This article has been updated from a previous version.
For drivers in Canada, car insurance is mandatory — it’s the law. So, if you’re going to get behind the wheel, you’ll want to make sure you’re insured.
However, shopping for car insurance can be complicated. If you’re purchasing car insurance, you'll likely be wondering: What kind of car insurance do I need? And how much coverage do I need?
The answer to both of these questions is: it depends.
What kind of car insurance should I get?
Before making any decisions, you’ll want to understand what basic car insurance coverage actually includes and when you need it. The typical standard auto policy includes third-party liability coverage (explained below), statutory accident insurance (which will cover you in case you are seriously injured in a collision), and Direct Compensation-Property Damage (which allows
There are three tiers of coverage: third-party liability, collision, and comprehensive.
1. Third-party liability coverage
Think of third-party liability coverage as the entry level version of car insurance. Third-party liability coverage is mandatory across Canada, as it protects you from having to pay for any damage you cause to someone or their property. If a person is killed or injured as a result of an at-fault collision committed by you, your third-party liability coverage will kick in. A standard auto insurance policy also includes statutory accident insurance, which offers medical and support benefits in case you get seriously insured in a collision (regardless of who is at fault), and Direct Compensation-Property Damage, which provides damages for your car and the items within your car if someone else is at fault.
Read more: What auto insurance coverage is mandatory in Ontario?
2. Collision coverage
In addition to the protection provided by third-party liability coverage, collision coverage protects you if you hit another vehicle or object, such as a guardrail or concrete parking lot slab. Collision coverage is optional if you own your vehicle, but mandatory if you finance or lease it. If the deductible for your collision insurance exceeds the value of your vehicle, it’s usually recommended that you don’t get this coverage.
3. Comprehensive coverage
This is the most complete type of car insurance coverage you can buy. Comprehensive or full coverage car insurance provides a broad range of protection against things that can damage your vehicle while it’s stationary, such as hail, theft, and flooding.
Every time you go up a level in insurance coverage, it will cost you more in monthly premiums. It’s also important to note that the minimum amount of required car insurance coverage varies from province to province. So, if you’ve moved to a new province, confirm with your insurance provider whether you need to increase your coverage or can reduce it to save yourself some money.
Comprehensive coverage is worth having but again, consider dropping it if your annual premium equals or exceeds 10% of your vehicle’s cash value.
How much car insurance do I need?
Insurance is like many other things you purchase: there’s the basic version and then there’s the recommended amount of coverage you should have for your car.
When it comes to how much third-party liability insurance you should be covered for. Consider that in Ontario, the mandatory minimum amount of third-party liability coverage a driver must have is $200,000, though most people carry $1 million to $2 million.
The reason why people seek more coverage than the minimum is to prevent them from having to pay a potentially crippling amount of money in the event of an accident.
If you are found to be at-fault for a collision and the other party involved sues you for damages and wins, your third-party liability insurance will only pay for those damages, up to the amount of coverage you have. So, if the damages awarded totals $500,000 and your coverage is for only $200,000, the remaining $300,000 would have to come out of your own pocket. Plus, you’d also be on the hook for the cost of the lawyer your insurance company would have to hire to defend the claim.
If there are passengers in your vehicle at the time of the collision, they might sue you for damages as well. If you lose the case and your third-party liability coverage isn’t enough to cover the damages awarded, you would be responsible for paying the difference.
When it comes to collision coverage, if your car is damaged in a collision, the most your insurance company will give you for it is the value of the car. This is why sometimes it’s not worth having collision coverage. For example, if the replacement cost of your car is $2,000, and you’re paying $2,500 for collision insurance each year, it’s not worth having the coverage.
The same is true of comprehensive insurance. As mentioned earlier, if the replacement cost of your vehicle is less than the cost of the annual premium for the coverage, it may not be worth having comprehensive coverage.
Consider add-ons to your car insurance policy
Depending on where you live or your personal circumstances, you might want to consider more than the recommended amount of car insurance coverage. You can purchase additional forms of coverage, also referred to as “endorsements” that can protect you from perils not included in your base policy.
For example, if you get into a collision that leaves your car completely totaled, and you don’t have an alternate mode of transportation, you might want to consider a rental car endorsement. This will cover the costs of using a rental car for the period that your car is in the repair shop.
Another add-on to consider is an accident forgiveness waiver, which absolves you of any increase to your premiums in the event that you’re involved in your first at-fault collision. Keep in mind, though, that this waiver doesn’t follow you from provider to provider. So, if you switch insurance companies, your rates could still rise based on the fact that you have an at-fault collision on your driving record.
Depending on your needs, car insurance can be pricey. That’s why it’s important to compare auto insurance rates from different providers to make sure you’re getting the lowest rates for your coverage requirements.
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About the author
Mike Friskney is a content strategist, writer and pug owner based in the Toronto area. He has produced content for a wide range of companies in the financial services, software, manufacturing, travel and marketing industries.