Car Insurance: Don't Ask For Full Coverage

Question: Do all full-coverage policies include uninsured motorist, or is this something you have to add on as an extra coverage?

Answer:  If your state requires uninsured motorist, then it might be considered to be part of a full-coverage policy by some. In reality there is no such thing as true full coverage in car insurance.  What many people refer to as full coverage is a policy that includes physical damage coverages of collision and comprehensive in addition to the state-mandated liability coverages. 

This combination is often referred to it as full coverage because your auto insurance policy will cover not only those that you damage in an accident but your own car as well, regardless of fault.

Uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI) coverage may be included in some people's definition of full coverage, but typically only if this coverage is required by your state to be purchased as part of your car insurance policy, which it is in 21 states as well as the District of Columbia (See our list of state requirements here). 

Uninsured motorist property damage (UMBP) is required only in seven states and the District of Columbia and normally isn't included when one speaks of full coverage (unless your state does require it).  UMPD covers damage to your car if an uninsured motorist damages your vehicle, but in many states it's not nearly as beneficial as collision coverage.

It's unwise start the car insurance policy buying process with plans just to ask for “full coverage” or a “comprehensive” policy.  You may expect an agent to set you up with coverages that will cover anything that could happen to you and your vehicle, while an agent may put on the policy only his idea of what full coverage is.  (See “ Comprehensive coverage is not all-encompassing”)

Familiarize yourself with the coverages and limits you need and then start comparison shopping for your car insurance policy. 

Before you get buy your policy, we recommend that you:

  • Know what different car insurance coverages are available to you and what each can do for you.  Our car insurance coverage definitions page defines each coverage type and gives recommendations on what limits you should carry (if you choose the coverage).
  • Know what your state's auto insurance minimum requirements are. (See our interactive state requirements map here)
  • Ask yourself if state-mandated liability limits are high enough for your needs.  If you own a house and have other assets to protect, then it's usually recommended that you raise your liability limits to at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident for bodily injury liability coverage and $50,000 for property damage liability (typically listed as 100/300/50 coverage). See our coverage calculator for recommendations.
  • Determine if uninsured motorist bodily injury and/or underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage is required.  In some states, this coverage is sold together, in others they are sold separately.  In some states, one is mandated, and in other states both coverages are. In several states, an insurance company must offer you this coverage, but you can reject it in writing.  (See “Uninsured motorist: What you need to know”)
  • Find out if uninsured motorist property damage is required.  In most states, it's not. If you want coverage for your car if it's damaged in an accident, collision is a much better choice.
  • Determine if you should carry collision and comprehensive on your vehicle. If your car is leased or financed these coverages are a must.  If you own your car outright and it's older, then it's up to you to decide if they are needed. (See “Is it time to drop comp and collision”)
  • See if any medical coverage is required or needed.  If you live in a no-fault state, then personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments (MedPay) is typically required.  In other states, this is usually optional.  If you have good health insurance, then you may not need this coverage if your state doesn't mandate it.
  • Figure out what deductibles are right for you.  Collision and comprehensive come with deductibles, as do uninsured motorist and PIP in most states. (See “Will higher deductibles save you money”)

Don't ask an agent for full coverage and hope you get the right coverages for your needs.  Instead, go into the process ready to get quotes on the coverages and limits that you know you want.  Be sure to shop around with several companies, to make sure you get the best rates possible. (See “ 3 ways to save big on car insurance”)