Comprehensive vs. Collision Coverage: What's the Difference?

One covers direct accidents, the other covers most everything else

Damaged bumpers from car accident requiring a collision coverage policy
••• Peter Stark / Getty Images

If you’ve recently purchased a new vehicle, you know that you most likely need to purchase a basic type of car insurance, usually known as liability coverage. Beyond that, though, you may be overwhelmed by your coverage options. Comprehensive and collision are the two types of physical damage coverage available on car insurance policies. Both play an important role in keeping your vehicle in tip-top shape.

The types of incidents each one covers, though, are quite different. Collision is mostly limited to direct accidents, while comprehensive covers most everything else. Compare the two types of coverage to help determine what you need to protect your vehicle.

The Difference Between Comprehensive and Collision

Both comprehensive and collision coverage benefit you when damage to your car occurs. The difference, though, is that comprehensive insurance usually helps pay to repair or replace your vehicle if it's damaged or stolen in an incident that is not a collision or somehow outside your control. Collision, like the name implies, covers the costs of damage caused by driving your vehicle into another car or object.

What's Protected?

 Comprehensive Coverage Collision Coverage
You hit a deer on the road You hit another vehicle
A hail storm dents your vehicle  You run off the road and roll your car
Wind causes a branch to fall on your car You drive your car into a tree  
Your car is stolen You crash into a parked car

For both types of coverage, it's important to understand what's protected and what's not. To put it simply, collision and comprehensive coverage both cover your car, not you, the people in it, or the other car and its driver and passengers.

To cover the other vehicle and its driver and passengers, you need liability coverage, which is required in most states. To cover yourself and your passengers' medical expenses when you're at fault, you need medical payments coverage.

These insurance policies are meant to protect you from paying very much out of pocket to repair or replace your vehicle after certain kinds of accidents. You will have to pay a deductible, but not more than that.

For this reason, neither collision nor comprehensive is required by law, but you'll probably have to have both if you purchase your car with a loan. After all, your lender wants to protect its investment.

Comprehensive Coverage

Regardless of the type of car you drive or where you drive it, your car is vulnerable to all types of losses and damages.

Though you’re probably most concerned with accidents, your vehicle can also be damaged by falling tree limbs, hail, vandalism, or even invasion of creepy crawlers.

Think of comprehensive coverage as an all-encompassing insurance option that protects your vehicle against physical damage caused by anything other than a collision. Comprehensive insurance covers a broad spectrum of potential physical damage claims and can be used for the following:

  • Repairs to glass, including windshield chips or cracks
  • Damage from contact with an animal, most commonly deer
  • Storm damage, including wind, hail, and flood
  • Damage from vandals keying your car, breaking into your car, or even theft
  • In combination with any other coverage

Because comprehensive insurance covers incidents that don't occur frequently, it's often easy to get reasonably priced coverage with a low deductible.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage is probably the most important coverage you need to protect your vehicle against physical damage.

Some of the most significant damage to your vehicle can come from a collision with another vehicle, tree, pole, or guardrail. Collision insurance will pay the costs of repairing or replacing your vehicle—minus your deductible—in situations such as:

  • Damage when two vehicles in drive or reverse collide with each other
  • You hit ice and slide into an inanimate object
  • Pothole damage
  • You drive your car into a parked car or another stationary object

Collision coverage can get expensive. If the quotes you have for comprehensive or collision are too high for you to afford, try raising your deductible. Most people choose a $500 deductible or higher.

To purchase collision or comprehensive coverage, you’ll typically need to purchase basic coverage as well.

The Best of Both Worlds

For some, the best coverage is the cheapest car insurance policy that allows them to drive on the road legally. For others, the best coverage might be the one that covers the full cost of vehicle repairs on a claim. The only way to be certain you are fully protected from the costs of damages to your vehicle is to purchase both comprehensive coverage and collision coverage.

How Much Coverage Do You Need?

If you don't have a loan for your vehicle, you have some freedom to decide which of these policies you want and just how much coverage you want to pay for. When selecting coverage for your vehicle, the biggest thing to consider is the cost of the coverage vs. the value of your vehicle and the potential costs of repairs.

As your car loses value with age and you put away more savings, it may not make as much sense to continue paying for comprehensive or collision coverage—or at least not for such a low deductible. Once you determine you can cover the damages out of your pocket, you can evaluate options to save money on your car insurance by dropping collision or comprehensive coverage.

The Bottom Line

If you own a vehicle, it's probably one of your most important possessions. It's also one of your most vulnerable. If you can't afford the cost of replacing your car due to a collision, natural disaster, or similar incident, then it's probably worth looking into your options for comprehensive and collision insurance.

Key Takeaways

  • Comprehensive and collision are the two types of physical damage coverage available on car insurance policies.
  • Comprehensive coverage is an all-encompassing insurance option that protects your vehicle against physical damage caused by anything other than a collision.
  • Collision coverage is for any physical damage caused by your vehicle in an accident or collision with another car or object.