Did you know that you do not have to buy gap insurance from a dealer? You may have several options to purchase your gap insurance if you decide to buy it when you purchase or lease a car. Here's what you need to know.
- If your car is totaled or stolen, your insurance will pay you its cash value, which may be less than what you owe if you financed or leased your car.
- Gap insurance covers this difference and protects you from having to pay more than your car is worth to your lender in the case of a total loss.
- Most insurers or car dealerships will offer gap insurance, and some insurers include it as part of your normal auto policy.
- Gap insurance is not mandatory if you finance your car, but it may be required in a lease agreement.
What Is Gap Insurance?
Gap insurance protects people who have financed or leased their car from having to pay more money than the car is worth in the event of a total loss. It is important to understand why gap insurance is important and how it works if you are looking to buy it.
3 Options When Shopping for Gap Insurance on Your New Car
- From your insurance company—most companies offer gap insurance, so always check the insurance company first
- From an online insurer that offers gap Insurance
- From the dealership
If you aren't sure where to find your gap insurance, and you would like some help, or if you feel pressured to purchase it at the dealer, you can contact your insurance representative or state insurance commissioner for further help or guidance on your options.
How Gap Insurance Works in a Car Insurance Claim
If you have a total loss, or someone steals your car, and the value of your car is less than what you owe, you would owe the lienholder, bank, or lessor the money out of your pocket. This is because your insurance policy only pays the actual cash value of the vehicle at the time of an accident or claim, and not what you owe on it.
For example, you purchase or lease a car for $30,000. You finance the car for over seven years. During the term of the financing, you will be paying interest, so even though the car's value is $30,000, you are really financing the value of the car plus whatever interest and fees get added to the financing or lease. Suppose that amount totals $35,000, just to keep things easy. So, you've agreed to pay $35,000 over seven years. Your car is only valued at $30,000. Your payments are about $420 per month. After a year and a half, you've paid off $7,560, and you still owe $27,440. You have a total loss, either because:
- Someone steals your car.
- Someone hits your car, and the damage is more extensive than the value of the car.
- You have a responsible accident.
The insurance company without gap insurance pays the actual cash value of the vehicle at the time of loss. Suppose that after a year and a half, the actual value of the car is $24,000. The insurance company tells you that it is giving you $24,000 for the total loss. That sounds great, except when you check how much money you owe on your financing, you realize that you are down $3,440 to pay off your car. If you had a responsible accident, you will also have to pay the deductible, which may put you close to $4,000 out of pocket with no car to show for it. This is when gap insurance is important.
Do You Have to Buy Gap Insurance?
Many people get the sense that they have to purchase gap insurance, but you are usually not obligated to buy gap insurance as part of minimum car insurance requirements. The exception is if you're leasing a vehicle. The terms of your lease agreement may require that you carry gap insurance.
Check for the Gap Waiver Provision in a Lease Agreement
Before you purchase gap insurance, check whether you need it. Some agreements through finance companies or car leasing companies may already have an included "gap waiver provision" that will forgive you for the gap between insurance payout and the amount you owe.
Do not assume that you have a gap waiver provision, because not all contracts have such a provision, but if you are lucky enough to have one, it makes a lot of sense to find out before wasting your money.
Some dealers and finance companies may "package" the gap insurance in with your new car purchase or lease. Beware of this practice, and make sure to get all the facts, because it could cost you a lot more money.
What Could Make Gap Insurance More Expensive?
When you add gap insurance to your car loan or lease, you may end up paying interest on the gap insurance, because it may become part of the amount financed.
By contacting your insurance agent and finding out the cost of adding gap insurance to your insurance policy, you would not be paying the interest like on a car loan or lease.
If you think of it in these terms, there's a good chance you will be saving yourself a lot of money by choosing an option that does not work itself into your loan payments.
By purchasing gap insurance somewhere other than the dealer, you may also benefit from the option to cancel the coverage at any time if you decide the gap insurance is no longer necessary for you. When it is financed into your loan or lease, you will be paying it off for the term of the financing.
Tips Before You Purchase Gap Insurance
- Always check first with your insurance company to see whether it already included gap insurance in your car insurance policy. There is no reason to purchase gap insurance if you already have coverage. There may be an endorsement you can add for a small premium.
- Make sure you need gap insurance. Gap insurance is useful if you have taken a loan out on a car, and you are concerned that the vehicle is depreciating faster than you are paying off the loan or lease. You can check current car values to get an idea of depreciation on Edmunds.com or Kelley Blue Book. There is no way to know the value of your car at the time of a potential loss, but you can do some research to understand what your future risks might be.
- Make sure you can cancel the gap insurance at any time you decide there is no longer any value in it (for example, when your loan is paid down enough that your vehicle is worth more than what you owe).
Buying Loan or Lease Coverage vs. Gap Insurance
If you call your insurance company, and it offers you loan/lease coverage, it may be using different terminology for the same thing. Ask the representative to describe the coverage and how it applies to you. The option to add it to your existing policy may save you a lot of money, because you won't be financing the cost of the coverage with your car loan. You may also be able to cancel it at any time, which is an advantage after a few years when you've paid your loan down.
Should You Renew Your Gap Insurance?
Assess the need for gap insurance from year to year. As the balance of your loan decreases, your need for gap insurance may also disappear.