Car in­surance de­pends on what you hit

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary

Twice in the past few years, a deer has hit my car.

Yes, I meant to say the deer hit me. The an­i­mals bolted from a wooded area into my path. (Only one sur­vived.)

Turns out, a lot of the dam­age done to cars in this coun­try isn’t from col­lid­ing with an­other au­to­mo­bile. Two-car ac­ci­dents make up fewer than half of all in­ci­dents, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by CarIn­surance.com, which pro­vides in­surance ad­vice and on­line quote com­par­isons.

CarIn­surance.com looked at data submitted by more than 42,000 car in­surance shop­pers. As shop­pers com­pared rates for li­a­bil­ity, com­pre­hen­sive and col­li­sion poli­cies, they re­ported their pre­vi­ous ac­ci­dents. From that data, the Web site com­piled its top “hit” list.

“We buy auto in­surance be­cause we en­vi­sion two cars ca­reen­ing to­ward each other and screech­ing brakes,” said CarIn­surance.com Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor Des Toups. “But more than a third of all in­ci­dents in­volve things like a parked car, the weather, van­dal­ism, hit­ting an­i­mals or road de­bris.”

About 45 per­cent of in­ci­dents in­volved peo­ple who struck or were struck by an­other car. Here’s a break­down for other ac­ci­dents:

Sin­gle-car ac­ci­dent: 7.9 per­cent. Act of na­ture such as flood, hail or fallen tree: 5.8 per­cent.

Struck a parked car or tree: 5.4 per­cent. Car struck while parked: 5 per­cent. De­bris or other non-ac­ci­dent dam­age (such as hit­ting a pot­hole): 2.9 per­cent. Van­dal­ism: 2.4 per­cent. Struck an­i­mal: 2.4 per­cent. Wind­shield or glass: 2.2 per­cent. Theft of car/theft of parts: 1.5 per­cent

Hit a pedes­trian: 0.4 per­cent Some shop­pers weren’t sure how to clas­sify such ac­ci­dents as hit­ting a mailbox, so those in­ci­dents were not in­cluded on the list. Toups said that when you’re shop­ping based on price alone, it’s easy to ne­glect to ask im­por­tant ques­tions such as “Will this pol­icy cover the dam­age I am most likely to en­counter?”

“If you write a check ev­ery month, you tend to be­lieve you’re cov­ered,” Toups said. “Af­ter all, you bought in­surance. But many peo­ple, maybe most, don’t really know what they’ve bought.”

Although a deer run­ning into your car might do the same amount of dam­age as hit­ting a tree, it’s the col­li­sion with the tree that is more likely to trig­ger an in­crease in your car in­surance rates be­cause it’s clas­si­fied as a col­li­sion claim, Toups said. ( The deer ac­ci­dent comes un­der com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age.)

CarIn­surance.com has cre­ated an in­ter­ac­tive on­line tool — with crash­ing sound ef­fects — so that drivers can see what type of in­surance would cover six com­mon ac­ci­dents: hit­ting some­one else’s car; crash­ing into an­other car that you own; or run­ning into a tree, an­i­mal, pot­hole or garage door. It calls the tool the “Crash-o-Matic.” The tool com­pares hy­po­thet­i­cal rates for li­a­bil­ity, com­pre­hen­sive and col­li­sion cov­er­age on se­lect 2013 ve­hi­cles. You can find it by go­ing to www.carin­surance.com and search­ing for “You hit what? The Crasho-Matic.”

Com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age re­im­burses you for loss from theft or dam­age caused by some­thing other than a crash with an­other car or ob­ject, ac­cord­ing to the In­surance In­for­ma­tion In­sti­tute. Col­li­sion cov­er­age pays for dam­age to your car re­sult­ing from a col­li­sion with an­other car or ob­ject or as a re­sult of flip­ping over. Prop­erty dam­age li­a­bil­ity cov­ers dam­age that you or some­one driv­ing your car with per­mis­sion may cause to some­one else’s prop­erty. Ev­ery state ex­cept New Hamp­shire re­quires li­a­bil­ity in­surance cov­er­age or some proof of fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, ac­cord­ing to CarIn­surance.com. New Hamp­shire re­quires that you demon­strate fi­nan­cial abil­ity to cover dam­age once you have an ac­ci­dent, Toups said.

If you buy only li­a­bil­ity in­surance, as many peo­ple do, re­pairs to your car will not be cov­ered un­der al­most all of the dam­age sce­nar­ios fea­tured in the Crasho-Matic tool, Toups said.

So let’s say a deer runs into your car (be­cause, of course, you wouldn’t hit the poor an­i­mal on your own). This ac­ci­dent gen­er­ally falls un­der your com­pre­hen­sive cov­er­age, CarIn­surance.com says. If you have only li­a­bil­ity cov­er­age, you will be re­spon­si­ble for the re­pairs.

“We wanted to give peo­ple a good idea of the like­li­hood of dif­fer­ent types of dam­age,” Toups said. “The tool we built goes even fur­ther, match­ing up var­i­ous sources of dam­age with the cov­er­age needed to fix the car and whether a claim is likely to raise fu­ture rates. The big­gest mis­take re­gard­ing claims that we see is peo­ple try­ing to get their money’s worth. In­surance com­pa­nies keep score. Save your cov­er­age for the big things you can’t fix on your own.”

I know times are tight and you may be try­ing to cut your in­surance costs. So you might drop cov­er­age or opt for the low­est amount of cov­er­age. But be sure to com­pare rates among in­surance com­pa­nies. Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate how much cov­er­age you will need, es­pe­cially if you aren’t a care­ful driver or if you don’t have sav­ings to cover dam­age. Or if you live where there are a lot of deer. Read­ers can write to Michelle Sin­gle­tary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or sin­gle­tarym@wash­post.com. Per­sonal re­sponses may not be pos­si­ble, and com­ments or ques­tions may be used in a fu­ture col­umn, with the writer’s name, un­less oth­er­wise re­quested. To read pre­vi­ous Color of Money col­umns, go to post­busi­ness.com.

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