Comprehensive car insurance guide

Reviewed by Daniel Mirkovic

Updated February 22, 2024

Car insurance policies feature many coverages, but there are three that you’re likely to hear about more often than others: liability, collision, and comprehensive. In this article, we’ll explain comprehensive coverage in-depth.

Comprehensive coverage is an option on every car insurance policy in Canada—and sometimes, it’s mandatory. Keep reading to learn everything about comprehensive car insurance, from purchasing to making a claim.

A small grey car that's been severely damaged by fire

What is comprehensive car insurance?

Comprehensive coverage covers damage to the insured vehicle. It protects against losses that are not collisions (that’s what collision coverage is for).

Comprehensive coverage insures the vehicle against things like:

  • Vandalism or theft
  • Weather damage (like hail or windstorms)
  • Fire
  • Hitting a live animal
  • Falling or flying objects

Comprehensive car insurance is optional in most provinces. The only exceptions are Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where it’s mandatory. It’s also a requirement if you lease or finance your vehicle, regardless of province.

Comprehensive policies also frequently cover the vehicle’s windshield and other glass.

Commonly, glass coverage will pay for you to repair small chips and dings in your windshield without you having to pay a deductible. Your insurance provider might offer extended glass coverage, potentially allowing you to replace the whole windshield at no cost. Or, you may choose to exclude coverage for your vehicle’s glass in order to reduce your premium — this is common in regions where road conditions lead to such frequent glass damage that the windshield is basically a consumable item.

Comprehensive claims don’t deal with fault (more on that in the next section). For that reason, making a comprehensive claim typically does not affect your insurance premiums. However, if someone makes frequent claims, their insurance provider may decide to raise their rates, increase their deductible, or remove some coverages entirely.

Comprehensive vs. collision coverage

Comprehensive and collision coverages both exist to protect the insured vehicle itself. Together, these two coverages insure the vehicle against just about any source of accidental or unexpected damage.

We’ve explained what comprehensive coverage is for: damage caused by things that are not collisions. Appropriately, collision coverage is for damage that does result from collisions. Collision coverage applies if your vehicle is damaged in an accident with another vehicle, or after striking an object or the road surface.

Note that colliding with a live animal falls under comprehensive coverage, despite the collision aspect.

Here are some example scenarios in which you’d make claims under comprehensive or collision coverage:

Comprehensive coverage Collision coverage
  • A hailstorm damages your car
  • You strike a live animal while driving
  • Your car is stolen
  • A tree falls on your car
  • You rear-end another vehicle at a traffic light
  • You swerve to avoid an animal and run into a safety barricade
  • Another vehicle dents your car while it’s parked

We’ve got a complete article about collision coverage for a more detailed dive into that.

Comprehensive and collision coverage are optional in all provinces except Saskatchewan and Manitoba. However, you’ll probably still need both if you lease or finance your vehicle. There’s also Direct Compensation Property Damage (DCPD), which exists in some provinces and covers damage from collisions for which the insured driver is not at fault.

People with low-value vehicles often decline comprehensive and collision coverage to save money. After all, the policy will only pay the vehicle’s actual cash value under either coverage, which may not be enough to repair or adequately replace it. Comprehensive coverage is typically more affordable than collision. So, keeping it (without collision) is another option to save money while maintaining at least some coverage for major losses of the whole vehicle, like theft and fire.

Another difference between comprehensive and collision coverage is fault determination. In a collision, there’s usually someone to blame for the accident—or multiple people. In such cases, the person or people at fault are responsible for losses sustained in the collision.

For example, if someone runs a red light and T-bones your car, the damage is probably their fault. Accordingly, they (and their insurance) will be responsible for covering your repairs. For damage to your car that’s your own fault, you’d need to make a collision claim.

Such considerations don’t exist in comprehensive claims, which are usually no-fault. If a windstorm knocks a tree onto your car or a deer leaps in front of it, there’s really no one to blame. Even if there is someone to blame (like damage from vandalism), it’s still a no-fault situation (for you). The fault system in car insurance only applies to traffic accidents.

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Making a claim under comprehensive coverage

If your vehicle suffers damage that falls under comprehensive coverage, you can contact your insurance provider to start a claim. If you’re unsure whether the damage is covered, you can still contact them to discuss the situation.

When you’re ready to open a claim, your insurance provider will assign an adjuster to handle your case. The adjuster will be your point of contact throughout the process.

To get started with your comprehensive coverage claim, you’ll need a few pieces of information:

  • Basic information about you and the vehicle (name, license plate number, etc.)
  • A description of the damage to the vehicle
  • Photos or video of the damage
  • Date, time, and location of the incident that caused the damage
  • Police reports (if applicable)

Once you’ve provided the information, the adjuster determines if your policy will cover the damage. If the damage is covered, you can get an estimate from an auto shop and begin the process of repairs. Your adjuster will help guide you through the repair process as well.

When you make a comprehensive coverage claim, you’ll need to pay your comprehensive deductible before your insurer covers the remaining repair costs. If your deductible is higher than the cost of repairs, your policy won’t be able to offer any coverage.

Comprehensive coverage will pay to repair your vehicle (minus the deductible), but only up to the vehicle’s value. Value, in this case, is typically the actual cash value (ACV for short). ACV is what the vehicle would have been worth at the time it was damaged if you’d put it up for sale. To calculate ACV, the insurance company will look at what similar vehicles in the area have been selling for.

If the cost of repairs is less than the vehicle’s ACV, the insurance company will cover the repairs. If the cost of repairs is more than the cash value, they will consider the vehicle totalled—a write-off. In this case, they’ll pay you the ACV (minus the deductible) and take the vehicle as salvage. In some cases involving total loss of the vehicle, the comprehensive deductible may be waived.

You can often add an endorsement to your policy that covers one or more vehicles for repair without deduction for depreciation instead of ACV. The process is the same, but instead of the vehicle’s actual cash value at sale, coverage would be available up to the initial cost of the vehicle when you acquired it. Such endorsements are generally only available for new vehicles.

Your policy may also provide loss of use benefits, like the use of a rental car, while your vehicle is in the shop. Check your policy or ask your provider to see if you have such options available.

What if they ran the red, but you started slightly ahead of your own green? Need to avoid absolutes when it comes to fault.

Commonly asked questions

What’s the difference between comprehensive and collision?

Both comprehensive and collision coverage offer protection for physical damage to the vehicle. Collision coverage is for damage sustained in traffic accidents, or from the vehicle colliding with an object or the ground, or from rolling over. Comprehensive protects against loss from non-collision sources, like fires or theft.

Is hitting an animal covered by comprehensive?

Yes. Even though striking a wild animal involves a collision, damage caused by colliding with a live animal will fall under comprehensive coverage.

How much is comprehensive car insurance?

The price of adding comprehensive coverage to your car insurance policy will vary widely depending on your car, how you use it, and where you live. However, comprehensive coverage tends to cost less than its counterpart collision coverage.

Want to learn more? Visit our Car insurance resource centre for dozens of helpful articles to guide you through the complexities of car insurance. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized car insurance can be.

About the expert: Daniel Mirkovic

A co-founder of Square One with 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, Daniel was previously vice president of the insurance and travel divisions at the British Columbia Automobile Association. Daniel has a bachelor of commerce and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He holds a Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker (CAIB) designation and a general insurance license level 3 in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.


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