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A dust devil damaged my car. Who pays?


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Question: My carport collapsed during a localized wind "dust devil." My car received a few scratches, and I got an estimate of $850 to repair my car, but my comprehensive deductible is $1,000. Am I responsible for paying for my car's damages, or can I claim through my homeowners insurance? I was under the impression that, say, if a tree fell on a car in the street, it’s comprehensive, but if a tree falls on a car in the driveway, it’s property insurance.

Answer: You are correct. You won’t be able to make a car insurance claim since the repair will cost less than your deductible.

Damage caused to your vehicle by natural weather occurrences, such as a dust devil, is indeed covered by comprehensive insurance coverage. Your carport brought down by the whirlwind may have caused the actual damage to your vehicle, but homeowners policies normally exclude coverage for motorized vehicles. It won't hurt to ask your homeowners agent about it, though.

A homeowner’s policy typically can be used to make a claim for an automobile only if it isn’t your vehicle that was damaged and you were negligent in some way.  For instance, if you had a tree that was diseased and were aware of the issue and did nothing, then your neighbor may be able to make a claim against your homeowners insurance policy if the tree falls and damages their vehicle.

Thus your assumption about a tree falling is incorrect.  If a tree falls on your car whether it’s on the street, in your driveway or the tree crashes through your garage and onto your car, it would be a comprehensive car insurance claim with your auto insurer, not a property claim with through your homeowner’s insurance. (See "'Acts of God' and your car insurance")

Luckily, it sounds as if your car wasn’t too badly damaged from this whirlwind.  But repairs for a few scratches can add up quickly, as you found out.

If the scratches are something you can live with, you can forgo fixing them, if you don’t have a lienholder on your vehicle that would require you to fix any damage to the car, no matter how minor. 

If you decide not to fix the damage, be aware that the cost to repair it would be deducted if later your car were damaged in the same area  or totaled out. 

Remember, car insurance is for the big things, not the little ones. Your deductible draws a line between what you can afford on your own and what requires insurance to protect. Otherwise your auto insurance premium would be even higher.

You might look into reducing your deductible to $500 so that damages above that amount would be covered by your car insurance policy. (See "Will higher deductibles save you money?")

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