If you accidentally hit a wild animal while driving, does your auto insurance cover animal damage caused by the collision? It depends on the auto insurance you have and how you respond to the unexpected threat of sudden impact.
These types of scary collisions with deer, elk, moose, and other large mammals typically peak in autumn. If you’ve hit a deer with your car, you’re not alone. Last year, there were an estimated 1.33 million deer strikes nationwide, bringing the average odds of such an encounter to one in 167 drivers coast to coast, according to State Farm.
While we may not think of these majestic animals as anything more than the occasional photo-worthy attraction on a scenic rural drive, striking one can cause serious damage. So what do you do if you hit a deer with your car?
Does Auto Insurance Cover Animal Damage?
Once you hit an animal, what’s covered depends on whether you have comprehensive auto insurance coverage. It pays to repair or replace your vehicle when you have damage due to something other than a crash with another vehicle. It includes theft, fire, vandalism or falling objects such as hail or tree limbs.
The good news is that if you hit a moose on the loose, you probably have comprehensive coverage if you financed or lease your vehicle. But if you own your car outright and don’t have comprehensive, you’re probably out of luck.
Does a Deductible Apply for an Animal Damage Claim?
The bad news is that even with comprehensive, you still must pay the deductible. If the damage is small or inexpensive, you may decide not to report it and keep it off your record. That said, insurance regulations in some states prohibit insurers from raising your premiums due to a comprehensive claim, and many insurers also follow this practice voluntarily.
Tom Monaghan, the owner of Summit Insurance Agency in Missoula, Mt., has never hit a deer but he’s been hit by them five times. His state ranks second nationally for deer strikes, with odds of a physical encounter at one in 57. The Montana state-mandated liability minimum is $25,000 per person, $50,000 for accidents and $20,000 for property damage.
“Responsible agents won’t even write that; it doesn’t provide any real coverage for the client,” Monaghan says. “Out here, animal exposure from a driving standpoint is just part of our daily life. It’s more when than if out here.”
As for saving money by not reporting an animal hit, Monaghan admits it rarely happens in deer country. “Our average payout for a deer hit is probably $3,500,” he says. “Since the average person carries a $500 deductible on average, the claim is very rarely less than the deductible.”
Avoiding an Animal Collision Can Double Your Trouble
If you avoid an animal and end up swerving into another vehicle, a ditch or a telephone pole, that falls under collision coverage. Collision pays to repair or replace your car if you hit another vehicle or a stationary object. So, with collision coverage, your auto insurance covers animal damage—unless your insurer finds that you caused the accident.
Although it sounds unfair, you could be found responsible for an accident if you attempt to avoid hitting an animal. The insurance industry doesn’t want drivers to endanger other drivers and themselves by swerving to avoid animals.
READ MORE: What Does It Mean If You Have a Totaled Car?
Does Auto Insurance Cover Rodent Damage?
Although most crashes with animals happen at high speed, mice and other rodents can cause damage, too. They can chew on wiring beneath your car’s hood or damage the interior of your vehicle.
Rodent damage typically falls under the “other than collision” designation and is covered by comprehensive coverage. Review your policy carefully, as these tend to be “stated” policies, in which a peril must be stated to be covered. If your policy doesn’t include rodent hazards, there may still be hope if the policy states that coverages are “not limited to” those listed.
TAKE THE QUIZ: Factors That Affect Auto Insurance: Nature Edition