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How do car insurance deductibles work?

The definition of a deductible can vary based on what type of insurance you are referring to. Even between your home and auto insurance, what defines your deductible varies. For your auto insurance, a deductible is defined as your portion of the financial responsibility for repairs to your vehicle. Although this is a fairly straightforward way to describe your deductible, there are some individual details that can help save you money on your car insurance and determine the right policy for you. Let’s explore.


Table of contents — car insurance deductibles:
  1. Understanding deductibles
  2. How do deductibles affect rates?
  3. How to choose your deductible



What is a deductible?


Car insurance deductibles defined:

A deductible is what you pay out-of-pocket after an accident and filing an auto insurance claim — the remainder is covered by your insurance company. Let’s look at an example. Say you back into a fire hydrant and cause $3,000 worth of damage to your vehicle. In order to get the repairs handled through your car insurance company, you would have to file a collision claim. If you have a $500 deductible and file a claim with your insurance company, your insurer would pay the remaining $2,500.

The most common auto insurance deductible levels:

A deductible, however, only applies to specific insurance coverage options. Namely, a deductible doesn’t apply to your liability insurance. The liability coverage of your car insurance covers you for damage you cause to other people or their property. If you are at fault for a car accident, your liability insurance would pay for the bodily injury and property damage up to the coverage limit.

Depending on the nature of the accident and how much damage there is, you may have to weigh the pros and cons of either paying your deductible or covering the damage yourself out-of-pocket while forgoing an insurance claim. While your deductible can be a big expense at the time, you have to consider whether filing a claim will raise your rates going forward — resulting in you paying more over time to your insurance company, possibly even surpassing the amount you could have paid out-of-pocket. Knowing the implications of paying a deductible vs. out-of-pocket — namely how it can affect your premium — can save you more money in the long run. Learn more about when to file an insurance claim.

As we stated, a deductible most commonly applies to these coverages: your collision, comprehensive, and uninsured property damage coverage. Let’s explore these coverage options.


Collision deductible

Your collision coverage is pretty accurately named; it specifies protection from accidents that occur when you collide with something — like if you hit a guardrail, a wall, or another vehicle. Unlike your liability coverage, your collision coverage does not factor in fault. Meaning, as long as you have the coverage and the damage occurred from a covered loss, you will receive compensation from your insurance company for your loss. Your collision deductible refers to what you pay.


Comprehensive deductible

The name “comprehensive” isn’t as descriptive as collision coverage is. Basically, comprehensive insurance coverage is designed to fill in any coverage gaps left by your collision coverage. It covers things “other than collision.” Sometimes called OTC, comprehensive coverage handles things like vandalism, theft, weather, and animal-related events. Like your collision coverage, you do not need to be at-fault or not-at-fault to use this coverage. As long as the damage occurs in a way that is covered by your insurance company, you will receive a claim payout (minus your deductible).


Uninsured property damage coverage

Uninsured property damage coverage, or UMPD, closely mirrors your collision coverage. It provides physical coverage to your vehicle if you’re in a not-at-fault accident in which the other driver either does not have insurance, or the limits on his liability coverage are exhausted before your vehicle can be fully repaired. This is what is meant by the term uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist.

While your insurance agent might advise you that UMPD and collision are the same and thus you only need one, you should consider how these types of claims can affect your rate. A collision claim is usually rated on your premium as an at-fault accident — meaning, it will cause your premium to increase. However, a UMPD claim has more variance than a collision claim in terms of a premium increase. We recommend speaking with your insurance company if you’re considering dropping this coverage to see how a UMPD claim would be rated. If your insurance company would consider a UMPD claim to be the same as a collision claim, you probably don’t need this coverage.




How do deductibles affect car insurance rates?

As we’ve demonstrated, your insurance premium will be lower if you have a high deductible because they have an inverse relationship. This is because of the nature of car insurance deductibles — they represent your insurance company’s portion of responsibility for a claim. So by raising your deductible, you lower what your insurance company pays in the event of an accident. Below, you can see national averages of the data we presented.


Coverage Level Average 6-Month Premium
Liability Only $360
$500 Deductible $774
$1,000 Deductible $687




How to choose a car insurance deductible

Because there is some premium variance based on the deductible you choose, you should consider your deductible amount carefully. Here are some things to consider when thinking about your car insurance deductible.


Does your lien or lease require a certain deductible?

If you’re leasing or have a loan for your vehicle, you might not have an option when it comes to your deductible. Because of the way your lease and loan agreements are designed, you have a third party with an invested interest in your vehicle. If anything happens to your vehicle, they’re going to want it repaired. By having a high deductible, they fear you might not be able to pay it. Thus, most liens and lease agreements require a $500 deductible or lower.


How likely are you to file a claim?

If you’re deciding between a $500 deductible versus a $1,000 deductible — or any other option — consider how frequently you plan on using your coverage. Are you loaning or leasing your vehicle, in which case you'll need to keep it in near-perfect condition? Do you carry a driver on your policy who is less experienced behind the wheel — like a teenager? If you’re worried about your teen damaging your vehicle, a lower deductible might help assuage your fears about future expenses.


Do you want to avoid filing a claim?

Car insurance has an annoying habit of working as a double-edged sword: the more you use it, the more expensive it is. This is especially true with your collision deductible. Insurance companies often see collision claims as at-fault accidents, which. An at-fault collision may remain on your insurance record for three years. This means your premium will be increased for three years following an at-fault claim. This can refer to a liability claim or collision.

Year After Accident Average Annual Premium
0 - No Accident $1,548
1 Year Later $2,315
2 Years Later $4,630
3 Years Later $6,945

As you can see, filing an at-fault claim where the damages are greater than $2,000 will raise your premium by an average of $767 a year or $2,301 in excess premium over the full three years. Because of this, insurance experts encourage having a high deductible as it discourages you from using it. You should use your collision coverage, however, if you suffer a catastrophic loss where the value of the premium increase plus your deductible is less than the cost of repairs — like if you total your vehicle.



Where to find cheap car insurance with a custom deductible

Even if you’re not sure what amount of deductible you want, you can compare rates from some of America's most popular insurance companies online for free. Just enter your ZIP code below to get started.


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Do you need comprehensive and collision coverages?

Because comprehensive and collision are not required by law, there are times when it will make financial sense not to pay for these coverages — namely, if the value of your vehicle isn't worth the premium it costs. As a general rule of thumb in the insurance world, if your vehicle is worth less than $4,000, you do not need physical coverage. We recommend getting an estimate for your vehicle using online resources such as Kelley Blue Book and NADA online.

If you determine that you do not need comprehensive and collision coverage, below are some rates for a liability-only policy.


For our liability-only policy, we selected limits of 50/100/50. However, drivers are only required to carry their state's minimum requirements. Carrying only state-minimum liability insurance is not recommended, as the coverages can be quite low depending on the state.

If the value of the damage a driver causes in a collision exceeds their coverage, they end up responsible for the remainder of the damages. Because of this, it's recommended to carry at least 50/100/50 for liability-only coverages. See below what this would look like on a monthly billing plan.


Company Monthly Premium
Allstate $76
Progressive $63
Nationwide $61
Farmers $59
Liberty Mutual $59
State Farm $51
USAA $37



I just recently lowered my coverage deductible from $2000 to $250. When does that change go into effect?

Unless otherwise requested, changes on insurance policies go into effect right away. As long as you requested the change sometime before you began your trip, the deductible change is in effect as soon as you request it from your insurance company.
Nov 22, 2020 Victoria, TX

Should I pay out of pocket for damage I caused?

I would not file a claim. Even if you have a $500 deductible, which is common, you would receive a $66 payout.
May 5, 2018 Mount Pleasant, MI

Can I wait to file an auto insurance claim if it takes me a year to save up for the deductible?

Thanks for your question. In most cases, you can file a claim for up to two years after the loss.
Aug 26, 2019 Littleton, CO

When do I have to pay my deductible

Simply put, no. Your deductible only applies to your car through your collision and comprehensive coverage.
Jun 24, 2018 San Antonio, TX

Ava Lynch photo
Ava LynchSenior Analyst

Ava worked in the insurance industry as an agent for four-plus years.

Ava currently provides insights and data analysis as one of The Zebra's property and casualty insurance experts. Her work has been featured in publications such as U.S. News & World Report, GasBuddy, Car and Driver, and Yahoo! Finance.

About The Zebra

The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.

  • The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.

  • The Zebra’s insurance content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.

  • The Zebra’s editorial team operates independently of the company’s partnerships and commercialization interests, publishing unbiased information for consumer benefit.

  • The auto insurance rates published on The Zebra’s pages are based on a comprehensive analysis of car insurance pricing data, evaluating more than 83 million insurance rates from across the United States.