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9 Claims Auto Insurance May Not Cover

You need to know what surprising things may fall outside your insurance plan

a car races toward a deer near a deer crossing sign
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If you drive a car, it’s likely you’ve been paying for insurance every month hoping you won’t need it. But accidents happen, and when they do you expect that insurance will cover any bills minus the deductible.

But there are many things — including some that may surprise you — that basic automobile insurance policies typically won’t cover. Here’s what you need to know.

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All but two states (New Hampshire and Virginia) require you to carry some minimum level of bodily injury liability and property damage liability insurance to register a motor vehicle. In accidents where you are at fault, this provides coverage for medical bills and property damage you cause to others, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), an industry trade group.

It may be advisable to purchase more than the state-required minimum, to cover damages that exceed that minimum liability. Keep in mind that people paid $47,148, on average, for a new vehicle in May, according to data released by Kelley Blue Book, a Cox Automotive company.  

Some states may also require you to carry:

  • Personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments. These cover medical expenses for you and your passengers in an accident, no matter who is at fault.
  • Collision insurance. This covers damage to your car after a car accident, no matter who was at fault.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. This provides additional financial protection, when you are in an accident caused by a driver with little or no car insurance. Keep in mind that 1 in 8 drivers on U.S. roads in 2019 were driving without insurance, ranging from 3.1 percent in New Jersey to 29.4 percent in Mississippi, according to a 2021 report by the Insurance Research Council (IRC).

Is that all you need?

If you’ve borrowed money to pay for your vehicle, the loan company will require you have coverage beyond the state minimum. There’s a reason for that. “If you have a car loan, they want the asset protected,” says Doug Heller, the Consumer Federation of America’s director of insurance.

Heller says it is important to review your policy every so often to make sure you are paying only for what you need. For example, if you don’t have a car loan and are driving a clunker you may consider cutting back on collision insurance and instead setting the savings aside for when you need to replace the car.

At the same time, you may want to boost your liability insurance — particularly if you have retirement assets. Heller suggests consulting a financial adviser to discuss how much you may need to protect those assets against the possibility that you cause an accident that severely injures someone. If they rack up high medical bills, you could be facing costs well beyond your state’s minimum requirement for liability coverage.

Even if you purchase insurance with these options, there are some things your policy may not cover. It’s always advisable to check with your insurance provider if you have any specific questions about coverage. Meanwhile, here are a few scenarios to consider.

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1. Damage from a deer strike

If you hit a deer or other animal, you’ll likely be stuck paying for any need repairs to your car unless you’ve added comprehensive coverage to your policy. Comprehensive coverage pays for damage caused by something other than a collision, such as fire, animal-related damage, and theft — including theft of individual things considered part of the car like airbags or catalytic converters, Heller explains. Drivers struck over 2 million animals (1.4 million deer) between July 2020 and June 2021 despite ongoing pandemic closures, which was a 7.2 percent spike over the previous 12 months, according to Tony Cotto, director of Auto and Underwriting Policy for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

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2. Stolen laptop

Even with comprehensive coverage, your car insurance won’t pay for loss or damage to things that aren’t considered part of the car. Homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance may cover a laptop stolen from your vehicle. Also consider that after-market add-ons likely aren’t covered by your car insurance. If you transform your car into something of higher value or install parts that may put it in a higher-risk category, you could see any claim denied if you haven’t clued in your insurance company before purchasing a policy. “If you trick out your vehicle, you’ll need to have that conversation with your insurance company,” Heller says.

3. Rain damage

If you have comprehensive insurance, chances are it will cover damage from a hurricane or tornado. But it won’t necessarily cover damage that occurs if you happen to leave a window or sunroof open and it rains.

4. Broken window

Windows are considered part of the car, so they’ll be covered in most cases with either collision or comprehensive insurance. But, if you’re locked out of your car and break a window to get inside, that would be considered a purposeful act and may not be covered. Policies typically cover only claims for damage caused by others or “unintentional damage,” Heller says. You may want to consider roadside service insurance, which usually pays for someone to come out and open your car if you get locked out.

5. Replacing worn tires

Car insurance isn’t going to cover basic maintenance, repairs, or general wear and tear on your vehicle. You may be able to add mechanical breakdown insurance, which is similar to an extended warranty from a car manufacturer, and you can also get coverage for roadside assistance for a flat tire, dead battery or other problem while on the road.

6. Side hustles

Personal car insurance typically won’t cover commercial use of your vehicle. If you make pizza deliveries or transport paying customers through a ridesharing service, you'll need supplemental insurance, according to the III. “If you are driving for purposes of delivery or livery [chauffeur] you are going to likely need separate coverage,” says Heller.

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7. Roommate or family drivers

If someone who lives in your household is going to drive your vehicle, you need to list them on your policy, or they won’t be covered. You can let someone else (outside your home) drive on occasion, and they’ll usually be covered — but, again, not if they routinely drive it. That means if you use a caregiver to drive you on errands about town in your car, they’ll need to be on your insurance. “Our recommendation is that when someone is a regular user of your vehicle, talk to your insurance provider and ask if they need to be listed as a named driver,” Heller says. He also notes that when you buy insurance you can specifically exclude household members who won’t be driving your car — something that could save you on your premium particularly if they are younger drivers or have a bad record.  

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8. Car rental

Most policies will also apply to a rented vehicle, and you may also get some coverage through a credit card company if you use them to pay for the rental. If you rent an expensive car – that exceeds your coverage limits you could be on the hook if you cause an accident that results in major damage to the rental. 

9. Driving outside the U.S. 

Your insurance likely won’t cover a car accident outside North America. However, it may cover a short trip to Canada or perhaps to Mexico. But it’s best to check with your insurance provider before making such a trek with your car north or south of the border, Heller says. He also notes that if you rent a car to drive in Mexico you will need Mexican insurance.

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