Consumer's Guide To Auto Insurance
CONSUMER’S GUIDE TO AUTO INSURANCE
The Colorado Division of Insurance prepares this article to assist you in “shopping” for auto insurance and to help you understand your Personal Auto Policy. When shopping for insurance, please remember there are factors to consider other than price, such as the level of service offered. Your premium will vary depending on the coverages you choose, your driving record, the type of vehicle you drive, your age, and other factors. A list of all companies offering personal automobile insurance in Colorado is available upon request by calling the Division of Insurance.
BUYING AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE
When buying auto insurance, it is recommended that you seek advice from an insurance agent. This booklet is designed to be a tool to help you understand the process and value of insurance policies. Bodily Injury and property damage coverages (liability coverages) can be purchased as split limit coverage or as combined single limit coverage. The minimum limits of liability required by Colorado law are 25/50/15. If you choose to purchase the coverage as a combined single limit, the minimum allowable is $65,000 under Colorado law. Comprehensive and collision coverages are not required by Colorado. Colorado law requires collision coverage be offered by an insurance company. However, if you borrowed money to purchase your automobile, your lender may require you to carry this coverage until the loan is paid. You are not required to carry medical payments or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, but all insurance companies are required to offer uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in an amount equal to your bodily injury coverage or one hundred thousand dollars per person and three hundred thousand dollars per accident, whichever is less. If you plan to lease an automobile, you should check your lease agreement. Generally, these agreements require that you carry liability coverage in the amount of $100,000 per person, $300,000 per accident and may require you to carry property damage coverage in excess of the Colorado Insurance Law.
DEFINITIONS OF COVERAGES SOLD WITH PERSONAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE
Bodily Injury/Property Damage Liability - These coverages protect you if you injure someone else or damage someone else’s property while operating your automobile. You must be legally liable for the injuries or damages to activate these coverages. Colorado law requires liability insurance. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist - This protects the named insured, the named insured’s resident relatives and occupants in the insured vehicle, if they sustain bodily injury in an accident in which the owner or operator of another motor vehicle is legally liable and does not have insurance (uninsured) or does not have enough insurance (underinsured). This coverage must be offered under C.R.S., 10-4-609, but does not have to be accepted by the insured.
Medical Payments -This pays for reasonable and necessary medical expenses, without regard to legal liability, resulting from accidental bodily injury in a motor vehicle accident. This coverage is not required to be offered by the insurance company.
Collision -This protects against damage to your vehicle resulting from a collision with another vehicle or object regardless of whom is at fault. If the other driver is at fault, your insurance company may have a legal right to seek reimbursement from the other driver or the other driver’s insurance company.
Comprehensive -This insures you against theft or other damage to your vehicle other than collision, such as wind damage, falling objects and vandalism. Collision and comprehensive coverage are subject to a deductible selected by the insured. Other coverages that may be sold include towing and rental reimbursement.
UNDERWRITING AND RATING
Two factors, underwriting and rating, govern what you will pay for auto insurance. These factors analyze a consumer’s characteristics and determine the risk that consumer presents.
Underwriting -Insurance companies underwrite in order to assess the risk associated with an applicant, group the applicant with other similar risks, and decide if the company will accept the application. The underwriting eligibility review period varies by company, but is typically between 3-5 years of prior history.
Rating -Rating is the determination of premium based on the driver and the automobile characteristics. Insurers depend on information provided on your policy application. When you apply for insurance, you will be asked a series of questions, which assess the expected cost of insuring you. Insurers want to know your past driving record and certain personal characteristics to group you with other similar drivers. Insurers review the claim history of your group to make projections about future claims. Some of these characteristics are beyond your control, such as age and gender. Other characteristics can be controlled, but since they may relate directly to lifestyle or income, such as geographic location and use of the vehicle, may be difficult to control. A third group of characteristics is highly controllable, such as the make and model of the vehicle the consumer wishes to own and insure. A vehicle with few safety devices and a powerful engine carries a greater risk of high claims than a less sporty model. The consumer has a choice, or control, over the decision to own a high-risk vehicle. Insurers also consider lifestyle characteristics in the underwriting process. These characteristics include marital status and employment history. From prior claims data, insurers know that married persons tend to have lower claim levels than unmarried persons. Other statistics show that persons who work in the same place for a long time tend to have lower claims. Also, underwriting criteria can include credit history. A rate for each group is set based on the historical claims statistics paid by the insurer for the people in that group. The higher the losses from a group, the higher the rate for that group and, therefore, it is an advantage for you to be in a low-risk group.
QUESTIONS COMMONLY ASKED BY INSURERS FOR RATING PURPOSES
Driving Record- On the application, you will be asked about your previous driving record. Insurers will ask about accidents and traffic violations for any driver covered by the policy for the preceding 3-5 years. Drivers with previous violations or “at fault” accidents are considered to be a higher risk and are charged a higher rate.
Territory -The claims experience in your geographical area will also affect your rates. Applications include a question that asks for the address where the vehicle will be garaged. From this information, insurers assign you to a territory whose rate is based on historical experience for that territory. Generally, more claims are made from urban areas with tendencies of busy traffic, thefts, vandalism, etc., than from rural areas.
Gender and Age -Statistically, males have more accidents than females. For this reason, men may tend to pay more for insurance than women. A small number of states have prohibited insurers from using gender as a factor in underwriting; however, Colorado allows this type of rating. Insurers also have statistics that show a higher number of claims for some age groups than for others. For these reasons, young men tend to pay more for insurance than young women, and a person under 25 will pay more for insurance than a person of age 35.
Marital Status - Statistics show fewer auto insurance claims among married policyholders than unmarried policyholders.
Prior Insurance Coverage - Insurers may ask if you have previously had insurance coverage because they want to know if you have been canceled for non-payment of premiums or other reasons. If you have had insurance, your prior company can tell the new insurer about your claims history or the company may request a C.L.U.E. (comprehensive loss underwriting exchange) report, which will provide your claim and/or motor vehicle record history.
Vehicle Use -You may be asked on the application how often and how far you drive the vehicle that you want to insure. Greater use will generally result in higher premiums due to the increased exposure to risk.
Make and Model of Vehicle - The type of car you drive will directly affect the cost of comprehensive and collision coverage. A make or model of car that has a high number of claims or higher claims cost will be charged a higher premium. The single greatest influence on the rating process is claim frequency. This does not mean how many times you specifically have made an insurance claim, although that will have an additional affect. Claim frequency measures how often an insured event occurs within a group relative to the number of policies contained in that group. Persons sharing characteristics with a highclaims group will be charged more for insurance coverage. At the same time, persons who share characteristics with low claims classes will be charged lower rates. In addition, insurance companies offer discounts to individuals that exhibit certain characteristics. However, the greatest controllable factor is your driving record. A person with a clean driving record will pay less than other drivers.
Discounts are awarded because the insurance company views you as a “better risk.” You should be aware of what discounts are offered by what companies before buying auto insurance. Here are some discounts you should look for:
Multiple Vehicles - Most insurance companies offer a discount to consumers that insure more than one car with their company. Companies offer these discounts not only because they want all of your business, but also because it is easier for them to underwrite individuals that they know, thus reducing their risk and saving them money. In addition, industry statistics show that individuals and families that insure more than one car have better than average claims experience. Through this discount, companies pass along some of their savings to you.
Driver’s Education Courses - Discounts for driver’s education courses are targeted primarily at younger and older drivers. In Colorado, all insurers must provide for a reduction in premium for a three-year period for people aged 55 and above if they successfully complete a driving course approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles and Public Safety. The insured must maintain a clean driving record in order to keep the discount. One of the driving courses offered is 55-Alive and is sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
Good Student -Insurers have found that students who are responsible enough to earn a "B" average or better tend to be more responsible drivers. For that reason, many companies offer a good student discount.
Safety Devices -Automobile safety devices can lower insurers’ costs by preventing accidents or limiting their severity. These savings are passed along to the policyholder through discounts for safety equipment. This equipment includes air bags, automatic seat belts and anti-lock brakes.
Anti-Theft Devices- Devices or systems that deter theft or vandalism also lower claims costs. Many companies offer discounts for anti-theft devices.
Low Mileage - The fewer miles you drive, the less chance you have of getting into an accident. Insurers recognize this fact and generally offer discounts for low mileage drivers. Some companies also offer discounts for drivers that participate in car pools.
Good Driver/Renewal - Some insurers offer discounts to drivers who maintain a good driving record and renew their policy with them.
Auto/Home Package- Some insurers offer a discount on one or both policies if an individual buys a homeowner policy and an auto policy from the same insurer.
Dividends -Some insurers, particularly mutual insurers, offer dividends to policyholders if the sale of auto insurance has been profitable to them. Dividends are declared and paid after the policy expiration. Discounts are not only ways for companies to attract customers, but also a means for companies to compete and retain business. So when you shop, do not just ask if a discount exists, but also ask how much you save. Savings can differ from company to company. In addition, consumers should make sure that they receive the discounts for which they qualify.
THE TORT SYSTEM
Insurance provides protection to consumers by assuming certain risks and promising to pay for financial loss. In Colorado, legal and financial responsibility is based upon the law of negligence. A negligent act which causes damage or injury is legally known as a tort. If an accident is your fault, that is, you are negligent, you are responsible for bodily injury and property damages suffered by the innocent party.
To assure that innocent parties are adequately compensated for their injuries, Colorado law requires that all registered owners of a motor vehicle have complying a liability insurance policy. As required by Colorado law, the minimum insurance policy must provide coverage in the amount of $25,000 per person in an accident, $50,000 for bodily injury per accident, and $15,000 for property damage to others. This coverage is generally described as 25/50/15. When you have liability coverage, your insurance company will pay for the victim’s damages up to your policy limits. If you choose, you can increase your coverage for added protection. Finally, once you have gone without insurance for any period of time you may find it difficult to find insurance you can afford. Many companies do not insure people who have not had insurance or have allowed their insurance to expire. Other companies will simply charge you more for insurance. Going without insurance can cost you much more than carrying the liability coverage that is required by Colorado law.
Most auto liability insurance policies contain three major parts: liability insurance for bodily injury, liability insurance for property damage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: 1) Bodily injury liability insurance does not protect you or your car directly. If you are the cause of an accident in which other people are injured, this insurance protects you against their claims for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. This insurance coverage will also pay if a member of your family living with you caused the accident, or if it was caused by a person using your car with your consent. Bodily injury liability insurance carries specific benefit limits. These limits address how much money your insurance company is committed to pay for any one victim injured in an accident and limits the amount the company must pay for multiple victims. In order to make a smart consumer purchase, you must understand these limits for bodily injury liability insurance. In Colorado, you are required to carry the following limits: $25,000 for bodily injury per person in an accident and $50,000 for bodily injury accident. You may decide to purchase additional coverage. This decision may be based on your desire to protect your assets from additional claims above the minimum amounts. The extra cost of higher coverage tends to be relatively low.
Property damage liability insurance pays for any damage you cause to the property of others, such as a crushed fender, broken glass, or a damaged wall or fence. Your insurance will pay for this damage whether you are driving your automobile or whether it is being driven by another person with your consent. Colorado law requires you to carry $15,000 for damage to the property of others. Once again, you may decide to purchase higher limits.
Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage protects you directly. This coverage pays if you are injured by a hit-and-run driver or a driver who does not have auto insurance (uninsured), or whose policy limits are not high enough to cover your injuries (underinsured). This coverage takes the place of the insurance the other driver should have purchased, or whose policy limits were not enough to cover your injuries. This coverage does not protect the other driver, and it does not cover damage to your vehicle. Colorado law requires your insurance company to offer you uninsured motorist coverage in an amount not less than your liability insurance limits for bodily injury described above. You do not have to accept this offer. Colorado law does not require that you carry uninsured motorist coverage. The three coverages mentioned above are the basic coverages that are contained in liability policies sold in Colorado. However, when you purchase auto insurance you will have to decide what other insurance coverages you would like to purchase. Another way to provide higher limits of liability inexpensively is through the purchase of a personal umbrella policy. An umbrella policy provides broad liability protection over and above your auto policy’s liability limits. It will also cover some exposures to loss that are not covered by your auto or homeowner policies.
PROPERTY DAMAGE COVERAGE
The most commonly recognized coverages in addition to the basic liability package outlined above are collision and comprehensive coverages.
Collisioncoverage pays for physical damage to your car as the result of your auto colliding with an object, such as a tree or another car. This is relatively expensive coverage. Remember, this coverage is optional and not required by law. However, your lending institution or lessor may require collision insurance. If you have an older vehicle worth less than $2,000, there is little reason for you to purchase collision coverage, because you are likely to pay more money in premium than you would ever receive as a result of a claim. Auto insurance policies only require the company to cover your financial expenses, not to replace your vehicle. In the case of an accident involving an older car, the cost of repairing the car can quickly exceed the worth of the car. In that case, insurers will “total” the car and pay you what the car was worth rather than fixing the car.
Comprehensivecoverage pays for damage to your auto from almost all other causes, which includes fire, severe weather, vandalism, floods and theft. Comprehensive coverage will also cover broken glass, such as windshield damage. Many consumers choose to carry it. However, remember it is your choice; you are not required by law to carry comprehensive coverage. When considering collision and comprehensive coverage, you should consider your deductible. A deductible is the amount of money you agree to pay as your share of the cost of a claim before the insurer is committed to pay the rest of the claim. For example, if you carried collision coverage with a $200 deductible and you had a $500 loss, you would have to pay $200 and the insurance company would have to pay the remaining $300. Basically, deductibles reduce your premiums because you agree to deduct an amount from the claim your insurer otherwise would have to pay. Insurance companies offer deductibles because they reduce the number of small claims that are costly for them to handle. If you purchase a new car with a loan, the financial institution that lent you the money may require you to purchase collision coverage. This is because they see your car as collateral for the loan, and they want to make certain it is worth something if they need to repossess the vehicle. In the event you have to buy, or decide to buy, collision or comprehensive coverages, you can save money by agreeing to the highest deductible you can afford to pay in the event of an accident.
OTHER OPTIONAL COVERAGES
Be cautious when purchasing optional coverages. They can duplicate coverage that you have through other insurance policies. For instance, medical payments coverage may duplicate health or disability benefits that you buy individually or receive as a benefit through your job. Before purchasing these coverages, review them and your other insurance policies carefully.
Medical payments coverage is an optional coverage. This coverage pays for the medical expenses for you or others injured in an accident while riding or driving in your auto. Claims against this coverage include all reasonable medical expenses. This coverage will also pay for your medical expenses even if you caused the accident. Usually, only expenses incurred within a specified period of time after the accident are covered.
Rental reimbursement coverage usually pays $15 to $20 a day to rent a car for a specific number of days while your vehicle is being repaired. The premium and coverage amount will vary from insurer to insurer. This is not a statutorily required coverage.
Towing and laborcoverage pays the cost of towing your car to the repair shop subject to the limit of your policy. Premium for this coverage can run as low as $5 to $10 per year. However, if you are a member of an auto club, you probably already have this service and may not want to duplicate your coverage. This is not a statutorily required coverage.
An operator’s policy is different than standard liability insurance. This insurance coverage insures the owner, not the car. That is, the owner would be insured no matter what vehicle was driven. This insurance coverage would not cover another driver or person using your car with or without your consent. Insurer’s are not statutorily required to offer this coverage.