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If you’ve ever owned or leased a vehicle in your life, you’ve probably had to buy car insurance. But unless you’ve dug deep into your policy documents—or been in the unfortunate position of needing to file a car insurance claim—you might not be so familiar with the ins and outs of it.

What is car insurance?

Car insurance is a type of insurance coverage that protects you financially if your car is in an accident or gets stolen or damaged.

What does car insurance cover?

The basic car insurance policy most states require covers the costs associated with injuries, deaths or property damage caused by you or someone driving your car. For most basic policies, coverage applies to those affected by your driving, not yourself or your property. You’ll probably need additional coverage for that.

  • Medical payments or personal injury protection covers injuries you or your passengers sustain as well as lost wages or other expenses.

  • Uninsured motorist coverage safeguards you against damage or injury caused by drivers without insurance or hit and runs.

  • Collision coverage pays out for damage to your car that you’re found to be at fault for, like crashing into a tree.

  • Comprehensive coverage accounts for theft or damage from something other than a collision, like fires, vandalism, even a meteor crashing into your car. Comprehensive coverage is truly that comprehensive.

  • Glass coverage, as the name implies, covers glass parts of your vehicle like your windshield, which are particularly susceptible to damage.

  • Gap insurance covers the difference between your car’s current market value and its value when you bought it. Without gap insurance, totaled or stolen cars may only be covered up to their current market value, which may be significantly less than you paid for it, given how fast cars depreciate in value.

If you use your car for delivery or ride-sharing work, you may also need commercial auto insurance. Check your policy or with your insurer to determine the coverage you need.

How long does a car insurance policy last?

Most car insurance policies are six-month or year-long periods. Select insurers may offer monthly or quarterly policies, though the rates may be higher.

How does car insurance work?

Like most forms of insurance, car insurance requires that you pay a monthly fee, called a premium, to ensure you’re covered financially if something bad happens that falls within your coverage.

If it does, you generally aren’t completely off the hook financially. Your policy probably has a deductible, or a minimum amount you have to pay before your insurance takes over payments. But having insurance should help defray major costs.

Do I need car insurance?

If you’re financing a car, your lender may have its own requirements about the level of insurance you need. Even if you’re not required to have auto insurance, you’re still legally on the hook for any damage your car may cause, which can add up quickly.

Do I need car insurance if I rent a car?

If you have car insurance for a personal vehicle, your policy probably carries over to your rental. But even if you don’t, the credit card you use when renting a car may provide some coverage. Check with your credit card issuer to see what kind of rental insurance it automatically offers.

If you’re concerned about your car insurance and/or credit card coverage not being sufficient, most rental agencies will allow you to purchase additional rental insurance when you pick up your car.

Where can I get car insurance?

After you’ve determined your car insurance needs, most auto insurance companies will be able to provide you with any combination of car insurance coverage. (If you’re leasing your vehicle, be sure to check your contract to see if certain things, like gap insurance, are already built into your payments.)

How can I save money on car insurance?

  • Opt for six month over year long policies

  • Be a safe driver

  • Consider a usage based policy

  • Bundle your policies

  • Invest in a reliable, safe car

This article has been distributed for educational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

Insurance

What is car insurance and how much do I need?

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