Comprehensive car insurance covers damage that can happen to your car when you aren’t driving, like damage from vandalism, falling objects, or theft.
Updated October 20, 2021|4 min read
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Car insurance is made up of multiple types of coverage, some that are required by law and some that are optional. One type of optional coverage is comprehensive coverage, which pays for damage to your car from incidents other than a collision, like fire, theft, vandalism and extreme weather.
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You may be required to have comprehensive insurance if you’re leasing or financing your vehicle. But even if it isn’t required, it’s still a good idea to have if you want to protect your car when it’s not being driven.
Comprehensive coverage pays to repair or replace your car if it is damaged or destroyed in an event that isn’t a collision. This can include things like:
Natural disasters (like tornados, hailstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods)
Falling objects (like a tree falling on your car)
Animal damage (like hitting a deer or a squirrel infestation)
Some insurance companies sell comprehensive and collision coverage bundled together, while others treat them as two separate products.
Comprehensive coverage is not the same thing as full coverage insurance — full coverage car insurance isn’t actually a product, it just refers to a policy that includes both comprehensive and collision coverage in addition to liability.
In the event that your car is totaled, comprehensive insurance will pay for the actual cash value of your car, meaning how much it was worth at the time of the accident (minus your deductible). Many people use the Kelley Blue Book to estimate the actual cash value of their vehicles, but your insurance company will have its own estimation.
Unlike other types of car insurance, like liability, when you add comprehensive coverage to your policy you don’t set a limit — instead, you choose a deductible amount. The deductible is the amount you agree to pay out of pocket per claim, and your insurance will cover the rest. Comprehensive deductibles are usually set at $500 or $1,000.
Let’s say your car was flooded in a storm and the damage costs $4,000 to fix. If you have a deductible of $500, then your car insurance will cover $3,500 in repairs, and you’d owe your $500 deductible.
If the cost to repair your car is less than or close to your deductible amount, it doesn't make sense to file a claim (remember that filing a claim also means risking a rate increase).
As we mentioned above, auto insurance is made up of several types of coverage. Here’s what the other types of insurance cover, and how comprehensive compares:
|Coverage type||What it does||Required?|
|Collision coverage||Pays to repair or replace your vehicle if it’s totaled in a wreck with another vehicle or in a single-car accident (like you hit a tree). Like comprehensive, collision coverage pays the actual cash value of your vehicle and it also comes with a deductible.||No, unless you're financing or leasing your car|
|Liability insurance||Pays for the expenses if you cause a car accident. Bodily injury liability (BIL) pays for other people’s medical expenses, while property damage liability (PDL) pays to repair or replace their vehicle.||Yes, in the 48 states that require insurance|
|Personal injury protection (PIP)||Helps cover the costs of your injuries — including medical expenses and lost wages — if you or your passengers are hurt in a car accident. Many people who have good health insurance choose to skip personal injury protection or just purchase the minimum amount.||Yes, in 15 states|
|Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM)||Covers you if you’re hit by a driver with no insurance or without enough to cover the damage they caused. Similar to liability insurance, UM/UIM can pay for your medical expenses and vehicle repairs.||Yes, in 21 states|
|Gap coverage||If you finance your vehicle and it is totaled or stolen, gap insurance will pay the bank the difference between the actual cash value of the car and the amount you still owe on the car.||May be required if you lease or finance your vehicle|
Comprehensive coverage isn’t required by law, but everyone who owns a car and wants to be fully insured from risk needs comprehensive insurance. That said, there are some groups of people who may need it more than others:
1. Drivers who lease or finance their cars: Many lessors or lenders require drivers to have both comprehensive and collision coverage. That’s because when you lease or finance a car, your lessor or lienholder has a vested interest in making sure the vehicle stays in good shape (and that they’ll be paid back if the car is totaled).
2. Drivers who cannot afford to buy a new car: If you own your car outright, you may think you can skip comprehensive insurance. A good way to think about it is, if your car were stolen or destroyed in a flash flood or fire, would you be able to afford to replace it? For some people, the answer is yes — they have emergency funds or savings set aside for this reason, or the value of their car is low enough that it isn’t worth covering it. For other people, the loss of a car could be an impossible blow. For that second group, comprehensive insurance coverage provides essential protection.
3. Drivers worried about natural disasters: If you live in an area prone to floods, earthquakes, or other natural disasters, comprehensive insurance is the only way to protect yourself if your car is destroyed. Even if it’s in your garage or on your property, your homeowners insurance won’t cover it.
4. Drivers whose car is in storage: Say you're going abroad for a year and leaving your car in a friend's garage. If you drop your car insurance altogether, then you wouldn't be covered at all if your car is damaged by cold winter weather or falling objects. You'd also have a lapse your insurance coverage when you come home and need to buy a policy again. A better option is to reduce your coverage to comprehensive-only, also called car storage insurance, which is only available for cars that are being stored for extended periods of time.
The cost of comprehensive insurance coverage varies greatly by location, but the average annual premium for comprehensive coverage countrywide is $167.91 per year (around $14 per month). The most expensive state for comprehensive coverage is South Dakota, where it’s $327.11 per year (around $27 per month). The cheapest state is California, where the average cost is $94.72 per year (around $8 per month).
The cost of comprehensive car insurance can be complicated by the fact that many carriers sell comprehensive and collision coverage bundled together and you may not have a choice to just price out comprehensive.
According to a recent report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, in 2018 the average insurance policy in the United States in 2018 was $1,189.64. Of that premium, drivers spent an average of $167.91 on comprehensive coverage.
|State||Average total premium||Comprehensive|
|District of Columbia||$1,574.09||$228.71|
You should have both comprehensive and collision coverage to be fully protected. But you can set your deductibles differently based on which type of coverage you think you’ll be more likely to use. If you live in a densely populated area where car theft is common, it may make sense to have a lower comprehensive coverage deductible since you may actually have to pay it.
Damage from hitting a pothole, like misalignment or tire damage, would be covered by collision coverage, not comprehensive. However the damage must be a direct result of the pothole. If the damage was a result of regular wear and tear or another maintenance issue, then collision insurance won’t cover it.
Yes, depending on your carrier, you may be able to reduce your coverage to just comprehensive, but only if you won’t be driving your car for a significant period of time. Also called “car storage insurance,” some carriers offer comp-only coverage if your car will be in storage for several months or a year. That way it’s protected from damage that can happen while you’re away. But remember, before you drive your car again you must restore full coverage.
Each time you file a claim, you risk raising your insurance rates. Your rates can go up after any type of claim, but they're less likely to go up after a comp claim than an at-fault accident. You should only file a claim if the cost to repair the damage exceeds your deductible.