10 things drivers have to pay for when they only have minimum liability insurance

Opting for your state’s minimum liability car insurance may be fine if you only want to comply with the insurance laws required to get behind the wheel.

But you’ll have to buy more coverage, higher liability limits and comprehensive and collision insurance, if you want protection from other highway risks while safeguarding all your financial assets.

Here are 10 things that you may have to pay for with only a bare-bones policy:

1. Severe damage to others

The other driver or drivers can sue if you’re involved in a major accident. Found to be at fault and you could be responsible for all the expenses tied to the crash, from property damage to hospital costs. An insurer will pay up to your coverage limits, but the rest could be on you. Your savings, property and even wages may be targeted.

States have different liability minimums, but the Insurance Information Institute (III) says many are similar to New York’s, which break down like this:

  • $25,000 per injured person for bodily injury.
  • $50,000 per accident for bodily injury.
  • $10,000 for property damage.

The III warns that these levels are likely to be inadequate after a bad accident. “In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out of pocket for losses incurred after an accident—and those costs may be steep,” says spokesman Michael Barry.

The institute recommends $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident, adding that the extra coverage usually costs about $100 a year.

Hail stones

2. Hail damage

Hail is just one of the hazards that bad weather can bring. Penny Gusner, the consumer analyst for Insure.com, says you’ll need optional comprehensive coverage to repair hail or other weather-related problems.

“Comprehensive insurance basically covers situations that are ‘other than collision,’ such as theft, fire, vandalism or damage arising from natural events, like a hail storm,” she says.

Jeanne M. Salvatore, the III’s senior vice president and consumer spokeswoman, adds that comprehensive covers “various winter-related disasters, such as a tree or chunk of ice that falls on a car, as well as a lightning strike.”

flipped car

3. Accident damage caused by you or another driver

You’ll need optional collision insurance to repair or replace your car after an accident.

“Collision covers your insured vehicle for physical damage that your car sustains when it hits, or is hit by, another vehicle or another object,” Gusner says. “Collision also covers the upset of your vehicle, such as unintentional rolling or flipping.”

About 70% of vehicle owners buy collision coverage every year, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Grizzly bear on highway

4. Damage from striking a deer or other animal

Comprehensive is required if you hit a deer. Or have other problems caused by animals, such as marauding bears eager for loot.

The III says more than 1.2 million deer-vehicle collisions occurred nationwide between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013. “But deer aren’t the only animals that can damage your car,” the institute points out. “Bears have a habit of breaking into cars around national parks, looking for food that visitors leave behind.”

State Farm, in an analysis of its own insurance claims and accident statistics gathered from the Federal Highway Administration, predicts that motorists face a one in 174 chance of crashing into a deer this year. And the average property-damage cost of such incidents is about $3,400, compared to about $3,300 for the previous year, the insurer says.

 Car collision with pole

5. Damage from hitting a pole in the parking lot

Parking lot accidents can sneak up on you, especially during the heavy shopping days surrounding the holidays. What if you hit a pole or another obstacle while maneuvering through a crowded lot? You’ll need collision coverage.

Do most people know that? Not according to a recent survey by CarInsurance.com on parking lot accidents – only 38% were aware that collision pays for damage after a pole encounter.

While buying collision can be smart, Gusner does offer advice to save money: “This is considered a collision claim since you collided with an object, and you will be found at fault by your insurer,” she explains. “Collision coverage pays regardless of fault but comes with a deductible so I’d recommend that you find out the cost of repair before placing a claim. If the repair cost is lower than your deductible (or even a tad above it), pay out of your own pocket without making a claim since your collision coverage only kicks in once you’ve met the deductible.”

Salvatore says that collision is generally sold with a deductible of $250 to $1,000.

car thief

6. Replacing a stolen vehicle

Stolen car? You’ll need comprehensive. “It covers the theft of your whole vehicle and parts or equipment that are permanently attached or installed to your vehicle,” Gusner says.

The III notes that vehicle theft resulted in more than $4.3 billion in losses in 2012, with the average loss reaching $6,019.

car damaged by flooding

7. Flooding damage

Comprehensive covers it, which is especially important in high rainfall or hurricane regions like Florida and the Gulf states. Beyond flooding damage, comprehensive can also help with havoc from tornadoes and even volcanic eruptions.

Gusner advises planning ahead when buying the protection. “If you don’t have comprehensive, you need to get it before hurricane or flood warnings are given for your area,” she says. “Insurance companies can’t add new coverage or write a new insurance policy when a storm warning has been issued.”

 Uninsured Drivers road sign

8. Damages caused by an uninsured driver

Salvatore says drivers should consider adding uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) to their policy. She explains that UM coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver for bodily injuries caused by an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run driver. UIM comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance to pay for your total loss. UIM also provides coverage if you’re walking and hit by a car.

Some states already require you to carry uninsured motorist coverage, but Salvatore advises discussing your policy with an agent to get details.

The Insurance Research Council estimates that almost 30 million drivers are uninsured, which is about one in eight of all U.S. motorists.

person injured in auto accident

(Photo: KellyNelson / Shutterstock.com)

9. Personal injury costs from an accident

To ensure your hospital bills are paid beyond your bodily injury limits, there’s medical payments (MedPay) and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.

Both usually protect you, passengers and other authorized drivers of your vehicle who are injured in an accident. They also cover you and your family when injured while riding in someone else’s car or if you’re hit by a vehicle while walking.

PIP is typically more far-reaching and pays for wages lost because of an accident, something MedPay doesn’t. Both PIP and MedPay usually help with funeral expenses.

minivan on fire

(Photo: fabiodevilla / Shutterstock.com)

10. Fire damages

What do you need to cover costs related to a car fire? Again, it’s comprehensive.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says a vehicle fire breaks out every 96 seconds in the U.S. Most are from accidents, but non-crash fires can start because of electrical problems or faulty fuel systems. Comprehensive also safeguards you if your car is damaged from a blaze caused by a recalled part.

 

Mar 17, 2015 | By Mark Chalon Smith

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