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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Hollywood is full of images of cars exploding on impact. Although this rarely happens in real life, cars do sometimes catch fire. The good news is, auto fires are usually covered under full coverage auto insurance; depending on the situation, the claims process may vary, but if you have coverage on your vehicle you should be able to recover the cost of repairs or replacement on a vehicle that’s caught fire.
What Coverage Pays for Burned Vehicles?
The coverage that applies to a fire loss will depend upon what caused the fire. If the vehicle caught fire as a result of an accident with another vehicle or fixed object, the claim will be handled under collision. Otherwise, most fire-related losses are covered under comprehensive coverage.
Comprehensive coverage pays for damage caused by forces of nature, vandalism, theft and other types of non-collision losses. There are numerous occasions when a vehicle may be burned that are covered by comprehensive:
- The car has a mechanical or wiring defect that causes an engine fire
- The vehicle is stolen and the thief burns it to hide evidence
- The car is caught in a forest fire
- A house fire spreads to adjacent vehicles
Even if the fire starts in your home, damage to the vehicle will be paid under the auto insurance policy, not home insurance. However, if a neighbor’s home catches fire and it spreads to your property or vehicle, you may be able to file a claim against the neighbor’s homeowner’s or personal liability insurance policy in order to cover the damage.
Cars with mechanical problems may catch fire while running. Occasionally, a car’s engine may spontaneously combust due to a short in the wiring. This happens most frequently in very old cars or those with major mechanical issues, but it’s not unheard of in new cars.
How to File a Claim for Fire Damage
Whenever your vehicle is involved in a fire-related loss, you will begin the claims process by contacting the insurance company. Depending on your insurer, you may file the claim with your agent or the toll-free claims number. Either way, the insurance representative will ask you a few questions about the cause of the fire and the extent of the damage.
If the vehicle is obviously totaled, it may not be necessary to inspect the car to assess the damage. An adjuster may request to look at it anyway to determine the exact cause of the fire. If the fire was found to be caused by a mechanical failure, the claim may or may not be covered.
For example, if there was a known mechanical issue that the insured was aware of and failed to address, the claim may be denied. Additionally, if the fire was caused as a result of a known manufacturer recall, the insurance company will deny the claim. At that point, it is the insured’s responsibility to seek reimbursement from the manufacturer.
All total recovered theft claims are usually investigated by the insurance company’s special investigations unit, especially if the vehicle was covered with damage. This is due to the possibility of fraudulent claims filed under similar circumstances. If your claim becomes investigated for fraud, do not be alarmed as this is a very common procedure for this type of loss; in most cases, the investigation will conclude quickly and the insurer will move forward with offering settlement.
Assuming that there were no issues of negligence or fraud, the insurance company will proceed with the claim. If the vehicle is repairable, the company will issue a check for the cost of repairs less any applicable deductibles. If the vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company will assess the actual cash value of the vehicle and issue a settlement accordingly.
Some comprehensive policies are written with specific inclusions related to fire damage. It’s not uncommon for a policy to offer a waiver of deductible to individuals whose cars were damaged by fire. On the other hand, some comprehensive policies are written with a fire exclusion. Be sure to check which type of policy you have and add additional fire coverage if necessary to protect you, especially if you live in an area where forest fires are common. You never know when you may be forced to evacuate and leave a vehicle behind.
Fire-related losses can be devastating, but carrying the appropriate insurance helps to give you peace of mind and assurance that you will be able to repair or replace the damaged vehicle. Because concerns with fire increase with old vehicles, it might be worthwhile to carry comprehensive coverage on a car that otherwise only maintains liability insurance. Comprehensive coverage is usually cheaper to buy than collision and protects against theft, vandalism and other issues that may arise when a vehicle is stored, so it’s well worth the investment for many people.