Does Car Insurance Cover Natural Disasters
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Being caught up in a flood, hurricane, tornado, or fire is just about the last thing anyone wants. When mother nature strikes, the damage can be pretty severe. Even if you live in a geographical area where one of these is common and are relatively well-prepared, it still brings up all sorts of logistical problems and questions, especially surrounding insurance.
What exactly does my homeowner policy include? Are hurricanes covered, or just tornadoes and floods? Does car insurance cover natural disasters?
These are all excellent questions. Luckily, we have the information you need to answer that last one. From broken windows to a flooded interior, there’s no predicting what a natural disaster will do to your car. In order to avoid out-of-pocket expenses, it’s important to understand what your automotive insurance covers (and especially what it doesn’t).
Let’s dive in.
The Basics: Minimum Required Car Insurance
To find out where natural disaster coverage enters the scene, let’s start at square one—the absolute bare minimum that’s legally required.
Every state’s minimum requirements will vary, but all drivers should be familiar with three main types of coverage that are likely to be included:
Liability Coverage – As the baseline insurance that every driver needs, this coverage protects you in the event of personal and third-party bodily harm or property damage while on the road. States also set an upper limit for what they’ll cover in each category, otherwise known as split limits. These maximums are separated into three categories:
Maximum coverage for bodily injury per person
Maximum coverage for bodily injury per accident, meaning the combined injuries of everyone involved in the crash
Maximum coverage for property damage per accident
This type of insurance is designed for accidents only and will not cover any damage caused by natural disasters.
No-fault Insurance – In addition to liability coverage, there are 18 states that require no-fault insurance, also known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP). In the event of an accident-related injury, this coverage will pay the medical expenses and loss of income for both you and your passengers, regardless of who caused the accident. Once again, this type of basic coverage will not cover damage caused by natural disasters.[^1]
Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist – The final type of mandatory car insurance is known as underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. This coverage is designed to protect drivers in the event of an accident where the other party is not insured (or doesn’t carry enough insurance to fully cover the expenses). There are 23 states that require some level of uninsured motorist insurance, but again, this will not protect your car against natural disasters.[^2]
The bottom line: Across all 50 U.S. states, there’s not one that requires vehicle owners to purchase natural disaster insurance. If you want to protect your car from mother nature, you’ll need to look into additional coverage options.
The Next Step: Other Types of Car Insurance
So, you’ve purchased the minimum car insurance required by your state—now what? Whether you live in a place with floods, snowstorms, wildfires, or tornadoes, there’s no such thing as “too much insurance.” In the event of an emergency, it can only help, not hurt.
Most insurance companies offer additional coverage plans, and the most common add-ons include:
Collision Coverage – Collision coverage is usually optional, but many drivers choose to add it to their insurance plan. This coverage will pay for a certain amount of damages to your vehicle in the event of an accident with another driver or an object (telephone pole, fence, parked car, you name it). Collision coverage will not protect you against natural disasters unless the accident is caused by hazardous weather conditions; for example, if a car hit you during the chaos of a snowstorm.
Gap Coverage – Gap coverage is designed to protect drivers from out-of-pocket costs if their vehicle is totaled. This type of insurance is particularly helpful if you’ve taken out a loan to pay off your car. When the insurance company pays for the total value of your car, this is might not be enough to completely pay off your lender—this is what gap coverage pays for. Gap coverage may be helpful against natural disasters, but only if your car is totaled in the event.
Comprehensive Coverage – Comprehensive coverage is designed to protect your car against everything besides a collision. This includes theft, vandalism, and—you guessed it—natural disasters. Fires and wind-damage are most commonly referenced when describing comprehensive insurance, but the exact coverage against which natural disasters can vary between providers and states.[^3]
The bottom line: Since minimal coverage does not protect against natural disasters, many drivers opt for additional insurance plans. Gap and comprehensive coverage are two of the most common add-ons for auto insurance. But how do they stand up against these so-called “acts of God”?
Understanding “Acts of God” in Insurance Coverage
Confused about how we got from automotive policies to biblical terminology? Surprisingly, the world of insurance actually uses this exact phrasing—“acts of God”—quite frequently. When talking about insurance, acts of God are strangely relevant.
Here’s how CBS News defines the concept:
"Acts of God," for insurance purposes, are defined as events that occur through natural causes and could not be avoided through the use of caution and preventative measures. In essence, the phrase "Acts of God" refers to natural disasters. [^4]
Examples of acts of God include:
Fires (if caused by a natural occurrence, like lightning)
The bottom line: An act of God is a natural disaster, and insurance will cover any subsequent damages that couldn’t have been foreseen or prevented.
Does Comprehensive Coverage Protect Against All “Acts of God”?
We know that comprehensive coverage is your best bet against natural disasters, but just how comprehensive is it? Will it cover every situation? The answer can be complicated.
Every insurance company has different clauses within their plans. With that in mind, most comprehensive auto insurance will cover the following causes of damage:[^5]
Fire – If your vehicle is burned in a naturally-occurring fire—such as a wildfire or lightning-induced fire—comprehensive coverage will usually protect you from paying for damages.
Water damage – Water damage is another aspect of most comprehensive plans. Whether your vehicle is caught in a flood, hurricane, or tsunami, you should be covered against any and all water-related damage (excluding your deductible).
Debris – Damage from falling debris or glass is typically included in comprehensive clauses, as well. This means your vehicle will be protected from wind, tornadoes, and falling trees.
Hail – Dents caused by a hail storm are covered by most comprehensive plans, as well. Even if the storm is minor, your insurance company should be required to pay for repairs to your vehicle.
The bottom line: Most natural disasters will be covered by comprehensive coverage. Some circumstances may be a bit trickier, however. Two common loopholes that can be found in comprehensive coverage are Proximate Cause and state-by-state exceptions.
In a number of states, insurance companies rely on Proximate Cause laws. These laws specify the initial cause of natural disasters as the ultimate reason for damages.
Here’s an example: Imagine there’s a major earthquake in your area. This earthquake does not damage your car directly but instead triggers a tsunami that reaches your property. If your comprehensive insurance policy covers water damage, then you should be fine, right?
Not in a state that uses proximate cause laws.
In that case, the damage to your vehicle will be attributed to the initial event that led to the damage: the earthquake. If your comprehensive coverage doesn’t protect against earthquakes, then you may be in trouble.
Drivers in these states often have to settle proximate cause cases in court. Fortunately, comprehensive insurance policies usually cover a wide scope of natural disasters, but it's important to check with your provider beforehand to avoid these complications.
Different providers and states may have unique clauses to their comprehensive coverage. This is particularly important in areas with a high-risk for natural disasters.
As you can probably imagine, areas with increased risk also face increased insurance prices. These examples illustrate that:
California – California drivers tend to pay a bit more for their monthly premiums in order to receive specific protection against earthquakes because of how common they can be.
Florida – Florida drivers experience a similar price hike for hurricane protection. Many insurance providers require Florida customers to pay more each month for additional protection against wind and water damage caused by hurricanes.
The Midwest – Many insurers in the midwestern United States charge an additional fee each month for tornado protection. Once again, this is a case where high-risk areas have unique requirements for natural disaster coverage.
The bottom line: No matter where you live or what insurance provider you use, it’s never a bad idea to check the specifics of your comprehensive coverage. Factors like proximate cause and the frequency of natural disasters can have a significant effect on the coverage you need (and how much it will cost).
How to Stay Protected From Natural Disasters
Car insurance is complicated. Whether you’re looking for standard protection, car insurance based on mileage, or something more specific—like the best insurance for electric cars—there are ways every driver can keep their vehicle protected from the elements.
Below are some of the best practices to keep in mind in terms of natural disaster protection:
Storage – Keeping your car locked in an enclosed storage space, such as a garage, is a great way to protect it against wind, water, and wildfire damage. A safe storage area can also lower your monthly insurance premiums, depending on your provider.
Full coverage – Having full automotive coverage, including comprehensive and gap, is the best way to prevent out-of-pocket expenses following a natural disaster. Note that many providers put limits on policy changes when a weather event is expected, so it’s important to switch your coverage before mother nature is about to strike.
Research – Researching your state and insurance provider can help you understand the individual clauses and restrictions that affect your policy. It may also be worth it to familiarize yourself with the specific natural disasters in your area, in order to stay prepared.
The bottom line: Don’t skimp on coverage when it comes to natural disasters, especially if you live in a high-risk area.
Online Auto Insurance: Battling Nature One Quote at a Time
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Compare hundreds of quotes instantly with the click of a button through our advanced search engine. Drivers can simply input their information and find the plan that best fits their budget in a matter of minutes.
Disasters happen, yes, but they don't have to be disastrous. Find the right coverage today with Online Auto Insurance!
Nationwide. What is No-Fault Insurance? https://www.nationwide.com/lc/resources/auto-insurance/articles/what-is-no-fault-insurance
Allstate. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage. https://www.allstate.com/tr/car-insurance/uninsured-motorist-coverage.aspx
State Farm. Comprehensive Auto Insurance.\ https://www.statefarm.com/insurance/auto/coverage-options/comprehensive-coverage
CBS News. Insurance: What exactly constitutes an “Act of God”? https://www.cbsnews.com/media/insurance-what-exactly-constitutes-an-act-of-god/
The Balance. Does Car Insurance Cover Natural Disasters? https://www.thebalance.com/does-car-insurance-cover-a-natural-disaster-527194
[^1]: Nationwide. What is No-Fault Insurance https://www.nationwide.com/lc/resources/auto-insurance/articles/what-is-no-fault-insurance
[^2]: Allstate. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage. https://www.allstate.com/tr/car-insurance/uninsured-motorist-coverage.aspx
[^3]: State Farm. Comprehensive Auto Insurance. https://www.statefarm.com/insurance/auto/coverage-options/comprehensive-coverage
[^4]: CBS News. Insurance: What exactly constitutes an “Act of God” https://www.cbsnews.com/media/insurance-what-exactly-constitutes-an-act-of-god/
[^5]: The Balance. Does Car Insurance Cover Natural Disasters? https://www.thebalance.com/does-car-insurance-cover-a-natural-disaster-527194