If you're shopping for a car insurance policy, you'll have to decide between getting just liability insurance or what’s usually called full coverage, which just means a policy that includes comprehensive and collision coverage. While liability insurance only pays for the injuries and property damage you cause to others, a full coverage policy also covers damage to your own car, even if you're responsible.
Liability-only insurance is usually cheaper than full coverage, and the cheapest liability-only insurance is a policy that just has enough coverage to meet the minimum car insurance requirements in your state. But getting just your state minimums can leave you seriously unprotected after an accident.
Liability vs full coverage: what's the difference?
The following table displays a few of the main differences between liability and full coverage car insurance. We also break down the differences between liability and full coverage more fully below.
Level of Coverage
Who it covers
Other drivers and you
What it includes
Bodily injury and property damage liability coverage
Collision and comprehensive coverge
Yes, in almost every state
No, unless you lease or have a loan on your car
Full coverage car insurance includes collision and comprehensive coverage, meaning it covers the cost of damage to your own car, whether it’s from an accident or another incident. Since liability coverage only protects others from the damage that you're responsible for, if you have a liability-only policy, you won’t be covered if your car is stolen, vandalized, or damaged in an accident you cause.
Almost every state requires you to carry a bare minimum amount of liability insurance before you can drive legally. However, you can get more than the minimum amount of liability insurance and still not be fully covered for damage that you cause to your own car.
Unlike liability insurance, full-coverage car insurance isn’t required by law at all. But your lender or lessor will probably require you to have full coverage if you have an auto loan or lease your vehicle.
How much is full coverage compared to liability?
Full coverage car insurance is typically more expensive than liability-only insurance because it comes with more protection. And the cheapest car insurance policy is one that only meets the minimum coverage requirements in your state — but that’s also the policy that leaves you the least protected.
We found that full coverage costs $1,183 more per year on average than a policy with just the minimum amount of liability insurance required in each state. This is an increase of 192%.
Farm Bureau Insurance
Table is ordered by the dollar-amount increase from minimum to full coverage.
While full coverage is more expensive on average than liability insurance, the cost of coverage varies depending on the company and your location.
No matter whether you have a liability-only or full coverage policy, we recommend settling liability limits of at least 100/300/100, meaning up to $100,000 in bodily injury liability coverage per person, $300,000 in bodily injury liability coverage per accident, and $100,000 in property damage liability coverage.
What is liability-only insurance?
A liability-only insurance policy just covers the damage or injury that you cause to other drivers. If you cause a crash, injure another driver and damage their car, they would make a claim with your liability insurance — also called a third-party claim. Since liability insurance is not full coverage and only covers damage that you cause to others, you would have to pay for your own car's repair costs yourself.
There are two parts of liability insurance:
Bodily injury liability coverage pays for the injuries that you cause to another person in a car accident.
Property damage liability pays for repairing or replacing another person's property if you damage it in a car accident.
If someone else causes an accident, their bodily injury or property damage liability (together called liability BIPD) would cover you. However, if you were hit by someone without enough insurance to cover the damage they cause, you would need uninsured and uninsured motorist protection in order to be covered.
How do you know how much liability coverage you have?
Insurance companies usually show your coverage amounts using slashes. For example, your policy might show your liability coverage as 25,000/50,000/25,000.
The first number means that your insurer will cover the cost of another individual's injuries for up to $25,000. For the entire accident, your company will pay up to $50,000. The third number is your policy's amount of property damage liability coverage.
Let's say that you cause an accident that injures another driver and their two passengers. The driver's injuries cost $25,000, while the rest of the injuries carry bills for $40,000. Since you have $25,000 of liability coverage, the driver's injuries are covered. But, you also caused a total of $65,000 worth of injuries between all three people. Because you're only insured for $50,000 you would still have to pay $15,000 yourself.
What is full coverage?
Full coverage auto insurance is different from liability-only insurance. Unlike liability-only insurance, there is no "full coverage" product that you can buy. Instead, a full coverage policy is just one that includes comprehensive and collision coverage in addition to liability.
Comprehensive and collision coverage pay for damage that's not caused by another driver.
Comprehensive covers damage from a non-driver, like an animal, a vandal, or the weather.
Collision covers damage that you cause, like in a single-car crash or in an at-fault accident with another driver.
To increase the protection of your car insurance even more, you can buy other types of coverage that your state doesn't require, like roadside assistance or rental car reimbursement coverage. However, these extra coverage add-ons, called endorsements, aren't usually considered part of a typical full coverage policy.
Is comprehensive the same thing as full coverage?
You may have heard comprehensive used interchangeably with full coverage. However, they're not exactly the same thing. Comprehensive coverage, along with collision coverage, is a part of what's typically considered a full coverage policy.
Unlike liability insurance, you have to pay a deductible to use comprehensive and collision coverage. The insurer subtracts your deductible amount (which you select when buying coverage) from your settlement amount if your claim is successful.
Should you get full coverage or liability coverage?
Bottom line: Full coverage, which includes comprehensive and collision coverage is worth it for most people.
As long as you can afford it, full coverage is typically worth the investment. Even though full coverage is usually more expensive than liability insurance, increasing the cost of your insurance premium by adding comprehensive and collision coverage is much cheaper than having to buy a new car if you total it — or if it's stolen or vandalized.
And if you lease or finance a car, you’ll be required to have both comprehensive and collision (and sometimes also gap insurance). That’s because you’re not your car’s only owner, and your lessor or lender wants to protect their investment.
If you want full coverage insurance but aren't sure if you already have it, check your policy's declarations page. This page lists exactly what types of coverage you have, including your liability limits and any extras. If you don't have full coverage but want it, Policygenius can help you shop insurers and get the best rates for the amount of coverage you want.
When wouldn't you need full coverage car insurance?
If you drive an old car and you don’t care about replacing it if it's totaled, then you can skip full coverage. And you can skip full coverage on one car and not the other: Say you have a brand new sedan you drive to work, you’ll want full coverage on that car, but you can skip it for the old clunker your teen is using while they learn to drive.
Generally, if your car is worth less than your premiums after adding comprehensive and collision coverage, you don't need full coverage. It also wouldn't be worth adding full coverage if your deductible amount is close to the value of your car. In these cases, it might just be cheaper to replace your damaged or stolen car.