previous vehicle into a new car loan

How Much Does Comprehensive Coverage Cost?

For the average driver, comprehensive is usually a fairly affordable coverage. The cost varies per vehicle and per driver, but it's usually worthwhile—premiums average $134 a year. Even a windshield replacement can cost several hundred dollars if you don’t have coverage, and cracked windshields are not uncommon. Adding comprehensive to your insurance policy could potentially save you thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket repair costs.

Do I Need Comprehensive Insurance? 

State laws do not require you to carry comprehensive auto insurance. However, most leasing companies and lenders require you to buy the coverage for leased and financed vehicles. Once you’ve made your last car payment, you’re no longer required to continue comprehensive coverage.

However, comprehensive coverage is relatively affordable, so it might still be a good idea. 

When considering comprehensive insurance, first determine how much your car is worth. Consumer websites such as Kelley Blue Book can provide a value based on your automobile’s age, condition, location, mileage, make, and model. If your vehicle is still worth $2,000 or more, it may make sense to buy comprehensive insurance. But after its value falls below $1,000, you don’t need the coverage, especially if your policy has a deductible of $1,000 or higher.

Think about whether you can afford to buy another car if yours is stolen or totaled by a covered peril. If you don’t have the cash to buy a new car, or even make a down payment, comprehensive coverage can provide good financial protection. Just make sure your vehicle has a higher market value than your policy’s deductible.

Comprehensive Insurance vs. Collision Insurance

Collision and comprehensive coverages don’t overlap. Collision insurance pays to repair or replace your automobile if it is damaged or totaled in a collision with another vehicle or object. Comprehensive coverage covers non-collision losses caused by a defined set of hazards.

Collision coverage can't be added to your auto policy without comprehensive coverage. But you can add comprehensive to your policy without also buying collision. 

Scenario Collision Coverage Comprehensive Coverage
Animal contact (wildlife or livestock)  
Collision with another vehicle or object (fence, house, pole)  
Earthquake, flood, hail, or hurricane damage  
Explosion or fire damage  
Damage from falling objects  
Damage from hitting a pothole  
Stolen parts  
Stolen vehicle  
Vandalism  

Key Takeaways

  • Comprehensive car insurance covers stolen vehicles and non-collision losses, such as vandalism or flood damage.
  • State laws don’t require comprehensive coverage, but if you lease or finance a vehicle, the leasing company or lender will.
  • Comprehensive insurance pays to replace broken windshields, minus your deductible, but some optional “full glass coverage” endorsements feature no deductible.
  • Comprehensive coverage pays actual cash value for stolen or totaled automobiles.
  • For a totaled vehicle, gap insurance can cover the difference between the insurance settlement and the amount you still owe the lender.