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Maine.gov > PFR Home > Insurance Regulation > Consumer Information > All Brochures > Consumer Guide to Personal Auto Insurance
A Consumer’s Guide to...
Personal Auto Insurance
A Publication of the Maine Bureau of Insurance
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Shopping for Insurance ..............................................3
Information Needed To Apply for Insurance................4
Types of Insurance Coverage Required by Law..........8
Coverage for Damage to Your Vehicle.......................10
Other Optional Coverages.........................................11
Billing Procedures and Fees.......................................13
Duties in the Event of an Accident.............................14
The Maine Bureau of Insurance regulates the insurance industry to protect and to serve the public.
Auto Brochure Published by:
The Maine Bureau of Insurance
800-300-5000 (in state)
This brochure is meant to be used only as a guide when you shop for auto insurance. We have tried to explain some commonly used insurance words to help you better understand the types of auto insurance you can buy, what coverages are required by law, and what each type of insurance covers should you have to file a claim.
HOW DO I SHOP FOR INSURANCE?
The key to comparison shopping is to know what insurance coverage you need before you start. Once you know what you want, you can find out how much the coverage will cost from different companies. Comparison shopping takes time but it will save you money. The only way you can make sure you are not paying too much is to shop around and find out what different companies charge for the same products and services.
Where Can I Get Information?
Information is available to consumers from a number of impartial sources. These sources include public libraries, consumer groups, the Internet, and consumer publications.
Because the insurance industry, like many other industries, has developed many terms that are not commonly used by the average person, you may need to find a good glossary or dictionary of insurance terms from your public library. The Property/Casualty Division of the Maine Bureau of Insurance can also help you with any questions or problems you may have about your auto insurance.
Check the newspaper and yellow pages of the telephone book for companies and producers in your area. Also, ask your neighbors, relatives, and friends for recommendations on insurance companies and producers. Ask them about their experience with price and service, and the kind of claim service they have received from the companies they recommend.
INFORMATION INSURERS NEED WHEN YOU APPLY FOR INSURANCE
When you shop for car insurance, premium quotations are useful to compare different companies’ products. When you ask for price quotations, make sure that you give the same information to each producer or company to get a fair comparison.
Insurance companies look at many factors when they set the price you pay for insurance. Your premium is affected by your driving record; where you live; your age; your marital status; how much you drive; the age, make, and model of your car; and your car’s safety features, among other factors. Here is more information about some of these factors:
The policy application will ask about your driving record. Insurers will ask for information about accidents and moving violations for any driver covered by the policy for the prior three to five years. Drivers with previous violations or at-fault accidents are considered to be a higher risk and may be charged a higher premium.
The claims experience of people in your area will also affect your rates. Applications include a question that asks for the address where the vehicle will be garaged. From this information insurers can tell a great deal about your risk of financial loss. Insurers know from their claims experience that more claims are made from city areas than country areas (busy traffic, thefts, vandalism, etc.).
Statistics show that males still have more accidents than females. For that reason, young men may tend to pay more for insurance than young women. Insurers also have statistics that show a higher number of claims for some age groups than for others.
Insurance company claims records show that married policyholders have fewer claims than unmarried policyholders.
If you have previously been cancelled for non-payment of policy premium, insurers want to know. If you have had insurance, your new insurer may ask your prior company about any claims you had.
On the application you will be asked about how often and how far you drive the vehicle you want to insure. Higher annual mileage generally means higher premiums because it creates a greater exposure to claims.
The type of car you drive will directly affect the cost of your automobile insurance. A make or model of car that has a high number of claims or higher repair costs will be charged a higher premium for comprehensive and collision coverage.
You will be asked to list all licensed drivers in the household. Insurers may also want to know the ages of anyone who could become a driver in the near future. (Maine law defines “license” as an operator’s or driver’s license or other permit to operate a motor vehicle.)
You will be asked to list any automobile claims that you or any other drivers in the household have had during the past three to five years.
A company may also request to check your credit history to decide whether to issue a policy or to determine the appropriate premium to charge. However, if an insurer makes an unfavorable underwriting decision based on your credit history, it must tell you how you can request a copy of your credit report. When you receive your report, it is important to make sure that it contains correct information. Correct any mistakes that you find on the report.
It is a crime to knowingly give false, incomplete, or misleading information to an insurance company for the purpose of defrauding the company. Penalties may include imprisonment, fines, or denial of insurance benefits. Make sure that your application contains accurate information before you sign.
Insurance companies give discounts to those they see as "better risks." Find out the type of discounts are offered by each company before you buy auto insurance.
Maine law requires every auto insurance company to provide a discount for liability, medical payments, and collision coverages for drivers age 55 and older who have completed an approved motor vehicle accident prevention course. You may contact the Bureau of Highway Safety at (207) 624-8756 for a list of approved courses and times. The discount may not be applied if either the insured or another member of the insured's household was involved in an at-fault accident or moving violation or has a license suspension during the previous three years. The discount applies for 36 months after the course completion. A new course must be completed every three years to continue the discount.
The following describes some typical discounts:
Discounts not only help companies attract customers, they are also ways for companies to compete and keep business. So when you shop, don't just ask if a discount exists, but also ask how much you will save. The savings can differ from one company to another. In addition, you should make sure that you receive all the discounts for which you qualify.
When comparing the cost of insurance among different companies, compare the total cost after any applicable discounts have been applied.
INSURANCE COVERAGE REQUIRED BY LAW
Maine law requires every vehicle owner or operator to carry liability insurance, uninsured motorists, and medical payments coverage.
To satisfy the financial responsibility law in Maine, you must buy a minimum of $50,000 liability for the injury to or death of any one person; $100,000 liability for one accident resulting in injury to or death of more than one person; and $25,000 liability for property damage. These amounts are usually shown as $50/100/25 on your insurance policy. A combined single limit (that combines bodily injury and property damage liability) of $125,000 is also acceptable. You cannot register your vehicle without proof that you have this minimum amount of insurance. Uninsured motorist bodily injury of $50/100 or combined single limit of $100,000 and a minimum of $2,000 for medical payments coverage is also required.
Keep in mind that these minimum amounts may be too low for your situation and you may want to buy more coverage. You should base your decision on what assets you need to protect from claims that may exceed the minimum amounts. As you raise your coverage, your premiums will also increase; however, the extra cost of higher coverage tends to be relatively low.
Purchasing a personal umbrella policy is one way to have higher limits of liability inexpensively. An umbrella policy provides broad liability protection over and above the liability limit of your auto policy. It will also cover some exposure to losses that your auto or homeowner’s policies do not cover. Most umbrella policies require you to have at least $250,000/$500,000 or $300,000 single limit on your auto policy. The umbrella policy or endorsement generally adds an additional $1,000,000 limit.
What is Liability Insurance?
Most auto liability insurance policies contain three major parts:
Bodily injury liability insurance does not protect you or your car directly. If you cause an accident in which other people are injured, this insurance protects you against claims for damages such as their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. This insurance coverage will also pay if a member of your family who lives with you was driving your car, or another person was using your car with your permission. The maximum amount that your insurance company pays for any one person injured in an accident and the amount available for multiple injured parties is determined by the amount of insurance you buy. The amounts are shown on the Declarations Page of your policy. As stated above, you must purchase a minimum limit of $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident, or a combined limit of $125,000 which includes the minimum amount required for property damage.
Property damage liability insurance pays for any damage you cause to the property of others, like a crushed fender, broken glass, or a damaged wall or fence. Your insurance will pay for this damage whether you are driving your car or whether it is being driven by another person who has your permission. The minimum limit required by Maine law is $25,000.
Uninsured/Underinsured motorists (UM) coverage is a required coverage under Maine law. It applies when you are injured by an at-fault driver who:
UM covers your family members and other passengers who are injured while in your car. UM will also cover you or the family members in your household for injuries from another car while walking or biking or while riding in another car. UM does not cover the other driver’s injuries and it does not cover damage to your vehicle or other property. The purpose of UM is to provide you with the same personal injury recovery that would have been available if the at-fault driver had insurance to the same extent as you.
Your policy’s UM coverage must equal its liability coverage limit unless you specifically elect a lower limit. If you want less UM coverage, your insurance company must give you a rejection form and you must sign it before the effective date of the policy. However, even if you decide you want UM coverage that is lower than your liability coverage limit, you may not have less than the minimum required amounts of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.
Umbrella policies do not usually cover uninsured motorist claims.
Medical payments coverage pays for the medical and funeral expenses incurred by you or others hurt or killed in an accident while riding in or driving your car. Claims against this coverage include all reasonable hospital, surgical, chiropractor, X-ray, dental, professional nursing, prosthetic, and funeral expenses.
It will also cover you and family members of your household for injuries resulting from another vehicle while walking or biking, or while riding in another car.
This coverage will pay for your medical and funeral expenses even if you cause the accident. Usually, only expenses incurred within a specified period of time after the accident are included. Medical payments coverage is also required by Maine law; you must have at least $2,000 in medical payments coverage on your policy.
COVERAGE FOR DAMAGE TO YOUR VEHICLE
The coverages previously discussed are the basic coverages required by law. However, when you buy auto insurance you will have to decide if there are other insurance coverages that you would like to add to your policy. The other most common coverages are collision and comprehensive.
COLLISION COVERAGE pays for physical damage to your car from colliding with an object, like a tree or another car. If you have an older car worth less than $2,000, you may not want to buy collision coverage, because you are likely to pay more money in premium than you would ever receive because of a claim. Auto insurance policies will generally not cover repair costs in excess of the actual cash value of the vehicle. Once repair costs reach a set percentage of the value of the car (for example, 75%) as set by the company, the company will declare the vehicle a total loss and pay the actual cash value of the vehicle instead of the cost to repair.
COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE pays for damage to your car from almost all causes (other than collision) including fire, severe weather, vandalism, floods, and theft. Comprehensive coverage also covers broken glass, such as windshield damage.
If you buy a new car with a loan or lease a car, the financial institution loaning you the money or the person leasing the car to you may require you to buy comprehensive and collision coverage. This is to make sure you have the means to repair the car if it is damaged and to pay off the loan if the vehicle is totaled. The financial institution or lessor generally will also require to be named on the policy as an additional interest.
OTHER OPTIONAL COVERAGES
CD Players, GPS Navigation Units, Satellite Radio, DVD Players and other audio or visual electronic equipment are generally covered under collision and comprehensive coverages if they are permanently installed in the vehicle. Many policies may limit coverage to $1,000 for some installed equipment, but you may be able to buy higher limits.
Portable electronics are excluded under the auto policy unless the insurer offers an endorsement to cover your personal effects in the vehicle. Otherwise, coverage for these items may be included under your renter’s or homeowner’s policy, subject to its deductible.
Rental Reimbursement Coverage
This coverage usually pays $15 to $30 a day to rent a car while your car is being repaired from damage that is covered by the policy. Most policies specify a maximum of 30 days for the coverage. The premium varies from insurer to insurer, but is generally inexpensive.
Towing and Labor Coverage
This coverage pays the cost to tow your car to the repair shop subject to the limit amount in your policy. Premium for this coverage can run as low as $5 to $10 a year. If you are a member of an auto club (like AAA), you probably already have this service and may not want to duplicate your coverage. You will not be able to collect under both.
WHAT IS LOAN/LEASE COVERAGE?
If you bought your car with only a small down payment or with no money down and you financed a large part of the cost, you may owe more money than the car is worth. This gap exists because the policy compensation for vehicle damage is based on the vehicle’s actual cash value (the cost to replace your vehicle less an amount for depreciation); not on what you paid for the car.
Loan/lease coverage (sometimes called GAP coverage) can help cover this gap. It may pay the difference between the actual cash value of the car at the time of loss and the remaining balance you owe on the loan, depending upon the terms of the coverage. Any portions of the balance involving interest for late payments, roll-over amounts from a prior loan, or additional purchases such as the cost of an extended warranty are not covered. When purchased as part of your auto insurance policy, this coverage is generally inexpensive. Not all insurers offer this type of coverage.
OTHER FACTORS THAT MAY AFFECT YOUR COST
Surcharges (extra premium charges)
Surcharges distribute the cost of automobile insurance among policyholders as fairly as possible. For example, a driver who has a clean driving record pays the lowest possible rates while a surcharge may apply to the premium for a driver who is at-fault in an accident or who is convicted of a moving violation. The surcharge is not a flat fee and is not designed to recover money that was paid out for any prior claims. Surcharges are usually applied for three policy years following the accident or conviction.
Canceling your Policy in the Middle of the Policy Term
A short rate cancellation may apply when you decide to change to another company in the middle of a policy term. In most cases, your insurance company will keep 10% of the unearned premium when you request cancellation before the policy expires. This charge covers the expenses the company incurs when it issues a policy. Once the cancellation of the old policy has been processed and the short-rate cancellation charge is applied, the new policy may no longer be a "bargain."
Companies generally allow an exception to the short-rate cancellation if you no longer own the vehicle.
BILLING PROCEDURES AND FEES
Rather than requiring you to pay the whole premium at the beginning of the policy period, most companies offer you the option of paying the premium in semi-annual, quarterly, or monthly installments. If you decide to pay the premium in installments, an installment fee may be applied. This fee covers the additional expense of sending you multiple bills and processing multiple payments.
NOTE: Maine law does not require a grace period for paying property and casualty insurance premiums. If you do not make a payment when it is due, your policy can be cancelled for nonpayment of premium. Insurers are not required to provide an additional chance for the payment to be made.
Fees for Insufficient Funds
Companies may be allowed to charge a fee when payments made by check, electronic transfers, or credit/debit cards are not honored by your financial institution.
Late Fees or Reinstatement Fees
Companies may be allowed to charge a late fee or a reinstatement fee when your payment is not received by its due date. A late fee can be applied if your payment is received late. A reinstatement fee can be applied if your policy is cancelled for nonpayment of premium and then is reinstated.
Mid-term Changes in the Policy
Changes you make to your policy near a billing date will generally not show in the next bill. The amount shown as due should be paid; any adjustments will be made with the following bill.
If You have An Auto Accident
If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, knowing what to do can make the experience less frustrating and prevent complications. Use the list below only as a guide. During the claim investigation, the company may request information other than what is listed here.
You have the responsibility to comply with the specific duties that are outlined in your auto policy. They are listed in the section of your policy titled “Conditions.” Failing to comply with the specific terms and conditions listed in your policy could lead to denial of coverage or even provide grounds for cancellation of the policy. Make sure that you know what your responsibilities are if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Although the Bureau can give general insurance information, and help when violations of insurance law have occurred, the Bureau cannot:
Other brochures and additional consumer information are also available on our website.
Maine Bureau of Insurance
Last Updated: August 22, 2012
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