Personal Finance

A hurricane is coming; what will cover damage to my car?

Question: What auto insurance coverages do I need so that my car is covered if it's damaged due to a hurricane or tropical storm? 

Answer:  Collision and comprehensive coverages are needed as a part of your car insurance policy if you want your auto insurer to pay for the repair or total loss of your car (minus your deductible amount).

Collision covers your car if it's hit, or hits, another car or object, so if the rain from the storm causes you to hydroplane and crash your car, you could make a collision claim. However, the majority of damage to vehicles from hurricanes and tropical storms is from winds and water and thus would be covered under comprehensive coverage, which is also known as "other than collision."  (See " Is your car parked in disaster's path? ")

Comprehensive covers your car not only for theft, glass breakage and fire, but also damages due to floodwaters, hail and other natural occurrences -- such as hurricane-force wind gusts.  (See "'Acts of God' and your car insurance").  The exact perils covered by comprehensive vary by insurer, so if you have this coverage (or want to add it) you'll need to ask your auto insurance company about what specific situations and damages you can place a claim for.

A car insurance policy that consists only of your state's minimum coverages wouldn't be of any help if high winds tip a tree onto your car or floodwaters seep into your vehicle since bodily injury liability and property damage liability only cover others that you cause damage to in an auto accident, and don't offer any protection to your own vehicle.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) says a hurricane or tropical storm warning is issued when weather conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher for a hurricane or sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph for a tropical storm) are expected somewhere in the specified area within 36 hours, and a watch is issued when these hurricane- or tropical-storm-force winds are possible within 48 hours.

This NHC information is significant because if a hurricane is forming, or already coming in your direction, and you want to place physical damage coverages on your car (you may be able to add comprehensive on its own, but many insurers will require that you carry collision along with comprehensive coverage), then you need to do so before a tropical storm watch/warning goes into effect -- or you may be out of luck since insurers can place restrictions on changes to policies or new policies during a storm. 

Important information to know about auto insurance and hurricanes/tropical storms:

  • Most car insurance companies put temporary binding restrictions into effect in areas that are under a hurricane or named tropical storm watch/warning. When the restrictions go into effect and how long they last vary from one insurance company to the next, as is what is restricted. 
  • Restrictions typically can include not accepting any applications for new coverage as well as not accepting requests for the addition of physical damage coverages, increased limits, or the lowering of deductibles on existing policies.
  • In general, the restrictions will usually go into effect as soon as an area goes into a tropical storm watch/warning and lasts until 48 to 72 hours after the watch/warning ends. 
  • If you have auto insurance in force that is set to expire during hurricane season, it's best to renew or shop around purchase a new auto insurance policy early; that way a binding restriction won't come into play. 
  • If you are buying a new car, try to avoid purchasing it if a storm is approaching and could restrict your ability to buy the car insurance coverage that you need.
  • An application, such as the Red Cross Hurricane App, may help you monitor weather alerts so you'll be aware of when you are able to start a new policy or add comprehensive and collision to your current policy.

If you have comprehensive on your vehicle and it's damaged during a hurricane or tropical storm, then I'd recommend that when it's safe to go outside, take pictures of the damage and contact your auto insurance provider to make a claim, if the damage looks to be above your deductible amount.  If the damage is less than your deductible, then there is no reason to make a claim since your auto insurance policy only starts to pay out after the deductible has been met.

Your auto insurer will likely tell you to take steps to prevent further loss (such as covering any smashed windows, or placing a tarp on the car).  Not doing so could result in more damage being done that your insurer would deny coverage for due to your failure to take action and keep additional damage from being done.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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