Does Car Insurance Cover Tire Damage?

by Michael on Jun 19, 2013 · 6 comments

Photo of a Flat Tire

Over the past week or so, I’ve been having a run of bad luck with cars. Not long after I got my speeding ticket, I suffered a flat tire.

I had driven to the airport and all seemed well when I parked and headed to my flight. But, upon my return, my tire was dead flat.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered it had been punctured by a screwdriver and it wouldn’t hold air. I thus had no choice but to put on the mini-donut spare tire and limp my way home. The next day, I took it to the tire shop and learned that it was beyond repair.

Since this is a relatively new car, it still had the original tires on it. Thus, no road hazard protection from the tire dealer. The good news was that since the tires were so new, I could get away with replacing just the one.

I called around town and finally found a place that could get the right tire in relatively short order. But at a cost. The replacement would cost around $170 with another $30 or so for mounting, balancing, etc.

So… A total cost of roughly $200. Not terrible, but I’d obviously rather not have to pay it. With that in mind, I decided to call our insurance agent and find out about the possibility of them covering the cost.

Tire damage and insurance coverage

I called our insurance agent’s office for details and the woman that I spoke to said she’d need to call an adjuster to find out for sure. She took down the details and promised to get back to me later in the day.

When she eventually called back, I was pleased to learn that they would be willing to cover the damage as a comprehensive claim.

“The reason we’ll do that,” she explained, “is that we can’t tell for sure how the damage happened.”

Like I said above, it was driving fine as I pulled into the parking lot. But when I got back? Flat. So either I ran over a screwdriver just before parking or someone shanked my tire while I was away. I’m not sure which, and neither are they.

“Since it seemed to be okay when you left it, we’re assuming that it was an act of vandalism,” she continued. “And vandalism is covered as a comprehensive claim.”

That’s great!

Our policy has a $0 deductible for comprehensive claims so there should be no out-of-pocket cost. Moreover, because comprehensive claims aren’t considered to be your fault, they (typically) have no effect on your premiums or insurability.

But what if it I had hit a pothole or it had obviously been due to road debris? I didn’t get that info at first, so I wound up calling back to check. I’ve gotta get the whole scoop for you guys, after all. 😉

Potholes, missiles, and road debris

When I got him on the phone, our agent explained that something like hitting a pothole would be considered a “roadbed collision” and would be covered as a collision claim. In that case, we’d have to meet the deductible before insurance would kick in, and it would also show up as a black mark on our claims record.

If, on the other hand, something had flown off a truck and damaged our car — let’s say a ladder flew back and punctured our radiator — that would be a comprehensive claim. When something’s in the air, it’s considered a “missile” and you’re not at fault if you hit it (or it hits you).

But if that same ladder had come to rest on the ground and I tore up a tire or our undercarriage running it over, it would move back over to collision. Thus, I’d be on the hook for our collision deductible and we’d be at risk of a premium increase.

Summary (the tl;dr version)

So… To make a long story short: if it’s vandalism, your comprehensive coverage kicks in. If it’s damage from a flying object, it’s likewise a comprehensive claim. But if you run something over, you’ll have to claim it against your collision coverage.

In our case, since it’s a comprehensive claim, and since we have a $0 deductible for such claims, I’ll report it. If it was a collision claim, I wouldn’t even consider filing unless the cost of the damage far outstripped our deductible.

1 Kurt @ Money Counselor June 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

I wouldn’t have investigated insurance coverage for an incident like this because I would have assumed my insurance rates would go up–not worth it for such a small benefit. Glad to learn that’s not always the case, thanks!

2 Martin June 19, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Well, I do not have this problem. My insurance is the minimum coverage by law, so anything else what happens to my car goes out of my pocket anyway.

3 SB @ One Cent at a Time June 19, 2013 at 10:51 pm

I have high deductible policy. So far in 7 years of driving in this country never had to pay for collision or comprehensive. Where as I saved god amount of money in premium which becomes lesser with high deductible.

4 Michael June 20, 2013 at 11:27 am

SB et al.: We carry a much higher deductible for collision coverage. But for comprehensive (in our case, anyway) the price difference for a $0 deductible vs. a higher deductible is negligible so the $0 deductible is a no-brainer. In the past couple of years we’ve had two cracked windshields and this flat tire replaced with no out-of-pocket costs.

5 Kirk June 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Are you not placing your current premiums at risk for filing small claims such as this? For instance, I receive a claims-free discount that seems to get larger the longer I go without filing a claim. I’ve also heard that “use it and lose it” can occur with auto insurance though it’s not nearly as bad as with home owners insurance.

6 Michael June 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Kirk: This would be true for a collision claim but, based on discussions with our agent, this isn’t an issue for a comprehensive claim. Actually, for collision, we’ve been accident free for so long that we have a 10+ year accident-free discount plus a freebie. That is, we could have a one collision claim and still maintain the discount.

Note: This is true for our carrier/situation and may not apply to yours.

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