Comprehensive vs. Collision: These 5 Words Completely Explain the Difference

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Buying the best insurance coverage boils down to two things: understanding how different coverage types function and how to personalize each to your unique situation.

But remembering how they work separately can be difficult, especially when you are under pressure to make the best decision quickly. Lots of shoppers get the details behind collision coverage and comprehensive coverage mixed up. If you don’t feel clear or wish you knew how to get the most coverage for your money, you aren’t alone.

How about an insurance policy shopping shortcut to keep these two types of coverage straight? Just five easy words and you’re on your way to becoming an auto insurance Einstein.

1. Both Cover Damage to Things

Both collision and comprehensive car insurance cover damages to things (not people). In no shape or form do they protect any person in, near, or around a vehicle or accident. That kind of car insurance coverage is gained primarily from having liability insurance (Remember: liability coverage, collision, and comprehensive combine to provide a full coverage policy. Although comprehensive and collision both cover things, each covers different things for different reasons in different situations. We’ll get to that next.

Remember: Comprehensive and collision cover damages to things.

2. Only One Covers Damages Out of Anyone’s Control 

The difference between these two coverages is partly a question of control. Who has it: is it you? Another person? Something beyond humankind? The easiest way to remember comprehensive insurance is that comprehensive deals with scenarios that are out of anyone’s control and not otherwise related to a crash (that’s collision).

Events that are out of anyone’s control include natural disasters or Acts of God. Things like fires, floods, and tornados fall under this category. Insurance company claim scenarios can be as severe as an entire car being toppled by a tornado or as minor as a side-door being keyed.

But wait, the person who keyed your car could control themselves if they wanted to. Yes, but most likely there is no one standing around to blame and compel to pay.

What about animals? They can be quite unpredictable. If you crash into a cow while it’s crossing the road (hey, it happens) that is covered by collision. If you are at a dead stop and a whole herd of cows scrambles across your hood, that’s both extremely unfortunate—and covered by comprehensive. Learn more about what comprehensive insurance covers here.

Remember: Comprehensive coverage covers Acts of God and other events (like theft) that are similarly out of our control.

3. One Covers Damages Regardless of Fault…When There’s Fault to be Had

If you are at fault for an accident, your liability covers medical costs for both you and any other people involved, and it covers damage to the other person’s vehicle. But what about your shiny new ride? Unless you want to repair that busted front end completely out of your own pocket, you’ll want collision insurance included in your coverage. Learn more about collision insurance here.

Remember: Collision coverage applies to property damage regardless of who’s at fault. 

4. Optional or Required? It All Depends on Ownership

In general, comprehensive and collision are considered optional coverages—if you own your vehicle outright. When you lease a car or sign a loan to purchase it, including the two different coverages on your car insurance policy is just part of the deal.

If you don’t have to get it, why would you want to? First, accidents happen whether you own your car or not. But owning can make a difference when settling on the most cost-effective solution. And that depends on things like:

  • The age of your car
  • The value of your car
  • Your car’s current condition

Remember: Comprehensive and collision are considered optional, but most likely required if you don’t own your auto outright.

5. Coverage Amounts are Chosen by Considering Risk

Car insurance (like all insurance products) is a gamble. You may use it, you may not. How much you buy depends on the amount of risk you are willing to take—both today and in the future. We will talk more about risk and how to evaluate it. But first, let’s review.

When you purchase comprehensive or collision coverage, your monthly insurance costs (or premium) are based on your chosen deductible amount. This is the amount you’ll pay before insurance kicks in—if you make a claim in the future. Lower deductibles mean higher monthly premiums.

But higher monthly premiums aren’t in everyone’s budget, and nobody wants to pay more on their insurance premium than they have to. With today’s bills and tomorrow’s unknowns, how can you decide which insurance quote is right for you?

Hint: Insurify can help with that. Browse, Compare, Discover car insurance quotes tailor-fit to your driver profile. Compare coverage options side by side, and even toggle between deductible and coverage levels! What could be easier than that?

Remember: Comprehensive and collision both have deductibles. Choose your deductible after considering risk.

Here’s a helpful table to remember the general differences between liability, collision, and comprehensive:

CategoryCoversBut...
Liability CoverageBodily injury/property damage if you are at fault or if the person at fault is an uninsured motorist or an underinsured motorist.Doesn’t cover damage to your own car should you be at fault.
Collision Insurance CoverageDamage to objects (not animals or people) and vehicles as a result of a collision regardless of fault. Hit-and-run accidents.Doesn’t cover damage due to "Acts of God" (see Comprehensive).
Comprehensive Coverage"Acts of God"/things out of a person’s control, like fire or flood.Doesn’t cover medical expenses/auto damage due to a collision.

Make the Best Choice on Both By Putting Numbers on Paper

You can’t predict the future, but you can get car insurance rates (including deductible amounts) from different insurance providers. Then, you can run through some real scenarios to get a feel for what coverage amounts may be the most reasonable. For example:

You want to keep your monthly premium low, so you choose a high deductible. Can you afford to pay that deductible if you do have an accident? Or does it make sense to lower the deductible and scrape together more money each month? Maybe you have another vehicle to fall back on. If being out of a car means losing a job because you are late or not there at all, paying more each month may be better. 

Something else to consider is the age and actual cash value of your car. A new car could mean more expensive repairs. In that case, paying more now (a lower deductible) so you can take less of a hit later may be a good plan. If your car is older and you own it, the cost of repairs may be more than it’s worth. 

Therefore, including collision in your auto insurance coverage might not make sense.

Remember: Doing the math on paper makes choosing coverage easier. 

Comprehensive and collision are separate insurance products that offer protection against distinct (and very real) damage scenarios. Although purchasing one or both of these may be unavoidable, you have plenty of options. And everybody can be happy with that.

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Jeannette Wisniewski is a technology writer whose passion is encouraging people to engage with technology by making it more understandable and more interesting. Though she enjoys writing business copy for a wide range of subjects, she is most inspired by emerging tech and its applications. She is a graduate of San Jose State University, a Georgia Peach at heart, and happy to call Boise, ID home.