There are various types of car insurance, but knowing the differences between liability and full coverage can help you determine which is best for your situation.
Liability car insurance is the minimum required coverage to operate a vehicle and covers bodily injuries and property damage to others during an accident.
Full coverage includes liability coverage, collision and comprehensive coverage. It may also include personal injury protection, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and medical payments coverage.
Explore liability vs. full coverage details, including key differences, insurance costs by state and frequently asked questions to find the right coverage for your needs.
- Liability insurance is the minimum car insurance required for drivers in most states.
- Liability includes bodily injury (covers medical injuries and death) and property damage coverages (covers vehicles and property such as buildings and fences) for others.
- Full coverage is a combination of liability, collision (accident damage) and comprehensive (natural disasters, external damages and theft) coverage and is often required when financing a car.
What is the difference between liability and full coverage car insurance?
Drivers must have minimum liability insurance in almost all states. This type of coverage protects against injuries you and others driving your vehicle cause during a road accident. It will also reimburse others for property damages you cause while driving.
State minimums are rarely enough protection, however. CarInsurance.com recommends a minimum of $100,000 in bodily injury, $300,000 in bodily injury per accident and $100,000 property damage per accident (100/300/100) of coverage.
Full coverage is an extra layer of damage protection added to liability insurance and covers damage to your vehicle in an at-fault accident.
Comprehensive insurance coverage protects against natural disasters, theft, vandalism and animal strikes. Collision insurance coverage reimburses damages incurred to your vehicle from an accident or collision with an object.
How much is full coverage vs. liability in each state?
The price difference between liability and full coverage is highest in Nebraska and Wyoming, followed by Iowa and North Dakota. See the table below, which breaks down the difference in each state between the annual average cost of 50/100/50 liability insurance vs. the annual cost of full coverage with 100/300/100 liability limits and a $500 deductible, according to 2022 data.
- Liability Only: 50/100/50 Liability Only Coverage
- Full Coverage: 100/300/100 is liability with comp/collision and $500 deductible.
FAQ: Liability vs. full coverage
When should I switch from full coverage to liability only?
The value of your vehicle decreases as it ages. In some instances, full coverage insurance may cost more than the payout you receive on your older vehicle if you’re in an accident. If your vehicle is 10 years old or older or isn’t worth much, you can consider switching from full coverage to liability only. Additionally, you will save money by paying for liability only.
Does liability cover my damage in an accident if someone hits me?
No, your liability insurance does not cover your damage. It will cover the other person’s damage. If you’re not at fault for the accident, the other driver’s insurance will cover damages to your vehicle.
However, it’s essential to know that one in eight drivers isn’t insured, according to the Insurance Research Council (IRC). You may consider adding uninsured motorist coverage or personal injury protection to cover damages and injuries covered in an accident.
Does liability cover my damage in an accident if it’s my fault?
No, your liability insurance won’t cover your damages if you’re at fault in an accident. It likely will cover the damages and injuries for those in the other car involved in the accident, such as car repairs, medical bills and loss of income.
In most states, at-fault accidents typically involve the following:
- Failing to stop
- Rear-ending another car
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
- Not respecting rules of the road (i.e., right of ways, texting while driving)
To have protection for your own vehicle, you must carry full coverage insurance comprising collision and comprehensive.
Additionally, if you’re at fault in an accident, your premium will increase — about 56% on average after one at-fault accident with more than $2,000 in damage.
Final thoughts: Full coverage vs. liability
When deciding between liability vs. full coverage, consider whether you need accident damage – in most cases, you do. When you have an older vehicle, you may not need to carry additional coverage.
Remember, if you carry basic liability coverage, you are fulfilling your state’s insurance requirement but not much beyond that. Increasing your liability limits and adding collision and comprehensive ensures that you and your vehicle are better protected if you get into an accident.
Check out our detailed guide on who has the cheapest full-coverage auto insurance in 2023
Resources & Methodology
- Insurance Information Institute. “Auto insurance basics – understanding your coverage.” Accessed May 2023.
- Insurance Information Institute. “What is covered by collision and comprehensive auto insurance?” Accessed May 2023.
- Nolo.com. “At-fault accidents: Driver liability for car accidents.” Accessed May 2023.
- U.S. Department of State. “Vehicle liability insurance requirements.” Accessed May 2023.
- IRC. “Insurance Research Council Report.” Accessed May 2023
CarInsurance.com commissioned Quadrant Information Services to pull rates in 2022 for 50/100/50 liability-only policies, as well as 100/300/100 policies with comprehensive and collision and a $500 deductible. Rates are based on a 40-year-old male driver with a clean record driving a 2021 Honda Accord LX.