What Does Your Car Insurance Cover In the Aftermath of a Flood?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As hurricane season begins, consumers should start prepping by checking their current auto insurance coverage.

Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, will be below normal, coastal areas are still prone to flooding from storms, tornadoes and hurricanes. NOAA is predicting a 70% chance of 6 to 11 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher, including three out of six which could become hurricanes.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. “As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities.”

Drivers have two options when they purchase auto insurance to protect their vehicles. Collision only provides coverage for when a driver collides with another object or vehicle.

Comprehensive insurance, which is cheaper and often purchased by people with older cars, provides coverage for risks such as fire, theft, falling objects, hail, wind, vandalism, striking an animal and floods, said Bill Crowley, worldwide automobile claim manager for Chubb Insurance in Warren, N.J.

The most common weather-related claims are for hail, falling tree limbs and water damage. To avoid gaps in your coverage, drivers should aim to purchase both collision and comprehensive coverage, he said.

One frequent occurrence is a claim for water damage after the car has been driven into water that is “deep enough to severely damage the vehicle,” Crowley said. Although Chubb considers these losses under the "comprehensive" coverage, other insurance companies will consider these situations as falling under "collision" and see the water as an object, he said.

For drivers who leave their cars in parking lots or on the street because of high water and experience damage to their vehicle, the case is usually considered a flood loss and becomes a comprehensive claim.

“Vehicle owners who do not have collision coverage on their vehicles may want to check with their insurer or to see what position they take on situations when the vehicle has been driven into deep water,” Crowley said.

The amount of damage from a flood can be extensive and may not be limited to just the engine and electrical systems where you can view the extent of the loss, said Laura Adams, insuranceQuotes.com’s senior analyst.

“You don’t want to be surprised when down the road something else comes unglued,” she said.

Although the repairs will be covered by your policy, drivers must pay their deductible first. The insurance company will pay for the remainder of the cost of the repairs “up to the fair market value,” said Keith Moore, CEO of CoverHound.com, a San Francisco-based auto insurance comparison website.

“On comprehensive coverage, we recommend keeping a lower deductible since there is relatively little premium difference to lowering it and it allows the owner to be covered for a loss with less out of pocket at the time of the claim,” he said.

When To Skip Filing a Car Insurance Claim

When the cost of the repairs for your car are very close to the deductible or only a few hundred dollars more, it might be better to pay for them instead of making a claim, Adams recommends. Even a claim under a comprehensive plan can raise the premium.

“It’s better to do the math and figure out if you are getting enough money in the payout to balance out the increase,” she said.

Drivers pay an average of 41% more for car insurance after making a single claim, according to the second annual study by insuranceQuotes.com. Massachusetts continues to be the worst states to have an accident occur – just one claim leads to an average premium increase of 76% compared to 67% in 2014. The national average is up three percentage points this year, compared to the 38% increase found in 2014 and typically only apply for accidents where you are responsible. The cheapest state is Maryland, which only increases premiums by 22%.

California also penalizes drivers for just one claim and increases rates by 75%, followed by 62% in New Jersey. Other states which have lower increases include Michigan with a 23% increase and Montana with a 25% rise in premiums. To check out where your state ranks, go here.

Making a second claim proves to be very costly since a driver with two claims pays over twice as much for car insurance as a claim-free driver or 93%.

“Many consumers underestimate the consequences of making claims because they can affect your rate for years,” said Adams. “If you get a premium hike for making a small claim, that could hurt your finances over the long run.”

Location is not the only reason your premium may increase drastically. Many increases are also affected by the type of claim. Bodily injury and property damage including collision claims are the most expensive with insurance costs rising by 45% and 41%, respectively. The cheapest ones are comprehensive claims for non-collision events such as theft and barely increase at 2%.

If you are not sure whether you should file a claim, use the calculator here.

The study found that drivers who make a single auto insurance claim of $2,000 or more will see an average premium increase of 41%. A second claim in the same year increases the average annual premium increase by 93%.

The average cost of an auto insurance premium in the U.S. is $815, which means an increase of 41% would result in having to shell out another $335, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

A number of factors determine if filing a claim is worth it and consumers should obtain one to two estimates before making any decisions, said Alec Stewart, principal of Eagle Independent Insurance Agency in Dallas.

“The bottom line is that people need an agent working for them to give them the best advice on whether a claim should be filed and to assist them with the claims process,” he said.

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