Auto insurance is a basic requirement for car owners. It protects you, other drivers, and lenders who make it possible for people to get a car loan. But just because it is a requirement doesn’t mean you should overpay or get more insurance than you need. The goal is to find the sweet spot where you are paying the minimum you can for the protection you need.
In addition to shopping for lower auto insurance rates, you can save money on auto insurance by changing your coverage levels, such as your deductible, coverage amounts, or by dropping full coverage in lieu of liability only coverage, which is often the minimum coverage required by states.
When to Drop Full Coverage Auto Insurance for Liability Only
There are some rules of thumb regarding dropping full coverage. But it’s usually a great idea to work through your specific situation, run the numbers, and compare insurance plans to make sure you are making the right decision for your situation.
It’s also a good idea to review your situation each year, as auto insurance is something that is very easy to put on auto-pilot. You may find that one day your once brand new car is now closing in on 10 years and 100,000 miles, and still has full coverage (probably not necessary at that point!).
We will cover some rules of thumb further down the page to show when it makes sense to drop full coverage car insurance and just get liability coverage. You still want to make sure you have enough coverage for uninsured & underinsured motorists, property damage, personal injury protection, etc. Those coverage levels are separate from the decision to have comprehensive & collision protection vs. only having liability coverage.
Defining Full Coverage and Liability Auto Insurance
Liability Auto insurance. Liability coverage only covers damage to other people or property that is caused by you. For example, if you hit another vehicle, your insurance will cover the damage to the other vehicle (up to the limits of your policy), but it won’t cover damages to you or your vehicle. Liability insurance is the basic level of insurance and is required by most states.
Full Coverage Car Insurance. Full coverage auto insurance gives you protection if your vehicle is damaged or totaled. It covers your vehicle for both collision and comprehensive damage. For example, if you collide with another vehicle or object on the road, and for comprehensive issues such as if your car was robbed or vandalized, or if damage was caused by weather. Some policies also include coverage for medical bills or even life insurance.
Full coverage may be a requirement. Most lenders require you to maintain full coverage insurance if there is an outstanding loan on the vehicle – this covers the auto lender’s interests. After all, what incentive is there to pay off a totaled vehicle?
When You Can Drop Full Coverage Car Insurance
You can usually drop full coverage insurance if you have a clear title on the vehicle. Any liens on the vehicle probably include a provision that requires full coverage auto insurance.
But just because you can drop full coverage doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good idea. The key here is balance between risk tolerance and affordability. You don’t want to have more coverage than you need because it is essentially wasting money. You also don’t want to have too little insurance because if something should happen to your vehicle that you can not afford to fix, you will be out of luck.
For example, let’s say you buy a brand new, $30,000 car with cash. Could you afford to replace that car with cash if you were at fault in an accident and didn’t have full coverage? Maybe. But is it worth saving a couple hundred dollars a year on insurance to take that risk? Probably not.
At its core, auto insurance is the transfer of risk. If you can’t afford to replace your car with cash, it’s probably a good idea to keep full coverage on the car.
Comparing Full Coverage to Liability
There are times when it makes sense to drop full insurance coverage and only go with basic liability coverage on your vehicle. But there are no clear rules for deciding when to drop full coverage – basically it comes down to how much risk you are willing to take. To determine your needs, look at the following information:
- Vehicle value and replacement cost
- Cost of full coverage compared to liability only
- Cost of deductible
- Amount of money in your emergency fund
Playing with the numbers. If your car is worth $10,000, you pay $500 a year for full coverage, and you have a $1,000 deductible, chances are good that full coverage is worth it. But it becomes a different story on less expensive vehicles.
The 10% rule of thumb. If the annual cost of your full coverage insurance is more than 10% of the replacement value you would receive from your insurance company, then it may be a good idea to drop full coverage. For example, let’s say your car is worth $4,000, and you have a $1000 deductible. After paying your deductible, the most you would net from your insurance company would be $3,000. If your insurance premiums for full coverage are more than $300 a year, then it may be a good idea to drop the full coverage and go with liability only. You should be able to save a fair amount of money on your premiums each month, which you should probably put toward an emergency fund to cover any damages or repairs which you may need for your vehicle, or toward a new car fund.
When Not to Drop Full Coverage Auto Insurance
The 10% rule isn’t a hard and fast rule. You shouldn’t drop full coverage if you don’t have an emergency fund or savings that can handle replacing or repairing your car if an accident occurs. You also shouldn’t drop full coverage if you still owe money on your vehicle, or if your vehicle would cost more to replace than you can afford.
Don’t drop full coverage just because you can. Some people will drop full coverage to limited coverage as soon as they pay off the vehicle. Typically, they will base this decision on their driving track record and assume nothing major will happen that they can’t compensate for out of their own pockets. Accidents are by definition, unpredictable. Anything can happen to anyone at any time.
Making a Decision
If you are on the fence about dropping full coverage because of cost, you should compare auto insurance rates with competitive insurance carriers. Every company uses different criteria to determine rates, and you may be able to find full coverage at a less expensive rate from another carrier. You should also review your current policy and drop unnecessary options.
Here are some auto insurance providers in your area: