THE BASICS OF AUTO INSURANCE
Losses from property damage, medical and legal costs, and lost income add up to billions of dollars annually for automobile mishaps. Automobile insurance plays an important role in protecting consumers from serious financial losses that can result from such accidents.
The basic types of auto insurance coverage include:
- Bodily Injury Liability. Pays your legal defense costs and claims against you if your car injures or kills someone. Covers family members living with you and others driving with your permission.
- Property Damage Liability. Pays your legal defense costs and claims against you if your car damages another's property. Does not cover your property, including your auto.
- Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection. Pays medical expenses resulting from an accident for you and others riding in your car. Also pays for you or your family members injured while riding in another's car or while walking.
- Collision. Pays for repairs of damage to your car caused by a collision with another vehicle or any other object, regardless of who was responsible.
- Comprehensive Physical Damage. Pays for damages to your car resulting from theft, fire, hail, vandalism, or a variety of other causes.
- Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist. Pays for costs related to injuries or property damage to you or your family members and guests in your car caused by an uninsured, underinsured, or hit-and-run driver.
WAYS TO SAVE $ ON YOUR POLICY
State-by-State Requirements . . .
Not all states require you to have automobile insurance, but all states do require you to prove that you can pay specified amounts if you cause bodily injury or property damage while driving. Your proof would be insurance or large amounts of cash or some other security. Without one of these, you may lose your driver's license and registration. Visit the Insurance Information Institute’s web site at www.iii.org to find the specific auto insurance coverages required by each state.
Savings Check List . . .
- Comparison Shop. Prices for the same coverage can vary significantly from company to company. You should get at least three different quotes. Call your state insurance department for ideas about companies and agents to contact. To find a listing for your state’s department, visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) web site.
Also, check the financial ratings of insurance companies with one of the major ratings services. The following provide free information on the claims-paying ability ratings of companies: Standard & Poor’s at www.standardpoor.com, 212.208.1146; Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co. at www.dcrco.com, 212.908.0200; and Moody’s Investor Service at www.moodys.com, 212.553.0300.
- Ask for Higher Deductibles. Deductibles represent the amount of money you pay before your insurance company fulfills a claim. By requesting higher deductibles on collision and comprehensive (fire and theft) coverage, you can lower your insurance costs substantially. For example, increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive cost by 15% to 30%.
- No Comprehensive and/or Collision Coverages on Old Cars. It may not be cost effective to have collision or comprehensive coverages on cars worth less than $1,000 because any claim you make would not substantially exceed annual cost and deductible amounts. To determine the value of your car, call your bank or refer to the Kelly Blue Book to car buying available at a library or at www.kbb.com.
- Buy a "Low Profile, Low Maintenance" Car. Cars that are expensive to repair, or that are favorite targets for thieves, have much higher insurance costs. See the National Insurance Crime Bureau at web site www.nicb.org for a list of the U.S.’ top stolen vehicles.
- Low Mileage Discounts. Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive fewer than a predetermined number of miles a year.
- Location Considerations. Premium costs tend to be lowest in rural communities and highest in cities.
- Automatic Seat Belt and/or Airbag Discounts. Some coverages provide discounts if you have automatic seat belts and/or airbags.
- Anti-Lock Brakes. Anti-lock brakes improve steering control and stability when a car is brought to a stop, thus reducing accidents. Some states, including Florida, New Jersey and New York, require insurers to give discounts for cars equipped with anti-lock brakes while some insurers have a nationwide discount in place.
- Other Discounts. Some insurers offer discounts for a variety of other qualifications like:
- no accidents in three years;
- drivers over 50 years of age;
- driver training courses;
- anti-theft devices;
- good grades for students; and
- having more than one car insured with that company.
- Specialty Coverages. Adding supplemental insurance coverages like towing and labor or car rental reimbursement to your basic auto insurance policy may save you money. For example, for an average of $1 or $2 a month added to your auto insurance, you can purchase coverage that will pay for your rental car while your car is being repaired from an accident. If you have this or some other specialty insurance, be sure to remind your insurance company or agent when you file a claim.
IN CASE OF AN ACCIDENT
If you are involved in an auto accident, take the following steps:
- Don’t leave the scene.
- Call for medical assistance if there are injuries. Provide basic first aid.
- Call a law enforcement officer if needed. Get the officer's name and police station address. Ask when the accident report will be filed, its case number and how to get a copy.
- Take careful note of the following:
- Date and time of the accident.
- Street and city.
- Weather and road conditions.
- Direction and speed you and other drivers were going.
- Brief description of how the accident occurred.
- Record the license plate, driver’s license and insurance information numbers of each driver involved.
FILING YOUR CLAIM
- hone your insurance agent or a local company representative as soon as possible.
- Ask your agent how to proceed and what forms or documents will be needed to support your claim.
- Keep records of your expenses because any you incur as a result of an automobile accident may be reimbursed under your policy.
- Keep copies of your paper work.
WORDS TO KNOW
Before purchasing auto insurance, you should know the following definitions:
Conditions -- Explanations in the policy of your responsibilities and the company's; for example, how claims are to be filed and what proofs you must submit with your claim.
Coverage -- Description in the policy of the specific circumstances under which you receive benefits.
Declarations -- Listing of the details of your particular coverage, such as the policy number, kinds of coverage and amounts of money provided by each, your name and address, a description of your vehicle, the premium, and coverage duration.
Exclusions -- Descriptions of the situations under which you and your car are not covered.
Supplemental Payments -- Court costs, bail bonds, expenses related to a lawsuit including defense, or any other specific payments your insurance provides which are not specifically listed in other parts of the policy.
Deductible -- The amount of a loss or claim you must pay before you can collect from the insurance company.
Liability -- Your financial responsibility incurred because of an accident.
Rating -- The process by which the price of your insurance coverage is determined. States are divided into rating territories. Your insurance company bases part of the price of your policy on the claims history of all the drivers it insures in your territory. Other factors such as your driving record and age also affect the rating.
Premium -- The cost of the insurance policy (usually paid out in periodic payments).
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Taking the following proactive steps can help you avoid becoming a victim of auto insurance fraud:
Plan Ahead. Purchasing insurance itself is not enough. Decide what type of coverage you want and what you can afford in terms of deductibles.
Shop Around. Average auto insurance rates have declined in recent years. Comparison shop as you would for any other major purchase. The cost of insurance can vary significantly from com-pany to company.
Get What You Pay For. Make sure your policy contains the coverage you've selected. Take the time to review your coverage and get a second opinion from a reliable source.
Investigate. Check out the reputation of the agent as well as the insurance company. If you buy a policy from an unlicensed agent, you are not protected. Don't rely on someone's identification for verification. Get their agent license number and call your state insurance commissioner’s office to verify an agent's licensing status. To locate your state insurance department, visit the NAIC web site at www.naic.org/consumer/state/usamap.htm Do not give out any financial or personal information until you do so.
Never Pay Cash. Always pay your insurance premiums by check or money order. And, if possible, make your check out to the insurance company.
Protect Your Records. Store copies of insurance documents and receipts in a safe deposit box or with an attorney. Documents should include up-to-date pictures of your vehicles.
Detail Your Claims. In the event of an accident, your insurance company will meet with you to determine the validity of your claim. Keep a log of your interactions with adjusters and agents, including conversations, documents and phone calls, etc.
Beware of Unsolicited Offers. Be wary if, after an auto accident, one or more strangers contact you to offer “quick cash” or to recommend a particular medical clinic, doctor or attorney. This unsolicited help could be the work of a fraud ring.
Check All Related Bills. Ask for detailed bills for all services associated with your auto insurance policy. Carefully check them for accuracy. Be sure you actually received the service(s) listed and watch for double-billing or unexplained excess charges.
REPORT FRAUD. If you’ve been the victim of auto insurance fraud, immediately contact the fraud division of your state insurance department. Remember, detailed and precise documentation is your greatest asset when filing claims and will enhance your chances of fighting back.