Tornadoes are unpredictable weather events that typically increase during the months of April, May and June across the U.S. According to Weather.com, May is the most dangerous month for tornadoes averaging 281 tornadoes per year.

If you’re a resident of the Plains states in the central U.S. (or Florida), you likely live in one of the states with the highest average number of tornadoes per year. Topping the list is Texas with 155 tornadoes per year (based on the period from 1991 to 2010 from NOAA data published on Weather.com), Kansas with 96 tornadoes, Florida with 66, Oklahoma with 62 and Nebraska with 57.

So, what do you do if a tornado whips through your town and damages your car? The last thing you might be thinking about is auto insurance, but the level of coverage your auto insurance policy provides will play a key role in getting you back on your feet.

But don’t fret. We have a handy guide to help you navigate through some of the toughest issues when it comes to your car, tornadoes and auto insurance.

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Key Highlights
  • If you have comprehensive insurance on your vehicle and your car gets damaged by a weather event like a tornado, then you can make a claim immediately.
  • Comprehensive is a wise choice to have on a vehicle because it also covers your vehicle for theft, vandalism, and striking an animal.
  • In case your car gets damaged by a weather event like a tornado and if you don’t have comprehensive coverage, then, unfortunately, you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket to repair or replace your vehicle.
  • Liability or collision coverage will not apply in cases where a car is damaged by a tornado, hurricane, hail or flood.

1. What type of auto insurance policy do I need to have to be covered in case of a tornado?

Typically, states require vehicle operators to have liability coverage only. However, if you live in Tornado Alley (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska), you’d be better off spending more money every month to secure comprehensive insurance as well as collision insurance – well beyond a liability policy – to protect yourself in case of a tornado.

Why? Typical auto insurance policies don’t cover damage due to natural disasters, theft and vandalism and vehicle-animal collisions.

Comprehensive insurance

If your vehicle sustains damage due to a tornado, high winds, falling branches, etc., you can file a claim under your comprehensive insurance coverage, which covers any type of damage to your car up to its actual cash value.

Comprehensive is a wise choice to have on a vehicle because it also covers your vehicle for theft, vandalism, and striking an animal.

If you have comprehensive insurance on your vehicle and your car gets damaged by a weather event like a tornado, make a claim immediately. You want to be at the front of the line for an insurance adjuster to start processing your claim if there was a lot of destruction in your area. Your deductible will be due, even though you were not at fault.

If your car is severely damaged, then it’s likely it will be declared a total loss. This means your car insurance company will not repair your vehicle but pay you its actual cash value. ACV is the worth of the vehicle the second before it was damaged by a tornado.

If this is the case, we advise you to try to calculate the value of your vehicle so that you can negotiate properly with the insurance company.

Collision coverage

Collision insurance is quite protective when it comes to collisions with other vehicles, but it won’t protect your car in case of severe weather, such as a tornado.

Gap insurance

This type of insurance comes into play if your car is totaled, and you owe more money on your car than it’s worth — gap insurance will pay the difference.

For instance, if you owe $15K on your car loan, but your car is only worth $12K, gap insurance will reimburse your lender for the extra $3,000.

You can get gap insurance from your car insurance company or from your car financing company, but it’s usually more expensive from your lender so adding it onto your current auto insurance policy is your best bet.

Gap insurance is a great option if you don’t have much savings and wouldn’t be able to cover a $2K-$3K difference between what your car is worth and what the insurer would pay.

Rental car reimbursement

Depending on your situation, rental car reimbursement coverage is a wise choice or a waste of money.

If you have a second car or a way to get where you need to go without your car, you don’t need rental coverage. But if you’d be left stranded for weeks while your car is being repaired, it may pay to have it.

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2. What if I don’t have comprehensive coverage?

Comprehensive insurance covers your vehicle for damages that are the result of severe weather and acts of nature, which includes damage done by wind, hail, hurricanes, and, yes, a tornado that picks up your vehicle, flips it, and brings it back down mangled.

If you don’t have comprehensive coverage, then, unfortunately, you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket to repair — or replace — your vehicle.

3. How will I know if my insurance company will declare my car a total loss?

This determination varies according to state law, as well as your car insurance company’s guidelines.

No matter what, you must have comprehensive insurance coverage for your car to be repaired or replaced after a tornado. First, consider that you’ll be responsible for the deductible you opted for when you signed up for your policy.

Liability or collision coverage will not apply in cases where a car is damaged by a tornado, hurricane, hail or flood.

In general, a car is determined to be a total loss when:

  • It’s so severely damaged it cannot be safely repaired;
  • Repairs cost more than the vehicle’s worth; or
  • The amount of damage or cost of repairing the vehicle is too extensive, according to state regulations or the insurer’s guidelines for total loss.

If you made a comprehensive auto insurance claim for a car that was in a tornado, your car insurance company can certainly total the car if mechanics say it’s not repairable due to extensive damage, or if the cost of repairing it is the same or more as the actual cash value (ACV) of the vehicle.

4. What if the insurer deems that my car is determined salvageable?

If instead a mechanic says the car is repairable, and the costs are under 50% of the vehicle’s ACV, then it will likely not be totaled out. Instead, you can get the vehicle repaired to maximize the benefits of your auto insurance policy. 

However, once the damage to the vehicle reaches the 50% threshold, your auto insurer will determine if the vehicle will be totaled or not based on an adjuster’s assessment of the vehicle.

5. What if a tornado flipped my car or another car landed on mine — am I covered?

Typically, in this case, comprehensive insurance would cover your car if damaged by another vehicle being blown and landing on your car. In this scenario, since tornado winds are picking up a car and flipping it, it would be comprehensive — the car that flipped became a flying missile and it was due to an “act of nature” that the accident occurred.

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— Michelle Megna contributed to this article.

Source:

  1. How Many Tornadoes Your State Sees in a Typical Year According to Weather.com