No single uniform insurance plan exists called "full coverage." The concept can vary a little from insurer to insurer, but it's usually pretty much like it sounds: you bought a policy that covers just about everything the insurer has to offer. If your company tells you that you have full coverage, you probably have all available provisions, provided they're applicable in your state. Whether it's worth it to make a claim under any of them for minor dings and dents is another matter.
Liability coverage – sometimes called property damage coverage – covers other cars, not your own. It applies if you're involved in a fender bender with another vehicle, whether that vehicle is totaled or if you just leave a little of your car's paint on the other car's bumper. If you own two cars and if they're parked side-by-side in your garage, and if one car's door is dinged when you open the door of the other, liability coverage probably won't pay for the damage. It usually only covers vehicles you don’t own.
Collision coverage is the provision of your full-coverage policy that applies to your own car. If you have collision coverage, this part of your policy pays for repairs if you're involved in an accident. As with liability coverage, it doesn't matter if the damage is a scratch, or if your door is caved in. If the damage occurs as the result of a collision with another vehicle, you should be covered. Some insurers extend collision coverage to any mishap involving a stationary object, such as if you drive into a tree and dent your bumper.
Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your vehicle that's not related to an accident and to events that are beyond your control. For example, if your neighbor's cats get into a brawl on the hood of your car and they leave claw marks from one end to the other, your comprehensive coverage pays to have the scratches buffed out, even though the damage is relatively minor. If a tree falls on your car and smashes the roof in, comprehensive provisions in your full-coverage policy will cover this too.
An important consideration is whether it's worth it to carry full coverage on your automobile, or to make claims for minor damage if you do. Comprehensive coverage usually costs quite a bit because most claims are made for this type of event. It also usually involves a deductible. If you've got a $500 deductible and it will only cost you $600 to get those cat scratches buffed off your hood and the paint touched up, it might be easier to simply come out of pocket for the additional $100 without involving your insurance company and risking a rate increase because you made a claim. Collision coverage usually replaces only the value of your vehicle, so it wouldn’t make sense to pay $2,000 in additional premiums for an older car that's only worth $1,000. By the same token, if you’re financing a brand new luxury car, your lender probably makes collision coverage mandatory.
- Progressive: What Happens if an Accident Occurs in Your Own Driveway?
- DMV.org: Full Coverage Auto Insurance
- Allstate: Comprehensive Coverage to Help Take Care of "Non-Accident" Costs
- Allstate: Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
- Progressive. "Car insurance deductibles explained." Accessed Nov. 1, 2020.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.