Extreme storms and floods can happen without warning. Driving in hazardous weather can damage your vehicle and leave you with thousands of dollars of repairs or a total loss. Comprehensive car insurance typically provides protection coverage during storm-related damage to a car, such as hail, falling debris, floods and fires.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), some federal disaster assistance may be available to help those without vehicle coverage pay for damages and weather-related costs.
To ensure you know what to do when weather strikes, learn about some of the most common weather car insurance claims and the steps to take during the aftermath. Keep reading to learn more.
- Comprehensive car insurance coverage protects from natural disasters, weather and animal incidents and is necessary to file a weather-related claim.
- Some of the most common weather car insurance claims involve water, wind, fire and hail.
- Understanding how the car insurance claims process works can help ensure you’re prepared should your vehicle be damaged during a weather event.
What are the most common car insurance claims for weather?
When purchasing car insurance, you’re likely considering coverage necessary for road accidents, moving violations and uninsured motorists. You’re probably not thinking about what happens when golf ball-sized hail pounds your truck or hurricane waters rush into your car.
These weather-related claims must be considered when determining your coverage. For many, comprehensive car insurance provides that peace of mind protection.
The average annual cost of comprehensive coverage nationwide is $260, according to a 2022 rate analysis by CarInsurance.com. Comprehensive, or other-than-collision coverage, provides coverage for damage caused by the following:
- Natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions)
- Fallen items (trees, branches or ice)
- Hitting an animal or bird
- Riots and vandalism
Some of the most common weather car insurance claims involve damage from high winds and falling debris, lightning strikes and fires, hurricanes, flooding and hail storms. Here’s what to do when weather-related incidents occur.
Rivers rise, rains wash out roads and storms surge waters over banks. When your vehicle experiences flood water damage — soaked floorboards, water in the electrical system or being submerged in saltwater — you must take action.
When it’s safe to do so, assess the damage to the vehicle, work on getting it immediately out of water and do not start it. These factors will be important when filing a claim and ensuring you don’t damage it further.
Hail can occur without much warning. Large, fast-moving ice particles can dent your vehicle’s body and crack windshields. This significant damage can be challenging to repair and your insurance company may deem it a total loss.
You must take photos of the damage as soon as it’s safe to ensure you have documentation for a hail car insurance claim.
While warnings and tracking are standard procedures for hurricanes, avoiding water and wind damage to your vehicle is not always possible. Water can surge from rivers and bays, and falling debris and strong winds can damage your vehicle.
While most comprehensive car insurance covers hurricane damage, there may be other instances where collision insurance coverage comes into play — such as hydroplaning and crashing. Taking photos and documenting what happened before making a claim is essential.
4. Lightning and wildfires
Thunderstorms, lightning and fires can occur suddenly and move quickly — tree branches can fall on your vehicle and damage the body or windows. Lightning can also strike your vehicle, leaving scorch marks, peeled paint, blown-out windows and tires, a fried electrical system or it can start a fire.
Lightning can also create wildfires, which can engulf your vehicle and destroy it. As long as events outside your control caused the fire, the damage should be covered under comprehensive insurance.
Before starting a claim for lightning damage, it may be advisable to tow the vehicle to a mechanic for a thorough review. It’s also a good idea to take photos and document the incident.
5. Tornadoes and windstorms
Dark skies, swirling tunnels and winds that destroy anything in its path create a situation that can damage your vehicle should it fall within its path. High winds create flying debris and falling branches and a tornado can total your vehicle.
If a tornado or windstorm damages your car, time is of the essence. You’ll want to make a claim as soon as possible to ensure you’re ahead of other claimants, and you may need to claim it as a total loss to receive an actual cash value (ACV) payout.
What to do when weather damage strikes
When the storm passes, it’s time to assess the damage. It’s important that you act immediately to ensure you can start on your auto insurance claim and determine your next steps.
Remember that this is a process and can take time. It may be a good idea to start to plan backup transportation to your job, school and other necessities such as groceries, laundry and childcare facilities.
1. Contact your insurance company immediately
Call your agent or insurance company and begin discussing the claims process. Your insurance company can provide you with the following information:
- Claim deductible and what out-of-pocket costs may remain
- Property damage coverage based on your policy
- How long it will take to process the claim
- Necessary documentation
- Approved mechanics and estimated repairs
Your insurance company may ask you to tow your vehicle to a mechanic to begin an assessment process. Your vehicle may also be deemed a total loss, where the damages are more expensive than the ACV, and your insurance company will mail you a check payout after the claims process is complete.
2. Don’t drive if safety is in doubt
Floodwaters, lightning and fire can significantly damage your vehicle. In some instances, starting your vehicle, especially with salt water, can further damage your vehicle. In the aftermath of these weather events, or if you doubt the state of your car, don’t drive it.
You can tow your vehicle to an auto shop for a thorough damage assessment, which can provide additional documentation for the claims process. If your vehicle must be moved from its location for safety reasons, you can attempt to push it to a safe place until it can be professionally moved.
3. Assess the vehicle’s condition
After the storm has passed, it’s time to assess your vehicle’s damage. Your safety is a priority, so approach your vehicle cautiously and watch for downed power lines, large branches and large amounts of water.
Walk around the vehicle and write down what you see and what happened. If possible, write about the inside of the vehicle — damage to seats, dash, flooring and windows — and look under it to note what damages you can see.
Your assessment should also give you a good idea of whether the vehicle is safe to drive. If the damage is mostly surface level and doesn’t involve large amounts of water, you can drive it in for repairs. However, before starting it, talk to your insurance agent.
4. Document the damage via photography and video
In addition to your written documentation, compiling visual documentation of the damages is essential. You can continue walking around the vehicle with a camera that features the date and time and get a series of photos — wide angle, medium framed and close-ups — to document damages thoroughly.
It’s also helpful to take videos and, if possible, immediately document rushing water, fire, smoke, or other aftermath damage. Video can also help capture the location around your vehicle, such as where it occurred and the landscape surrounding it, to inform your claim better.
5. Be prepared to wait
Auto insurance claims take a lot of work. You must anticipate waiting several weeks to 30 days on average — after some weather events it could take even longer. When it comes to cosmetic damage from hail or windstorms, you may be able to resolve your claim in a couple of weeks.
However, for claims involving extensive water and wind damage that require an insurance assessor and documentation, it is wise to look at short-term transportation for your needs. This may include public transportation, family and friends, ridesharing services or an insurance-funded rental car.
Once your insurance company gets you a decision, whether that’s an estimate on the repairs and auto shop or a total loss check payout, you can move forward from your weather car insurance claim.
Final thoughts on common weather claims
When determining the best coverage for your vehicle, take stock of where you live and what common weather damage you may experience. Understanding the most common weather insurance claims (those involving hail, water, wind and fire damage) and how the process works can help you in the aftermath of a weather-related incident.
Remember that comprehensive insurance provides an affordable option for events outside your control — natural disasters, weather and an animal darting before you. Typically, collision car insurance coverage only covers accidents involving crashes and accidents and when paired with comprehensive, your vehicle is considered fully protected.
Resources & Methodology
- American Family Insurance. “Does car insurance cover storm damage?” Accessed July 2023.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “FEMA might help with storm-related vehicle damage.” Accessed July 2023.
- Insurance Information Institute. “Settling insurance claims after a disaster.” Accessed July 2023.
- Insurance Information Institute. “What is covered by collision and comprehensive auto insurance?” Accessed July 2023.
- Progressive. “Does car insurance cover hail damage?” Accessed July 2023.
- Progressive. “Does car insurance cover lightning damage?” Accessed July 2023.
- State Farm. “What to do if your car has flood damage?” Accessed July 2023.
Why you can trust CarInsurance.com
The CarInsurance.com editorial team bases its reporting on data it commissioned Quadrant Information Services to gather on average auto insurance rates for more than 1,400 ZIP codes across the United States. Typically, averages are based on rates for a 40-year-old male driving a Honda Accord LX, with no violations who commutes 12 miles to work each day and has a full-coverage policy with limits of 100/300/100 and a $500 deductible for collision and comprehensive coverage.