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Will insurance pay for storm damage to your car?

(MoneyWatch) Having stayed out of harm's way during superstorm Sandy, you emerge from your house only to discover that a huge tree limb has crashed down on your car... which also happens to be full of water from the cascading flood caused by the cyclone.

Will your auto insurance cover the damage?

If your policy has comprehensive coverage, you will likely get some reimbursement. Distinct from the liability and collision coverage involved if you have an accident, comprehensive is specifically for storm damage, as well as theft and vandalism.

When it comes to flood damage, auto policy holders tend to fare better than homeowners. "With comprehensive auto coverage, not just wind damage but flooding is covered," notes Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president for public affairs of the Insurance Information Institute. "Homeowners have to buy a separate policy for flood coverage." 

The first step is to check your auto policy and see if you have comprehensive coverage. Almost all states require liability insurance, but many do not require comprehensive and collision coverage. In order to save on their premiums, owners of older cars sometimes drop collision and comprehensive provisions. But 76 percent of auto policy holders do have comprehensive coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In most states, a comprehensive provision in your policy costs less than $150 (To check the average in your state, click here.)

As with any insurance claim, your reimbursement will depend on the tradeoffs you made between getting the best possible coverage and keeping your premiums low. Consider this:

  • How large a deductible did you choose? To keep premiums down, you may have opted for a $500 or even $1,000 deductible if you thought you would be able to pay for the damage from savings or other sources. If that falling tree did $3,000 worth of damage as determined by the insurance adjusters after getting repair estimates, you likely will be covered for the balance.
  • How much is your car worth? No matter how bad the damage, the insurance company will not pay more than its determination of the total value of the car. So with older cars, that amount could be well less than the repairs you need.

If you do have a claim, counsels Salvatore, take pictures of the damage and let the insurance company know right away. "Get the process started so you can get your car fixed," she advises.

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