Getting car insurance is a crucial part of making sure you — and your vehicle — are protected in case of an accident on the road. At least some amount of auto insurance is required in most states, and even in states where car insurance isn’t required by law, it’s still a good idea to have coverage to protect you in the event you cause an accident and get stuck with the bill.
But car insurance can be confusing, even if you’ve had it for years. We’re going to break down the parts of a car insurance policy, and how to understand how much protection you have.
A car insurance policy is made up of five different parts: a declarations page, an insuring agreement, exclusions, conditions, and definitions.
Car insurance policies typically include liability coverage, personal injury protection or medical payments coverage, comprehensive coverage, collision coverage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Your car insurance coverages will be listed in your car insurance policy, usually on the declarations sheet.
Your car insurance declarations page, often shortened to dec page or dec sheet, is usually found on the front of your car insurance policy. It’s the first place you should look for the basic details of your policy, and includes:
Basic policy information: This includes your policy number, policy period, the named insured on the policy, contact information for your agent and carrier, and the lienholder if you have a loan on your vehicle.
Information about your car: This includes the make, model and vehicle identification number (VIN).
Your car insurance premium: This is the amount you have to pay to keep your coverage in force.
Your deductible amounts: This is the amount you have to pay out of pocket for a claim. These will be listed alongside the types of coverage you have that require deductibles.
Your coverage types: This includes the coverages in your policy, along with the amount of each coverage you have.
Riders: Also referred to as endorsements, these are optional add-ons you can purchase to boost your existing coverage. These are sometimes listed on your declarations sheet, but if they aren’t, you can find them elsewhere in your policy.
Discounts: Every carrier offers its drivers some discounts, and the ones you’re receiving should be listed on your dec page, often with the amount you’re saving on your premium.
Sample car insurance declarations page
Your car insurance declarations page will have information about your auto insurance policy, such as cost and coverage types and amounts. Popular insurance companies like GEICO, Progressive, and Allstate will provide a declarations page when your policy begins.
After the dec page, you’ll find your insuring agreement section. Don’t forget that an auto insurance policy is a legal contract that lays out the obligations you and the car insurance provider have to each other. The insuring agreement section is the meat and potatoes of this agreement — it breaks down the different responsibilities your insurer has to you under each of the types of coverage that are included in your policy.
For each type of coverage, let’s say you have liability, medical payments, uninsured motorist, comprehensive and collision coverage, the insuring agreement will lay out the situations under which you’ll be covered. It will also state what the insurance company promises to do for you as part of that coverage.
The insuring agreement section will also include exclusions for each kind of coverage — that’s the specific situations under which you won’t be covered by insurance. For example, under your comprehensive and collision coverage insurance agreement, the exclusion will likely state that you won’t be covered for damage caused by general wear and tear.
Your auto policy will also likely include the conditions you must meet for coverage, which are basically your duties as the insured. This will likely outline your responsibilities after an accident, like promptly notifying your insurance company and sending them any relevant documents when you submit a claim. If you don’t meet the provisions laid out in your policy, your car insurance company can use that as a reason to deny a claim.
This is often the first or last section of an auto policy. The definitions section does exactly what it sounds like — it lays out the definitions of phrases and terms used throughout the policy. It can be used to help clarify certain specifics of coverage.
What are the coverage components of a car insurance policy?
Car insurance can cover damage you cause in an accident, as well as damage to your own vehicle or your medical expenses after a crash, depending on the coverage in your policy. Besides what’s required in your state or by your lessor or lienholder, you can typically customize your policy to provide different types of protection. Here are the most common types of car insurance coverage:
|Type of Coverage||What does it do?||Who needs it?|
|Liability||Pays for damage or injuries you cause to other people and their property. Divided into two parts: bodily injury liability and property damage liability||Everybody|
|Comprehensive||Pays to repair or replace your car when it is damaged by falling objects, vandalism, storms/weather, animals, or theft||Drivers who cannot afford to replace their car out-of-pocket, or who lease or finance a car|
|Collision||Pays to repair or replace your car when it is damaged in a collision||Drivers who cannot afford to replace their car out-of-pocket, or who lease or finance their car|
|Personal Injury Protection (PIP)||Covers medical expenses for you and your passengers after an accident, regardless of who was at fault||Drivers in no-fault states,|
|Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM)||Pays for medical costs when someone else causes an accident and doesn’t have the insurance they need to cover it||Drivers who want extra protection if they are hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver, drivers in states where UM/UIM is required|
|Roadside Assistance||Pays for emergency services when you’re stranded on the side of the road, including towing, tire changes, and gas, oil, or battery delivery||Drivers who want extra protection if they break down on the side of the road|
|Gap Coverage||Pays the difference between what you still owe on a loaned or leased car and it’s depreciated value if it gets totaled||Drivers who lease or financed their vehicle|
How to get a copy of your car insurance policy
Hopefully, after you first purchased your car insurance policy, you saved your physical policy in a safe place so you can refer to it if you need to file a claim. But if you’ve misplaced your policy or need a new copy, it usually isn’t hard to get one. You may be able to retrieve your policy online, through your provider’s website.
Many car insurance companies also have mobile apps that allow you to pull up your dec page with the click of a button. If you’re not sure how to obtain a copy of your policy, contact your car insurance provider either online or over the phone and let them know you need a new copy of your policy.
Should I keep my car insurance policy in my car?
Some people choose to keep a copy of their car insurance policy in their vehicle, but this probably isn’t the safest place for it. You do need to keep proof of insurance on you when you drive, but your insurance card is all you need. Your policy has lots of private information that could be stolen if someone breaks into your car. It’s better to keep your car insurance policy safely at home, not in your glove box.
Car insurance covers most causes of damage to you and your car, but it will not cover mechanical breakdowns and routine maintenance. That means regular wear and tear, and things like tire rotation or alignment are not covered by a full coverage policy.
What type of car insurance is best?
The best car insurance policy is one that offers you the coverage you need at an affordable price, and the best way to find that is by working with an expert to compare quotes. All drivers need liability coverage in their policy, but an independent expert can help you figure out what other coverages you need, as well as how to choose a company.
What is full coverage insurance?
Full coverage car insurance just refers to a policy that includes comprehensive and collision coverage in addition to liability coverage. A full coverage car insurance policy typically costs around $1,652 per year (or about $137 per month), according to our analysis of rates provided by Quadrant Information Services.