Auto insurance basics—understanding your coverage

The basic personal auto insurance mandated by most U.S. states provides some financial protection if you or another driver using your car causes an accident that damages someone else’s car or property, injures someone or both.

But to make the best decisions about purchasing other types of auto insurance coverage you might need, you’ll want to understand what’s covered, what’s not covered and what’s optional. In addition to understanding types of coverage, you’ll also want to consider coverage amounts.

Why? Because state-required minimums may not cover the costs of a serious accident, so it’s worth considering purchasing higher levels of coverage.

Here’s a rundown of the types of coverage available—some are required; others are optional; all are priced individually (a la carte) to let you customize coverage amounts to suit your exact needs and budget.

Mandatory coverage

Nearly every state requires car owners to carry the following auto liability coverage:

  • Bodily Injury Liability — This covers costs associated with injuries and death that you or another driver causes while driving your car.
  • Property Damage Liability — This coverage will reimburse others for damage that you or another driver operating your car causes to another vehicle or other property, such as a fence, building or utility pole.

Frequently required coverage

Many states require that you carry the following coverage:

  • Medical Payments or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) — Provides reimbursement for medical expenses for injuries to you or your passengers. It will also cover lost wages and other related expenses.
  • Uninsured Motorist Coverage — Reimburses you when an accident is caused by an uninsured motorist—or in the case of a hit-and-run. You can also purchase under insured motorist coverage, which will cover costs when another driver lacks adequate coverage to pay the costs of a serious accident.

Even if these types of coverage are optional in your state, consider adding them to your policy for greater financial protection.

Optional coverage

While basic, legally mandated auto insurance covers the cost of damages to other vehicles that you cause while driving, it does not cover damage to your own car. To cover this, you need to purchase the following optional auto insurance coverages:

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