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Don’t cut car insurance until trying ‘Crash-o-Matic’

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By Michelle Singletary
Syndicated Columnist
Published:
Twice in the last few years a deer has hit my car.
Yes, I meant to say the deer hit me. The animals bolted from a wooded area into my path (only one survived).
Turns out a lot of the damage done to cars in this country isn't from colliding with another automobile. Two-car accidents make up less than half of all incidents, according to an analysis by CarInsurance.com, which provides insurance advice and online quote comparisons.
CarInsurance.com looked at data submitted by more than 42,000 car insurance shoppers. As shoppers compared rates for liability, comprehensive and collision policies, they reported their previous accidents. From that data, the website compiled its top "hit" list.
"We buy auto insurance because we envision two cars careening toward each other and screeching brakes," said CarInsurance.com managing editor Des Toups. "But more than a third of all incidents involve things like a parked car, the weather, vandalism, hitting animals or road debris."
The percentage of people who struck another car or were struck was about 45 percent. But here's a breakdown for other accidents:
•Single-car accident: 7.9 percent.
Act of nature such as flood, hail or fallen tree: 5.8 percent.
Struck a parked car or tree: 5.4 percent.
Car struck while parked: 5 percent.
Debris or other non-accident damage (such as hitting a pothole): 2.9 percent.
Vandalism: 2.4 percent.
Struck animal: 2.4 percent.
Windshield or glass: 2.2 percent.
Theft of car/theft of parts: 1.5 percent
Hit a pedestrian: 0.4 percent
Some shoppers weren't sure how to classify their accidents such as hitting a mailbox, so those incidents were not included on the list. Toups said when you're shopping based on price alone, it's easy to neglect to ask important questions such as "Will this policy cover the damage I am most likely to encounter?"
"If you write a check every month, you tend to believe you're covered," Toups said. "After all, you bought insurance. But many people, maybe most, don't really know what they've bought."
Although a deer running into our car might do the same amount of damage as hitting a tree, it's the collision with the tree that is more likely to trigger an increase in your car insurance rates because it's classified as a collision claim, Toups said.
CarInsurance.com has created an interactive online tool -- with crashing sound effects -- so that drivers can see what type of insurance would cover six common accidents: hitting someone else's car, crashing into another car that you own, or running into a tree, animal, pothole or garage door. They call it the "Crash-o-Matic." The tool compares hypothetical rates for liability, comprehensive and collision coverage on select 2013 vehicles. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/Crash-o-Matic.
Comprehensives coverage reimburses you for loss from theft or damage caused by something other than a crash with another car or object, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Collision coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. Property damage liability covers damage that you or someone driving your car with permission may cause to someone else's property. Every state except New Hampshire requires liability insurance coverage or some proof of financial responsibility, according to CarInsurance.com. New Hampshire requires that you demonstrate financial ability to cover damages once you have an accident, Toups said.
If you buy only liability insurance, as many people do, repairs to your car will not be covered under almost all of the damage scenarios featured in the in the Crash-o-Matic tool, Toups said.
So let's say a deer runs into your car (because of course you wouldn't hit the poor animal on your own). This accident generally falls under your comprehensive coverage, CarInsurance.com says. If you have only liability coverage, you will be responsible for the repairs.
"We wanted to give people a good idea of the likelihood of different types of damage," Toups said. "The tool we built goes even further, matching up various sources of damage with the coverage needed to fix the car and whether a claim is likely to raise future rates. The biggest mistake regarding claims that we see is people trying to get their money's worth. Insurance companies keep score. Save your coverage for the big things you can't fix on your own."
I know times are tight and you may be trying to cut your insurance costs. So you might drop coverage or opt for the lowest amount of coverage. But be sure to compare rates with different insurance companies. Don't underestimate how much coverage you will need, especially if you aren't a careful driver or if you don't have savings to cover damage. Or if you live where there are a lot of deer.

Michelle Singletary: singletarym@washpost.com.
Washington Post Writers Group

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