Does Car Insurance Cover Wildfires?
Few things will destroy a vehicle as efficiently as a wildfire. In just seconds, a raging fire can shatter all the windows, burn off the paint, liquidize plastic and even melt aluminum wheels. Afterward, all that’s left of your car is a charred shell.
As wildfires grow stronger and more frequent in many parts of the United States, you may be wondering: What happens if my car gets caught in a blaze? Does my car insurance policy cover fire damage? Read on to find out.
Will Car Insurance Cover Forest Fire Damage?
Here’s some good news: damage to your car from a forest fire is probably covered, as long as you have comprehensive coverage.
Comprehensive coverage is the part of your car insurance that pays for damage to your vehicle that’s caused by anything other than a collision. Fire damage is typically one of those things that are covered. So is damage resulting from falling objects, tornadoes, earthquakes, water or flood, etc.
Did you know that your car can suffer wildfire damage even if you’re many miles from the blaze? If windborne ash settles on your car, it can permanently damage the exterior. Ash in its dry form won’t harm your car… but when it gets wet, caustic chemicals can etch the paint. To be safe, rinse — don’t brush — any wildfire ash off the vehicle as soon as you can.
And a quick piece of advice: While you obviously want to avoid driving through a wildfire, you should stay in your vehicle if you’re caught in a fire while driving.
In the words of the emergency experts at Virginia Tech: “Though driving through wildfire is dangerous, it is much less dangerous than trying to run from a fire on foot. Do not run! Roll up windows and close air vents. Be prepared for discomfort.” Smoke and sparks may enter your vehicle, and air currents might rock you. Keep driving, slowly, with headlights on.
Does Car Insurance Cover Any Fire Damage?
Your comprehensive coverage policy doesn’t distinguish among different types or causes of fire. So your auto insurance should cover damage from wildfires, brush fires, forest fires, electrical fires, engine fires and arson.
Car insurance does often exclude losses resulting from intentional acts of the insured person. So if you set your own vehicle on fire on purpose, it probably won’t be covered.
Another common exclusion is business use. Say you started your own Fourth of July fireworks delivery service, but you never told your insurance company. Then, while you’re making a delivery, a box of bottle rockets explodes in your car and sets it on fire. The insurance company could deny your claim.
How Much Does Fire Damage Coverage Cost?
Here’s some good news: You don’t have to pay any extra to be protected against wildfire. It’s automatically included in your comprehensive coverage.
Here’s some more good news: Comprehensive coverage is pretty cheap. The average annual cost of comprehensive coverage is $159.72. That’s a little more than $13 per month. You may pay more than average, however, if:
- You drive a newer or more expensive car
- You live in a state that’s known for high insurance rates, such as Louisiana, Michigan or Florida
- You live in an area where insurers think there’s a higher risk of something happening to your car
- You opt for a low deductible
- And several other factors
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Do You Need Comprehensive Coverage?
Comprehensive coverage isn’t mandatory, unless you have a car loan or lease. To save money, some people opt to skip it and choose state minimum insurance, which doesn’t include collision or comprehensive.
However, this means your vehicle won’t be protected. If it’s damaged in an accident that’s someone else’s fault, that driver’s insurance can cover the repairs. But if your car is damaged in an accident that’s your fault, or in other circumstances (like a wildfire), you’ll have to pay the full cost to repair or replace it.
Are you ready to accept that financial responsibility? If not, then you need comprehensive insurance.
Do Fire Damage Claims Raise Your Car Insurance Premium?
Your rates may go up after filing a claim for fire damage, but probably not by a lot. After all, the fire wasn’t your fault, and it’s probably not going to happen again.
In California and other wildfire-prone states, we’ve seen insurance companies raise rates on homeowners’ policies due to an increase in fire claims. Car insurance companies haven’t yet done the same, but they might raise rates if out-of-control fires continue to devastate the West.
Luckily, you’re not forced to just accept whatever your current company wants you to pay.
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