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Auto insurance rating factors that may surprise you.

Most people know that tickets and accidents raise your auto insurance rates, along with youthful drivers in a household. Here is a list, in no particular order, of some other factors that impact your auto insurance rates that you may not be aware of:

  • Years of continuous insurance – it is best to avoid a lapse in continuous coverage
  • Length of time with prior carrier – jumping from company to company impacts your rates
  • Vehicle type – the value, performance ability and loss experience of vehicles impacts rates – some vehicles are stolen more often than others or generally cause more damage when an accident occurs
  • Education level – completing higher education lowers your auto insurance rates
  • Length of time you own the vehicle – a recently purchased vehicle costs more to insure than one you have owned for years
  • Prior insurance limits – carrying higher limits of liability insurance improves your rating factor

There are a lot of different reasons why these factors are considered. Ultimately it is because there is a statistical correlation between these factors and the cost to provide the insurance.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) – What is it and why carry higher limits?

The State of Oregon requires $15,000 in PIP coverage. PIP is no fault auto injury coverage. That means there is coverage for medical expenses of people in your vehicle regardless of who was at fault for the accident. Many people think extra PIP coverage is not necessary. They assume liability coverage will kick in and pay for costs above the $15,000 minimum limit if they hurt someone, or if someone hurts them. While this can be true, it is usually not that simple. Liability coverage only comes into play when a person is found to be legally responsible for damages or injuries they caused. The determination of liability can take months or even years to finalize depending on the specific situation. And that is assuming the person responsible has liability insurance, or that you have enough uninsured motorist liability coverage to cover the expenses. In the meantime, you could be responsible for the medical bills excess of your PIP limits. Health insurance can also kick in to help with this, but most health plans have deductibles, coinsurance provisions and out of pocket maximums that result in you being responsible for significant sums of money for medical treatment. If you have enough PIP coverage there are also additional benefits available with many policies such as lost income due to being unable to work, additional childcare expenses or other substitute services if you are not able to perform them due to injury.

Comprehensive (comp) and Collision coverage – Do I need those on my policy?

If you took out a loan to purchase your vehicle, then this is an easy “yes” answer. Nearly all lenders require comp and collision coverage with maximum deductibles of $1,000 (some only allow $500). Comprehensive coverage pays for things that happen to your vehicle while it is parked such as vandalism, theft or a tree falling onto the vehicle. It also pays if you hit a deer that runs into the road in front of you. If that happens, you pay your comp deductible, and then your policy pays the remaining cost of repairs. Comp claims do not count against your driving record in the way a collision claim does. Comp claims are not considered to be your fault. Collision claims are accidents that are determined to be your fault, or at least 50% your fault. Many parking lot accidents are found to be 50/50 where both drivers are responsible for their own damages. In the deer situation, if you swerve to avoid the deer and run into a ditch or a tree, that is considered a collision and is your fault. If you rear end another vehicle, that is also almost always your fault. Collision coverage pays for the cost of repairs to your vehicle or pays the value of the vehicle to you in the case of a total loss. You should carry comp and collision coverage on any vehicle you would like to have help replacing or repairing if something happens to the vehicle.

Does my auto insurance automatically cover the trailer that I am towing?

When you have a trailer hooked up to your vehicle the liability coverage from the vehicle automatically applies to the trailer. That means if you cause an accident and your trailer causes damage, the damage your trailer caused will be covered. However, the damage to your trailer itself is not covered unless you have the trailer specifically insured with comprehensive and collision coverage. When you insure a trailer with comprehensive coverage your policy will also provide coverage if the trailer is stolen. The contents of the trailer are not necessarily covered, but the trailer itself is. Insurance coverage for the contents of a trailer gets a bit more complicated and depends on the kind of trailer and the kind of contents. You should speak to a licensed insurance professional about trailer contents coverage if you have questions.

There is no such thing as “full coverage”

Customers will often say they have or want “full coverage” on their policy. That is a common phrase in the insurance industry that can be misleading and end up being very costly if you suffer an accident or loss. Many people consider having comprehensive and collision coverage to equate full coverage, but that is not the case. There are many optional coverages and endorsements that must be added to your policy, depending on the carrier, such as OEM parts, towing, roadside service, loan/lease gap coverage, new car replacement, drive other car, and many more. The wrong time to learn about what your policy does and does not cover is after an accident. A licensed insurance professional can help you review your policy coverages and select what is best for you and your situation.

Why should I carry higher liability limits?

There are several good answers to this question. One reason is that any injuries or damages that are in excess of your liability limits are your personal responsibility; including pain and suffering settlements to injured passengers. If you have certain assets the courts can force you to liquidate those assets to pay for the damages you were found liable for. There is also a certain moral obligation to make sure you’re able to pay for the damages and injuries you cause someone else. Another reason is that you can insure everyone else on the road, up to the same liability limits that you carry yourself, with uninsured motorist coverage. The unit cost for coverage also decreases with higher liability limits. For example, $250,000 in liability coverage is not ten times more expensive than $25,000. The rates vary for each specific person and vehicle, but the cost per thousand of coverage is less with higher limits, like buying in bulk to get the best value.

Should I buy the accident forgiveness and decreasing deductible coverages?

There is no perfect yes or no answer. The benefit of these options are they effectively spread out the additional insurance costs that would result from an at-fault accident. If the prospect of paying your deductible, and then facing an increased cost of insurance at your next renewal is financially challenging or stressful, then you can mitigate the impact of those expenses by spreading that cost out over your regular payments. The monthly cost of insurance is higher than you would pay without those options, but if you do have an at fault accident your deducible could be lowered to as much as zero (your deductible falls $50-100 every policy term that you do not file a claim) and you will not have the accident surcharge applied to your policy at your next renewal.

Does my Home insurance provide coverage for an earthquake or a flood?

No! Standard home insurance policies do not provide coverage for earthquakes or flooding. Some carriers offer earthquake coverage as an endorsement to a home policy for an extra charge. Earthquake coverage is typically close to the cost of home insurance without the earthquake coverage. Flood insurance is written as a separate policy from your home insurance, and is typically required by lenders if your home is in a flood zone. The cost of flood insurance varies greatly based on your flood zone.

What is a service line endorsement on my home insurance policy?

If something happens to the utility service lines in the street then the city typically handles the repairs. If something sudden and accidental happens to the utility service lines inside your home then your home insurance typically covers those repairs. If something happens to those lines between the street and your home, like under your driveway or in your front yard, there is no coverage for the repairs without adding the service line endorsement to your home insurance. The cost for that endorsement is usually between $20 to $50.