Summer is fading, autumn is in the air, and winter peeks just around the corner. It’s the same every year — light fades, temperatures drop, and snow begins to fall. Seemingly safe and reasonable drivers find themselves skidding across the slick pavement and struggling to control their vehicles. The result? Winter driving accidents.
From car-on-car crashes to bumps and scrapes from posts and curbs, inclement weather and road conditions make it easier to end up in less-than-ideal circumstances. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), reports that 11% of vehicle crashes each year are tied to snowy, icy, or slushy road conditions.
Don’t let harsh winter roads ruin your holidays this year. Check our winter car insurance tips for handling snow and ice to keep you and your passengers safe on the road.
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What Is Winter Car Insurance?
Winter car insurance is a term sometimes used to describe the changes that some car owners make to their insurance policies when the winter months arrive. In some cases, owners may choose to increase their car insurance to help protect against the costs of potential damages if they are involved in an accident; in others, they may opt to decrease their insurance to help reduce their total costs over winter.
The Fallacy of Pausing Your Insurance
While you may hear stories of people “pausing” their insurance during winter, this technically is not possible. To legally drive a vehicle on the road, most states require basic coverage that pays for damages caused to other vehicles or property along with injuries to other motorists or pedestrians. The two exceptions are Virginia and New Hampshire, both of which allow drivers to operate uninsured motor vehicles at their own risk.
As a result, choosing to “pause” insurance is the same as canceling your policy, which leaves you without coverage if you are involved in an accident, and could lead to both motor vehicle fines and payments out of pocket to cover damages caused by an at-fault accident.
What Are the Types of Car Insurance Additions to Consider for Winter?
Along with basic coverage for at-fault accidents, other common types of car insurance purchased in the winter include:
Collision insurance helps offset the cost of damages to your car caused in an at-fault accident. Let’s say you turn a corner, lose control on icy roads, and smash into an oncoming car. While basic coverage pays for damages to the other vehicle up to a set amount, you pay for any damages to your own vehicle out of pocket.
Collision insurance provides payment for these damages to your vehicle, whether you strike another car or hit a pole, curb, or other stationary objects. Collision insurance increases your per-month premium, but may be worth it if you drive to and from work each day or if you have long drives planned over the holidays.
Comprehensive insurance is designed to cover non-crash incidents that may occur due to inclement weather conditions, such as falling tree branches or damage due to ice storms. Comprehensive insurance also offers protection against perils such as theft and vandalism, and some policies include coverage for fires or floods.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
While insurance coverage is mandatory in most states, some drivers still choose to operate motor vehicles without insurance. This puts them in the position of having to pay for your damages or injuries out of pocket, but this process can take weeks or months, especially if they do not have the funds easily accessible.
Uninsured motorist coverage can be added to your current policy and provides a payout for damages or injuries caused by accidents involving uninsured drivers. You can also purchase “underinsured coverage” which makes up the difference in damages if the person who hits you doesn’t have enough coverage to pay for damages or injuries caused. In some states, this coverage is mandatory.
Glass coverage is another potentially worthwhile winter driving addition. It can help cover damage to windshields and windows caused by sudden temperature shifts, falling ice or snow, or rocks tossed up off the roadway by other vehicles.
Roadside Assistance Coverage
Depending on where you live, roadside assistance coverage may be a good idea. This coverage provides access to roadside maintenance services if your car’s battery dies or you get stuck in a snowbank. This coverage helps keep you from being stranded away from home.
What Can You Do to Your Existing Coverage for Winter?
Depending on how much winter driving you plan to do, you have other options when it comes to adjusting your existing car insurance for the season, such as:
Increase Your Total Coverage
If you’re planning to do more driving during the winter or you need to drive your car every day, it may be worth increasing your total coverage to offset the potential costs of an accident. Adding both collision and comprehensive insurance can help protect your car against common concerns, but comes with additional premium costs each month.
It’s also worth noting that changes to your insurance policy may not take effect right away, and companies may restrict changes as inclement weather or storms approach. As a result, if you’re planning to increase your coverage, it’s a good idea to make the change before winter arrives in force.
Decrease Your Coverage
If you intend to significantly decrease the amount of driving you do in the cold season, you may also choose to decrease your coverage and save money over the winter. For example, if you’re currently paying for collision and comprehensive insurance you could remove both from your coverage during the winter and instead carry basic insurance until the spring.
The benefit? Lower monthly premiums, which can help save money over the winter if you do not drive your car often. The potential drawback? If you are involved in an at-fault accident, damages to your vehicle are your own responsibility.
Opt for Storage Insurance
Another option for those who intend to not drive their car at all during the winter is storage insurance. Storage insurance functions much like comprehensive insurance — your vehicle is protected against weather, vandalism, and theft — with the caveat that your car is not covered for any on-road accidents. As the name implies, the purpose of storage insurance is to store your car during winter while keeping some basic protections in place.
If you have a safe place to store your car, such as a covered garage or storage lot, and you do not need to drive your car during the winter, storage insurance can help reduce your coverage costs over the winter.
Change Your Deductible
You can also choose to change your deductible and in turn your monthly premium during winter. Generally, the higher your deductible, the lower your monthly payment. For example, if you pay $100 per month for car insurance and your deductible is $500, it means that in the event of an at-fault accident, you pay $500 out of pocket and your insurance covers the remaining costs.
If you increase your deductible to $1,000, you pay this higher amount before insurance takes over, but since the insurance company is spending less overall, your monthly premiums will typically go down with a higher deductible. If you have no at-fault accidents over the winter, this may be more cost-effective since you will not need to pay your deductible and you get the benefit of lower premiums.
How Do You Reduce Your Winter Driving Risk?
While updating your insurance policy for winter may provide more coverage in the event of a crash, avoiding an accident altogether means no insurance claims, deductible payouts, or potential premium increases.
Get Winter Tires
Winter tires reduce collisions. According to the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), 81% of drivers say that winter tires have saved them from potentially dangerous driving situations. By using flexible rubber compounds that provide increased traction even in extremely cold and snowy conditions, these tires can help drivers avoid accidents by reducing the risk that their car may skid or slip on ice.
Check the Basics
Before winter arrives in force, it’s worth getting a basic inspection done to check your battery, brakes, engine, lights, oil, tires, and windshield wipers. It’s also a good idea to keep your windshield washer fluid topped up and keep your gas tank half full in case you end up stuck on the highway during a storm.
Prepare for Winter Conditions
Your car is not the only thing that benefits from winter preparations. It’s a good idea to dress warmly when driving in the winter and bring along extra clothes just in case. Having a survival kit on hand that includes first aid supplies, candles, flashlights, a simple tool kit, and jumper cables is also worthwhile.
Clear Your Car Before Setting Out
If you’re heading out after a large snowfall, take the time to fully clean off your car. This includes brushing off loose snow, scraping the windows, and waiting until your car is warm enough that the windows are not fogged up. Ice, snow, and fog can reduce your visibility, in turn increasing the chances of an accident and putting your car — and you — at risk.
Drive Extra Cautiously
Even with winter tires, winter driving is a different experience than on bare pavement. Stopping and starting is more difficult, and hazards such as black ice can be hard to spot until you’re right on top of them. As a result, it’s worth driving with an extra dose of caution to limit the chances of accidental impact. This means building in extra time to reach your destination, consulting online maps to see if there are any current traffic issues, and reducing any distractions in your car, such as loud music or smartphone use while driving.
Keep Your Head Up
You’re not the only driver on the road, and driver skill levels vary considerably. From drivers that have no experience on snow and ice to those that are overly cautious or aggressive, it’s worth keeping your head up and scanning the road ahead for potential dangers.
Keep Your Distance
Snowy and icy roads require greater stopping distance than their clean-and-dry counterparts. Wet and slushy roads require twice the stopping distance while snowy roads require three times as much and icy roads even more.
In practice, this means that if it takes your car 125 feet to stop on dry roads at 50 miles per hour, it takes 250 feet on wet roads, 375 feet on snow, and even further on ice. As a result, it’s worth leaving more space between your car and other vehicles in the winter to give yourself more time to react, brake, and stop.
Handling Winter Worries
When it comes to handling winter driving worries, you’ve got options. You can choose to add coverage such as comprehensive, collision, glass, or roadside assistance to your existing policy, opt to remove optional coverages if you plan to drive less, or simply pay for storage insurance over the winter if you do not plan to drive at all.
No matter what your coverage looks like, however, avoiding accidents remains a cost-effective way to minimize winter worries. From installing winter tires to getting prepared for harsh conditions and keeping your distance on the road, no claims — at fault or otherwise — mean no deductibles paid and no premium increases over the holidays.