Understanding all the parts of your auto insurance policy.
Getting car insurance is a crucial part of making sure you — and your vehicle — are protected in case of an accident on the road. Unlike, say, life insurance, which is a good idea but optional, car insurance is mandated for most drivers. 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. Looking at your car insurance policy can be overwhelming if you don’t understand what it is you’re reading. Let’s break down what you’ll see when you look through your car insurance policy, and how to understand how much protection you have.
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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, it includes:
Basic policy information, like your policy number, your 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, including the make, model and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
Your car insurance premium, which is the amount you have to pay to keep your coverage in force.
Your deductible amounts, or 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.
A list of all the types of coverage you purchased, along with the amount of each coverage you have as part of your policy.
Riders, also called endorsements, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius in New York City, and an expert in auto insurance. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic, writing about news and culture. Her work has appeared in The Dodo, AOL, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.
Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.
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