Auto Policy Basics: How Much Car Insurance Do You Need?

A few months ago, I talked about life insurance. Now it’s time to discuss car insurance. Auto insurance is a requirement in order to drive in most states. Most states have coverage minimums, but those minimums may not offer enough protection in a serious accident. For example, California requires 15/30/5 liability coverage. If I were to hit a motorcyclist, that wouldn’t even begin to cover it. To protect yourself, use the following recommended coverage limits when buying a car insurance policy.

Auto Liability

Liability policies offer protection for the person you hit when you’re at fault. They are described as a set of three numbers, for example 15/30/5. That’s injury coverage of $15,000 per person, with a total of $30,000 per accident. The last number is the limit for property damage per accident.

If you’re a renter without assets and an income below $75,000, then a 50/100/50 policy is ample coverage.

If you’re a homeowner, a high-earner, or have assets, then opt for 100/300/100 coverage. In addition, your homeowner’s policy may offer some coverage. If you have assets of more than $300,000, you should consider supplementing your coverage with a million dollar umbrella policy, which will usually cost less than $500 a year and cover auto accidents, injuries on your property, a lawsuit, and other possible events.

Personal Injury

The personal injury section of the policy covers you and your family members in an accident. If you have health insurance, then personal injury coverage is usually unnecessary.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist

Although it’s optional, you should always include uninsured motorist coverage in your car insurance policy. Many people drive without insurance, or without enough insurance, so you need to protect yourself. Uninsured coverage is usually very reasonable for coverage up to $100,000.

You can also add a collision deductible waiver, which waives your deductible when you claim uninsured motorist coverage. It’s usually about $8 a year, so definitely worth it.

Comprehensive and Collision Coverage

If you have a car loan, then comprehensive and collision coverage are required by the lienholder. Collision covers damage to the car in an accident. Comprehensive covers damage to the car from non-accidents, like a tree limb falling on the hood. You don’t request a limit, but rather the coverage is determined by the value of the car.

Many people continue to pay comprehensive and collision long after it’s stopped being worthwhile. As a rule of thumb, drop comp and collision if the annual cost is more than 10% of the current value of the car. For example, if the coverage is more than $300 a year for a $3,000 car, drop it.

Rental Reimbursement

Rental reimbursement covers all or some of the cost of a rental car if your car is undrivable or in the shop for covered repairs. In most cases, the rental will be covered by the insurance of the person who hit you, but you may need to tap rental reimbursement coverage if you’re at fault or involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist. It’s cheap, but may not be necessary.


Geico and a few other insurers offer towing. You’d probably be better off joining AAA for $50 a year because of the additional membership benefits it provides.

Car insurance doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but you shouldn’t buy the cheapest policy you can find. Instead spend a few dollars more to buy a policy that offers the level of coverage you need. Use a company like NetQuote to find competitive rates for your car insurance policy. You don’t want to skimp on liability to save a few bucks, and then find your assets drained by an accident lawsuit because your coverage was too low.

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