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10 common winter driving hazards: Am I covered?

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

Winter storm driving woes: Am I covered?

Before the next storm hits, learn how your car insurance coverage applies to common winter driving hazards.

1. I had to abandon my car!

Before leaving your stuck car, call for emergency roadside service, says Mary Bonelli, senior vice president of public information for the Ohio Insurance Institute. The charges would be covered if you have roadside assistance through your car insurance, or membership in a roadside-assistance program, such as AAA. In addition, some car makers, such as Lexus and Acura, provide emergency roadside assistance as part of a warranty package for new-car buyers.

Of course if conditions are treacherous, you could be in for a long wait. About 500 motorists abandoned vehicles on Chicago's famous Lake Shore Drive in a blizzard a few years ago that dumped almost 2 feet of snow on the city.

And if bad goes to worse and your car is vandalized after you leave it behind, comprehensive car insurance would apply, Bonelli says. Comprehensive insurance is an optional coverage that pays for losses due to theft, vandalism, natural disasters and other factors unrelated to traffic accidents. You'll have to pay your comprehensive coverage deductible, however.

2. I hit a curb.

Collision coverage, which is optional, pays for damages to your car resulting from a collision with another car or object -- or as a result of flipping over.

"In this instance, the curb would be considered an 'object' by most insurers and, as such, hitting a curb would come under collision coverage," says Michael Barry, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. The same goes for potholes.

However, it might be worth getting an estimate or two for repairs before filing a claim, Bonelli says. "If the loss is close to your deductible, you wouldn't likely file it."

3. I slid down an icy hill and hit parked cars along the way.

Do whatever you can to contact the owners of the parked vehicles.

"Leave notes on their cars with your insurance information and then get their license plate numbers," Barry says.

Your collision coverage would pay for damage to your vehicle, and your auto insurance liability coverage would pay for damage to the other cars.

If the situation were reversed and someone hit your parked car but did not leave information, your collision coverage would pay for the damage, Bonelli says.

If the culprit is later identified and he or she does not have insurance, Uninsured Motorist Property Damage (UMPD) coverage would also apply to the damaged car if the insured carries it. UMPD is not offered by all carriers and is an optional coverage.

4. I got towed.

Auto insurance coverage will not apply if your vehicle was parked illegally when it was towed, Bonelli says.

Whether the local jurisdiction makes you pay towing fees depends on the situation. After the recent blizzard, the city of Chicago did not give citations or charge motorists to claim vehicles that were towed from Lake Shore Drive.

Call your roadside-assistance provider if you need a tow in order to avoid having the city tow your car away.

5. I couldn't get into my car because the lock was iced shut.

Again, call your roadside-assistance provider, whether that service is through your car insurance company, car dealer or motorist club.

"There's a chance this would be covered through these services or even OnStar," Bonelli says.

6. I got in an accident, but police are responding to injury-only crashes.

Exchange information with the other parties involved and then file an accident report with local law enforcement after the weather has cleared, the Ohio Insurance Institute recommends. Some local agencies require you to complete forms in person, while others offer online filing services. Your insurance company will ask whether you filed an accident report when you call to report the claim.

7. My car was stolen when I left it running in the driveway to warm up.

You're better off braving the cold than letting the engine warm up in the morning while you finish your coffee inside. Besides tempting thieves, you also could get a ticket in some jurisdictions, such as Ohio, where it's against the law to leave a car running unattended.

Still, comprehensive insurance would cover the loss -- even if you made stealing the car easy.

Remember, though, if you decided to pass on comprehensive and collision coverage to save money, loss from theft would not be covered, nor would damage from vandalism, natural disaster or damage to your car that's your own fault.

Review your policy or contact your insurer or agent if you're not sure how auto insurance coverage applies to winter driving quandaries.

"That way you know what you're up against and can take proactive measures," Bonelli says.

8. I drove during a state of emergency and got into an accident.

Drivers who dare to drive during bad weather are in luck, because most car insurance policies will cover motorists who make bad choices. Your car insurance normally covers accidents due to drivers negligence, whether it’s running a red light or driving – and crashing -- during a snow storm or other severe weather.

9. Strong winds and heavy snow during a blizzard caused a tree to fall on my car.

Comprehensive insurance will cover damage to your car if a tree or other object falls on it. You will, however, have to pay a deductible.

10. Huge icicles fell on my car and caused lots of damage.

If your car is damaged by falling ice, comprehensive insurance will cover it. You can file a claim but will have to pay the deductible.

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