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What Is Auto Insurance?

An auto insurance policy is a contract between you and an insurance company. You pay a premium. In exchange, the insurance company promises to pay for specific car-related financial losses that you may have during the term of the agreement.

Do You Need It?

Auto insurance is a legal requirement in most states. State laws typically say that as a driver, you either must have insurance, or be able to provide evidence that you have the financial resources to pay a judgment against you, if you are responsible for causing damage or injury to another person/property. An insurance policy is the easiest way to document that you can pay damages if you must. You also need auto insurance to protect yourself financially. If you or anyone for whom you're responsible seriously injures another person, you can be held liable for the injured person's medical expenses, rehabilitative therapy, and long term nursing care, as well as for his or her lost earnings.

Who Is Covered?

Your policy covers you, your spouse, and other family members who live in your household and are entitled to drive one of your vehicles.

What Is Covered?

Your policy covers injuries or damages you cause to someone else. Most state laws require that you carry a minimum amount of liability insurance, which pays for injuries or damages you cause to someone else. It's a good idea to carry much more than the minimum -- enough to protect all your assets. Once you've met the legal requirements, you should select other types and amounts of coverage that will tailor your policy to your own needs. Here's what an auto policy can cover, above and beyond your liability:

1) Your car - Your automobiles as listed on the policy, and any additional vehicles you buy over the next year.

2) Your cars against collisions - Your car is covered against collisions it may have with any other object, no matter who caused it.

3) Your cars against damage from almost anything else - Vandalism, theft, broken glass, storms, and falling objects.

4) You, your passengers, and your car against uninsured or underinsured motorists - If you’re hit by someone who either doesn’t have insurance, or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover the accident, your loss is covered under your auto policy.

5) You and your passengers for medical injury payments - Reasonable medical (and funeral) expenses incurred as a result of injuries sustained in an accident

What Affects Your Rates?

1) Where you live - Where you live and drive your car has a significant impact on the cost of your insurance. This is because the frequency of things like vandalism and car theft, and the cost of things like car repairs and medical bills, vary enormously from one region to another.

2) The make and model of your car - The cost of insurance depends a great deal on what type of car you drive, too. (It can be helpful to bear this in mind when choosing a car, especially if you're on a tight budget.)

3) Your driving record - Your insurance rates will be affected by any tickets you've received and violations of which you've been convicted over the past several years.

4) Your age - Statistically, younger drivers get in more accidents and tend to get more tickets

Auto Insurance Glossary

Absolute Liability. Liability for damages even though fault or negligence cannot be proven.

Additional Insured. An assured party specifically named under an insurance policy.

Adjuster. A person who investigates and settles losses for an insurance carrier.

Age Limits. Stipulated minimum and maximum ages below and above which the company will not accept applications or may not renew policies.

All-risks Policy. Coverage by an insurance contract that promises to cover all losses except those losses specifically excluded in the policy.

Amendment. A formal document changing the provisions of an insurance policy signed jointly by the insurance company officer and the policy holder or his authorized representative.

Amortization. Paying an interest-bearing liability by gradual reduction through a series of installments, as opposed to one lump-sum payment.

Automobile Physical Damage Insurance. Coverage to pay for damage to or loss of an insured automobile resulting from collision, fire, theft, or other perils.

Certificate of Insurance. A statement of coverage issued to an individual insured under a group insurance contract, outlining the insurance benefits and principal provisions applicable to the member.

Claim. A request for payment of a loss which may come under the terms of an insurance contract.

Collision Insurance. Protection against loss resulting from any damage to the policyholder's car caused by collision with another vehicle or object, or by upset of the insured car, whether it was the insured's fault or not.

Commission. The part of an insurance premium paid by the insurer to an agent or broker for his services in procuring and servicing the insurance.

Comprehensive Insurance. Protection against loss resulting from damage to the insured auto, other than loss by collision or upset.

Compulsory Liability Insurance. Insurance laws in some states required motorists to carry at least certain minimum auto coverages. This is called "compulsory" insurance.

Deductible. An amount which a policyholder agrees to pay, per claim or per accident, toward the total amount of an insured loss.

Depreciation. A decrease in the value of property (Automobile) over a period of time due to wear and tear or obsolescence. Depreciation is used to determine the actual cash value of property (Automobile) at time of loss.

Exclusions. Specific conditions or circumstances listed in the policy for which the policy will not provide benefit payments

General Damages. Damages awarded to an injured person for intangible loss which cannot be measured directly by dollars. Popularly known as "pain and suffering." General damages are distinguished from special damages which are awarded for actual economic loss, such as medical costs, loss of income, etc.

High-Risk Automobile Insurer. Company that specializes in insuring motorists who have poor driving records or have been canceled or refused insurance.

Indemnification. Compensation to the victim of a loss, in whole or in part, by payment, repair, or replacement.

Lapse. The termination or discontinuance of an insurance policy due to non-payment of a premium.

Larceny-theft. The unlawful taking, carrying, leading or riding away of another person's property.

Liability. Protection for the insured against financial loss because of legal liability for car-related injuries to others or damage to their property.

Liability Insurance. (1)Insurance covering the policyholder's legal liability resulting from injuries to other persons or damage to their property. (2) Provides protection for the insured against loss arising out of legal liability to third parties.

No-Fault Insurance. (1)A type of auto insurance mechanism whereby the right to sue another party for damages caused by negligence is limited and, in exchange, expanded first party benefits are offered. (2)A form of insurance by which a person's financial losses resulting from an automobile accident are paid by his or her own insurer regardless of who was at fault.

Personal Injury Protection. First-party no-fault coverage in which an insurer pays, within the specified limits, the wage loss, medical, hospital and funeral expenses of the insured.

Premium. The sum paid by a policyholder to keep an insurance policy in force.

Proof of Loss. Documentation presented to the insurance company by the insured in support of a claim so that the insurer can determine its liability under the policy. For automotive insurance itemized estimates must also be included.

Property Damage Coverage. An agreement by an insurance carrier to protect an insured against legal liability for damage by an insured automobile to the property of another.

Renewal. Continuance of coverage under a policy beyond its original term by the insurer's acceptance of the premium for a new policy term.

Standard Risk. A person who, according to a company's underwriting standards, is entitled to purchase insurance protection without extra rating or special restrictions.

Substandard Risk. A risk that cannot meet the normal requirements of an auto insurance policy. Protection is provided in consideration of a waiver, a special policy form, or a higher premium charge. Substandard risks may include those persons who are rated because of poor driving habits.

Underwriter. (a) A company that receives the premiums and accepts responsibility for the fulfillment of the policy contract; (b) the company employee who decides whether or not the company should assume a particular risk; (c) the agent who sells the policy.

Uninsured (Underinsured) Motorist Coverage. A form of insurance that pays the policy holder and passengers in his/her car for bodily injury caused by the owner or operator of an uninsured or inadequately insured automobile.

Verbal Threshold. In no-fault auto insurance states with a verbal threshold, victims are allowed to sue in tort only if their injuries meet certain verbal descriptions of the types of injuries that render one eligible to recover for pain and suffering.

Waiver. An agreement attached to a policy which exempts from coverage certain disabilities or injuries that otherwise would be covered by the policy.