When it comes to car insurance, the age-old question is, How much car insurance do I need? Here's a quick-and-dirty answer: You need $500,000 worth of liability insurance. That’s the type of auto coverage you’re legally required to have to drive anywhere. And that’s the bare minimum amount of coverage we recommend for all drivers—but there’s a lot more to it than that. We’ll talk more about other kinds of coverage below, but that gives you a rough idea to start!
The next question on your mind is probably, How much should I pay for car insurance? After all, if you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, you may think, Shouldn’t I go for the cheapest option?
There’s just one problem with going the cheapest route: Saving money isn’t the only part of buying car insurance. You also have to think about protecting your finances from the possibility of a 10-car pileup. (Okay, so that’s a little unlikely, but you get the point: Car accidents can be expensive.) You need coverage that actually covers you—the kind that protects you from budget-busting car wrecks.
You can fail that driver’s test 11 times before you get your license, but you don’t get a lot of second chances when it comes to car insurance. It’s like wearing pants—you’re either covered or you’re not.
It’s hard to figure out how much auto insurance you need because, let’s face it, even basic car insurance is confusing. But don’t worry—we’ll show you exactly what you need. For starters, most drivers should have at least three types of car insurance: liability, comprehensive and collision.
But before we dig into exactly how much car insurance you need, let’s talk about why you need car insurance.
Why Do I Need Car Insurance?
So, do you have to have car insurance? Yep! Driving around without car insurance is like skydiving without a parachute—dangerous and stupid. And in the case of uninsured driving, it’s also illegal. But get this: Not everyone on the road has auto insurance in place. Don’t let that be you. You’ll have some heavy problems if you’re caught on the road without car insurance. We’ve all got some rebel inside of us, but this isn’t a rule you want to mess with. (But you can drive barefoot if that’s your thing!)
Another reason to get car insurance: It protects your money. How else are you going to cover the costs after your teenager accidentally drives your SUV through the garage door? (Oops!) Or when your uncle forgets to put your car in park and it rolls into your neighbor’s brand-new convertible? (Crunch.)
The right kinds and amount of car insurance can really save your financial skin—with less pain than electrolysis. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that expensive. (I’ll talk more on the average costs later.)
What Kinds of Car Insurance Do I Need?
First, let’s break down a few basic car insurance terms.
- A deductible is what you have to pay before your insurance company will pay their share.
- A premium is what you pay for your coverage (usually monthly).
- Your coverage limit is the maximum amount your policy will pay for each type of coverage. If you go over your policy’s limits, you’re responsible for any remaining costs.
Now, there are a bunch of different types of car insurance. The most important ones are liability, comprehensive and collision coverage. We call them the big three of basic car insurance—coverage you can’t afford to go without. If you have all three, it means you have full coverage.
Liability insurance covers things like medical or repair costs for other people if you cause an accident—and we recommend having at least $500,000 worth of liability. (Sending them a sympathy note is a nice touch too—just sayin’.)
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Every U.S. state requires you to have liability coverage except for New Hampshire and parts of Alaska. But you might be asking, How much auto insurance do I need? Just know, liability coverage isn’t an option. You’re required to get at least your state’s minimum liability just to drive legally almost anywhere.
On the other hand, those state minimums aren’t nearly enough to protect you. If anything, you should be asking, How much liability insurance do I need to be well covered? Like we said earlier, you should have at least $500,000 worth of liability coverage that includes both property damage liability and bodily injury liability.
And if you’ve never taken a close look at your insurance paperwork, you’ll want to take a minute to find out if your coverage limits are written as split coverage or single coverage. Most are split coverage, but let’s look closer at both types and see how each one works with your goal of $500,000 in coverage.
Split Coverage Limits
Most policies have split coverage limits. If yours is split, it’s usually written out as three numbers. For example, 25/50/15. Don’t let all the digits confuse you. We’ll break down what each one means.
The first number is the bodily injury per person limit. (Yeah, these docs get a little morbid.) If you’re at fault in an accident, the policy in this example will cover up to $25,000 in medical, legal, funeral or lost wage costs for one person in the other vehicle—the driver or a passenger.
Of course, it’s possible for multiple injuries to happen in an auto accident. And now you’re looking at some big bills! That’s where the second number comes in. It’s the bodily injury per accident limit. This policy will pay up to $50,000 to help with those costs for multiple people, and you’d be responsible for the rest out of pocket.
The third number is the property damage per accident limit. It’s the amount your insurer will pay to replace or repair the other vehicle or property you damaged. So, this policy would pay for up to $15,000 in property damage.
Doing some quick math, this imaginary liability policy gets you a total of $65,000 in liability coverage. You might think that sounds like plenty, but trust us, the cost of an accident can escalate quickly! To hit our recommended $500,000 in liability coverage, you’ll need a split coverage policy of 100/400/100.
In case you were wondering: Leftover money from one category of coverage doesn’t work like the leftover meatloaf you saved from last night’s dinner for today’s lunch. In other words, it can’t be used to cover costs in another category. The costs are defined, and the limits are, well, limited.
But there’s another, more flexible way to write your policy.
Single Coverage Limits
You can also pick a single coverage limit for liability (aka a combined coverage limit). Instead of defining three types of liability coverage and giving them separate limits, a single coverage policy just has one number to cover any liability costs for an accident—property damage or injuries. Convenient, right?
This type of limit is a lot more flexible, so we recommend asking your insurance agent to help you get this kind. Again, it’s worth it to get a cool half-million in coverage.
Whichever type of coverage limit you choose, here’s the bottom line: You need to at least hit that half-million mark. That way, if an accident’s your fault, you’ve got a good amount of coverage for costs related to repairing the other driver’s car (property damage) and any costs related to their lost wages or medical bills (bodily injury).
Without liability insurance, you’d have to pay for these things out of pocket. Yeah, let’s try to avoid that
Comprehensive coverage protects you from things like theft or damage from a fire, a storm, a natural disaster, or even a piano falling on your car. (Hey, haven’t you heard of a rooftop concert?) Comprehensive will pay to replace or repair your car as long as the damage isn’t due to a collision.
Although comprehensive coverage isn’t legally required unless you have a loan or lease (and why would you have those?), you should still have it to protect your finances from life’s flukes. Be sure your deductible is $1,000 or more—that way you save on premiums because you’ll handle the little issues out of pocket.
Collision insurance covers the cost to repair or replace your car if you’re in an accident with another vehicle or object. No matter who’s at fault, collision covers damage to your vehicle—unlike liability coverage, which pays for other people’s vehicles or medical bills.
Just like comprehensive, it’s not required (again, unless you’re leasing or have a loan).
So, do you need collision? Here’s what we say: If you can’t replace your car with cash, you should get collision coverage. Because without it, you’ll be on the hook to replace your car if it’s totaled. (And to repeat some deductible advice from above: Go for that $1,000 mark—it’ll save you money on premiums.) The only time you might not need collision insurance is if your car is paid off and, again, you can replace it from your savings.
Uninsured Motorist (UM) and Underinsured Motorist (UIM)
Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) covers medical expenses (for you and your passengers) that result from a hit-and-run accident or a driver who’s uninsured. But it doesn’t cover damage to your vehicle.1 While some states require you to have uninsured motorist coverage, UM coverage is worth looking into whether your state requires it or not. It’s a pretty affordable add-on, and hit-and-runs are real. You do not want to be left holding the bill for a mess like that.
Then there are times you may get hit by a driver who has insurance, just not enough. Underinsured motorist insurance (UIM) covers you when you’re in an accident caused by a driver whose insurance coverage falls below the state’s required minimums.
And here’s a tip on that note: If you’re not sure about your own state’s requirements for UM or UIM, reaching out to one of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs) is a great idea. They’re all RamseyTrusted pros who know their stuff and will have your back for all things car insurance.
Occasionally, you’ll find uninsured motorist property damage, or UMPD, packaged with UM and UIM. Though it usually has a lower deductible than collision coverage, you probably don’t need both UMPD and collision coverage since they essentially do the same thing. But if you drop one of these insurance types, just be sure you already have the other kind in place first.
Medical Payments Coverage (MedPay)
Whether you’re covered by health insurance or not, medical payments coverage (MedPay) pays reasonable medical expenses for you, your passengers or any family members involved in a car wreck—no matter who’s at fault. Depending on where you live, MedPay might be required.
Your health insurance should be enough to cover those costs, so you don’t necessarily need to get MedPay coverage. On the other hand, it’s usually a very small premium to get this coverage added to a comprehensive auto policy, especially if you’re bundling policies with the same company. The extra layer could come in handy! To find out if you’re good to go already or need to add MedPay, be sure and review your coverage with one of our RamseyTrusted ELPs.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
Personal injury protection (PIP) is similar to MedPay but has more extensive coverage, higher coverage limits and a higher premium. But unlike MedPay, PIP generally has a deductible. (Sidenote: Gladys Knight and the Pips make for super smooth driving music.)
So far, 19 states have passed laws where you’re either required to have PIP or have the option to purchase it as an add-on insurance.2 If you live in a state that requires you to carry PIP, you should take full advantage of the coverage if you ever need it. Here are some things PIP may cover for you:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral costs
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Substitute services like childcare or lawn care (if your accident left you unable to take care of your kids or grass)
- Partial lost wages
- Funds to hire subcontractors to complete your work (if you’re self-employed)
Though it varies from state to state, PIP coverage usually kicks in right away and provides coverage up to the limit you choose. It also has to be used up before you can tap into your MedPay or health insurance policy.
So you’re probably wondering, Do you recommend PIP? Personal injury protection is helpful for many situations but not for all. Obviously if you live in a state where it’s required, you’re going to need it. No matter where you live, PIP covers so many things at a great value. Here are a couple other scenarios to consider:
- Anyone who doesn’t have health insurance (a very bad idea, by the way) or has sucky coverage in that department would be wise to get PIP.
- You might decide to skip PIP if you have really good health insurance that provides thorough post-accident coverage, but another idea would be to go with the bare minimum of this coverage type to be super safe and save on premiums.
- No matter what your situation, asking a trusted insurance pro if you need PIP is smart.
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Optional Car Insurance Coverage
Now that we’ve looked at the main types of car insurance, let’s see what else is available.
Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP)
Let’s pretend you lost your mind and, instead of paying cash, you financed a brand-new SUV (seriously, don’t do this). If you totaled it a year later, your insurance company would only cover the actual cash value (ACV) of the SUV. So, even though they’d be cutting you a pretty big check, it still wouldn’t be enough to pay off your loan. That’s because new cars lose about 20% of their value in the first year.4 Yikes!
GAP insurance fills this “gap” by covering the remainder of what you still owe on your loan.
If you want to save yourself a financial headache, skip GAP insurance and buy a used car with cash in the first place. If you already have a car loan, make it your goal to pay it off as quickly as possible so you can drop the GAP coverage and lower your premium.
Temporary Car Insurance
Temporary car insurance is an option for drivers who plan to drive a car only for a short period (usually six months or less). So, if you’re going on an epic road trip with your siblings and plan to drive your brother’s car, temporary car insurance is helpful. But keep in mind, most reputable insurance companies don’t offer it. Instead, it comes in the form of non-owner car insurance or rental car insurance.
If you’re on a first-name basis with your mechanic, you may be tempted to sign up for mechanical breakdown insurance because it lets you choose where to get your car repaired, as long as the mechanic is licensed. My advice? Save your money and avoid this coverage. If you still want to use your favorite mechanic, use your emergency fund to pay for emergency repairs—that’s what it’s there for!
So, how exactly do you make do without a car after an accident? Who’s going to pick up the kids from school or take you to work the next day? That’s where rental reimbursement coverage comes in. It covers the cost of a rental car (up to a specific dollar amount and number of days) while your car is in the shop.
If you think you’ll need this backup plan in place, rental reimbursement’s not a bad idea to add to your policy—as long as you like the price! But if it’s going to spike your premium a lot, it’s a no-go. Your emergency fund should be able to cover a temporary rental (and save you money in the long run).
If your car tends to sit in the garage collecting dust, you may need to get out more. But you may also be interested in pay-per-mile coverage. With this coverage, your insurer installs a GPS device in your car so you’re billed per mile rather than with an annual estimate.
Remember that time you coasted down the interstate on empty, praying you’d make it to the closest gas station? Or that time you hit a pothole and wound up with two flat tires? Bad times.
Roadside assistance coverage saves you in these moments. It covers having fuel brought to you, getting your battery jumped, having your car towed to the nearest repair shop or replacing a dead battery. And if you don’t have something like AAA, it can really come in handy.
You may be wondering, Why would I purchase an umbrella liability policy if I already have liability insurance? Umbrella insurance (or personal liability insurance) is an extra layer of liability coverage that kicks in after you’ve met the limits of your current policy. You’ll typically find coverage ranging from $1–5 million.
If your net worth is $500,000 or higher, umbrella insurance is a must to protect your assets! It also covers any damages you’re legally responsible for in the event of an accident. Plus, umbrella insurance normally offers a wider form of protection than liability insurance for things like legal fees, false arrests and even slander.
Roll bars. Fog lights. Camper shells. (Those could all make for great indie band names, right?) If upgrading your car is how you roll, you might look into custom equipment coverage. And if you’ve permanently installed aftermarket parts (not made by the original manufacturer) or performance parts on your car, adding this to your car insurance could help you pay to repair or replace enhancements like custom running boards, stereo systems or even a custom paint job.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Endorsement
Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) endorsement is a mouthful, but here’s the deal—it’s coverage that makes sure the same parts your manufacturer safety tested and used to originally build your vehicle will be used to fix your car if it’s in an accident.
Quick note on OEM endorsement: Not all insurance companies offer this kind of coverage. Be sure to find an agent who’ll explain everything that’s available to you—and who’ll help you get the right amount of coverage at the best price.
Forgiveness Coverage (Accident Forgiveness or Minor Violation Forgiveness)
Did you know just one at-fault accident can significantly increase your insurance premium? That’s pretty harsh. But forgiveness coverage might help!
Forgiveness coverage can’t turn back time and undo an accident (that’s what time machines are for). But it can essentially wipe your slate clean by “forgiving” your first at-fault accident. Depending on your insurance company, this coverage may only apply once per policy term, or it may take years of safe driving to go into effect.
If you live next to a golf course, you may have found yourself wishing you had glass coverage to pay for the cost of fixing or replacing the windows on your car. Some insurance companies offer glass coverage with no deductible, but the cost of the added coverage may outweigh the benefits, especially since some policies only cover the windshield.
Classic Car Insurance
Restoring classic cars seems like a cool hobby—but it’s also expensive! That goes for repairing or replacing them, too. If you’re into cars from the ’90s and older, you’ll want to look into classic car insurance. This will protect your investment if that sweet 1967 Volkswagen Beetle gets damaged or stolen.
Driving for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft is a great way to make some extra cash. But most people doing this kind of work have no idea their personal policy won’t cover a rideshare hustle. And the rideshare companies don’t offer full coverage. That’s where rideshare insurance can make up the difference.
Should I Choose a High or Low Deductible?
Now that you’re an expert on what kind of car insurance you might need, it’s time to dig deeper into how to pick the right deductible.
If you choose a high deductible, your insurance company looks at you as a lower risk and will reward you with a lower premium. If you choose a low deductible, your insurance company sees you as a higher risk and will—you guessed it—give you a higher premium. (Spoiler: We recommend the first option.)
A $1,000 deductible usually means you’ll pay a lower premium. And since the first Baby Step is to save up a $1,000 starter emergency fund, you’ll have the savings on hand to cover your deductible. But before you sign up for a $1,000 deductible, work with your insurance agent to make sure it’s worth the extra risk by running a break-even analysis as you compare rates. Let’s take a closer look.
For example, if you raise your deductible from $500 to $1,000, you increase your risk by $500. If that reduces your annual premium by $50, you’ll have to go 10 years without an accident to break even—not a great deal. But if increasing your deductible knocks $150 off your annual premium, you’ll break even in just over three years. That makes much more sense! Whatever you end up doing, there are lots of ways to save on car insurance.
And if you’ve heard of something called a disappearing deductible, no, it’s not a magic trick. Your payments definitely won’t vanish into thin air. Some insurance companies offer disappearing deductibles at an additional cost for drivers with a long history of safe driving. The deductible decreases every year you’re accident-free.
So, let’s say your original deductible is $500 and it decreases by $100 each year you don’t get in an accident. If you’ve been accident-free for five years, your deductible would go to $0. But the deductible reappears in full the second you get into an accident. Ta-da! Factoring in the extra cost of the coverage, you’re usually better off saving that money to put toward your debt snowball or emergency fund.
How Much Is Car Insurance?
You might be thinking, How much does car insurance cost? Well, we’ve got some numbers for you. The national average cost of car insurance is $1,342 a year for full coverage or $631 a year for liability.5,6 (That works out to about $112 for full coverage or $53 for liability car insurance per month.)
But that’s just the average. There’s a ton of factors that impact what you’ll pay. Here are just a few:
- Type of policy
- Insurance score
- Policy limits and deductibles
- Type of car
- Age and gender
- Marital and family status
- Driving record
- Credit history
- How much you drive
Also, if your insurance company decides you’re high risk, you can definitely expect to pay more. But don’t panic. If you stay out of trouble for a little while, your premiums will eventually come back down to earth.
Another thing that could cause your premium to go up? Constantly filing claims—even if they’re small. So, if you have $250 worth of work thanks to a fender bender, you might not want to file that claim. Plus, if you have a $1,000 deductible on a repair that costs $250, it doesn’t make sense to file the claim because you’ll be footing the bill anyway. Your emergency fund is there for a reason!
Pick your battles carefully and only file a claim when it makes sense. A good agent will help you determine if it’s worth filing a claim or not, so be sure to call yours first.
How to Get Car Insurance
Now that you know everything there is to know about car insurance, the final question is, How do I get the right car insurance coverage? Whether you’re purchasing it on your own or using an insurance agent, there are a lot of factors to keep in mind. You want the most for your money, but you also need to be covered when you’re on the road. Cost and protection both come into play.
When you’re trying to get the right car insurance at the best price, having the following key information in mind—and sharing all the facts with your agent—will help you get the right policies and can even save you some hard-earned money in the long run!
- If you’re married
- If you use your car for both business and personal use, even if it’s a small side business
- If you plan to travel out of state frequently
- If you have a teen driver who makes good grades or has completed driver’s education
- Who you want included on your policy
- If you have a college degree
- If you lease your car or still owe money on it
- If you own a home
- Your occupation and the occupations of others on your policy
- If you are or have been in the military
- If you park your car in a garage
- If you have any anti-theft devices installed in your car
- If you get paperless statements
- If you want any household members excluded from your policy
With so many variables surrounding the types of car insurance available, it’s easy to spend more money than your coverage is worth. It’s also easy to think you have enough while actually being underinsured. That’s no good, so look at your options and get that premium down without sacrificing key protections.
Your goal is to find your car insurance sweet spot. The best way to do that? Working with a RamseyTrusted insurance agent who’s part of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program. We trust these insurance pros to look at your unique situation and find you the best protection at the right price. They can answer your questions and even run the numbers for you to get you the best deal.
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