Wait – My Auto Insurance Doesn’t Cover My Motorcycle?

As most people know, motorcycle insurance covers you and your motorcycle in the event of an accident or theft. Many people do NOT know, however, that motorcycle insurance is required by law — even if you have insurance for your car!

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: you need to purchase motorcycle insurance!

Unless you specifically add your motorcycle to your existing policy, your auto insurance does NOT cover your motorcycle!! All too often, clients call us after an accident and are surprised to learn that their motorcycle is NOT covered by their auto insurance. As discussed below, this can have devastating consequences on any injury claims you may have.

Two men sitting in a chair wearing motorcycle gear.

Liability Insurance

“Liability” insurance covers you in the event that you are at fault in an accident, i.e., it helps pay for any damage you cause to persons or property in an accident. Most states require vehicle owners to carry some small amount of liability insurance. Under California law, the minimum liability insurance you can have is $15,000.

But I’m Just a Weekend Rider – Why Do I Need Motorcycle Insurance??

We get this question a lot. First of all, it’s the law. Just as with cars, motorcycles must have state minimum insurance. Unless you specifically, add your motorcycle to your existing auto insurance policy, your auto insurance does NOT apply to your motorcycle.

Perhaps the most dire consequence of not having insurance, however, happens in cases of serious accidents. Under California law (prop 213), if a driver of a vehicle (including a motorcycle) does not have insurance, they forfeit the majority of their claims. Specifically, they cannot recover from any pain and suffering. Say, for example, a motorcyclist is paralyzed from the waist down from an accident caused by a big rig truck. 

Nearly all of the motorcyclists’ claims for this devastating injury (permanent paralysis, never being able to walk again, complete life change) would be forfeited if the motorcyclist didn’t have insurance on his/her bike!! Unfortunately, we’ve seen instances like this firsthand. It makes an already tragic accident even more devastating to the rider and his/her family. So, we’ll say it again. PLEASE. Make sure you get motorcycle insurance. It’s relatively inexpensive but could end up costing, you, millions of dollars if you don’t get it.

Liability Coverage Amounts

The amount of liability coverage is usually stated in terms like “15/30” or “50/100.” The first number represents the amount of coverage per person who is in an accident with you. For example, a “15/30” policy means that your insurance would pay out a maximum of $15,000 to any single person who made a claim against you. A “50/100” policy will cover you up to $50,000 for any single person who made a claim against you.

The second number is the total the insurance company will pay out per accident, no matter how many people you injured. So, in a “15/30” policy, that means your insurance company will pay out $15,000 maximum to any one person, and a total of $30,000 maximum per accident. 

For example, say you hit an SUV with six people inside, and all of them were severely injured. The insurance company would only pay out a total of $30,000, to be divided among six people. (Of course, it’s unusual for a motorcyclist to injure half a dozen people in an accident. That’s why liability insurance is relatively inexpensive for motorcycles vs. cars or trucks.)

So, how much liability coverage should you get? That depends on your situation. If you don’t own a house or have very many assets, then it likely doesn’t make sense to get a huge amount of liability insurance.  On the other hand, if you have significant assets, high liability limits are essential.

Collision and Comprehensive

“Collision” coverage pays to fix or replace your motorcycle in the event of an accident, regardless of who is at fault. If the accident is deemed your fault, and you don’t have collision coverage, you are out of pocket for the cost of repair or replacement. You may be responsible for part of the expense of the repair, however. This is called your “deductible.” For example, if you have a deductible of $500, the insurance company will pay for any damage over $500. So, if the cost of repair of your bike is $3,000, the insurance company will only pay $2,500. You will be responsible for the other $500 (the amount of your deductible). If the other person was at fault for the accident, however, you can make a claim against that person to recover your deductible. We do this for our clients all the time. “Comprehensive” coverage pays for damage to your bike that is not the result of an accident. That includes theft, vandalism, or natural disasters. If you have a valuable bike, it’s a good idea to carry comprehensive insurance. If you have financed your motorcycle, most finance companies require that you carry both collision and comprehensive insurance. They want you to protect their collateral!

A final note about collision and comprehensive insurance: If your bike is totaled or stolen, collision/comprehensive only covers the current, fair market value of your bike, not necessarily what you paid for it. You may have paid $15,000 for your bike a few years ago, but if it was only worth $10,000 at the time of the accident/theft, your insurance will only pay you $10,000 (minus your deductible, of course). To protect against this, you can get “Gap” insurance. This is commonly offered when you purchase or finance a bike. Gap insurance covers the difference between what you owe for the bike and what your insurance company pays out as the “value” of your bike. Price it out. Depending on the value of your bike and anticipated depreciation, Gap insurance may be worth considering.

Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage – The Safety Net

Is uninsured/underinsured coverage worth it? Should you even bother?  YES!! Buy as much uninsured/underinsured coverage as you can reasonably afford! Riding without this insurance is like riding without a helmet. Don’t do it.

Most motorcycle accidents involving cars or trucks are the others' fault. Many car/truck drivers out there are uninsured or only have state minimum insurance of $15k. State minimum coverage won’t even begin to pay for typical motorcycle accident injuries.

Uninsured/Underinsured coverage (aka “Un and Under”) is your safety net: it covers you in cases where the other driver can’t pay for your injuries. We’ll say it again because this is so important: you should carry as much un/underinsured coverage as you can reasonably afford. 

This coverage only adds around 5% to your annual premium, so almost everyone can afford it. Also, “maximum” coverage often doesn’t cost much more than “minimum” coverage – usually only a few dollars more per month – so you should max it out if you can.

We see lots of cases where a motorcyclist has suffered a horrible injury from an accident, such as paralysis or loss of a limb, and the person who caused the accident has little or no insurance and no assets. Many of these riders failed to get uninsured/underinsured coverage, and we had to break the bad news to them that — on top of their horrible injury — there was no money to pay for all their suffering or future expenses. It’s a terrible situation to be in. Please don’t take this risk: buy as much un/under coverage as you can.

What Does “Full Coverage” Mean?

Insurance agents sometimes throw around the phrase “full coverage.” But what does it mean? The short answer is: NOTHING.

You should be informed as to exactly what kinds of coverage you have, including the maximum dollar amounts of coverage per accident and your deductible. Avoid the lazy, short-cut phrase “I want full coverage” when you are getting or reviewing your coverage with your insurance agent.

Go through each and every one of the coverages available (Liability, Collision, Comprehensive, Uninsured/Underinsured) and make sure you know exactly what you are getting.

Thousands of motorcyclists who THINK they have “full coverage” are heartbroken to learn that they have far less insurance than they thought.

How Much Insurance Should I Get?

So what’s the bottom line? With regard to liability coverage, everybody on the road has to get at least the state minimum amount of insurance. Whether you should buy more coverage depends on your situation. It obviously doesn’t make sense to buy $1 million in liability insurance if you’re a “starving student” or making minimum wage.

Similarly, the decision of whether or not to get collision or comprehensive coverage depends on the value of your bike. If you’re riding an $800 bike, you got from Craigslist, you probably shouldn’t waste money on collision or comprehensive coverage. Different story if you just bought a brand-new Ducati Panigale.

With regard to uninsured/underinsured, the answer is the same for everybody: get as much of this coverage as you can reasonably afford.  Every motorcyclist needs un/under coverage. 

You might have a great case against the driver of a car who cut you off and caused you injuries, but if that person doesn’t have any insurance or assets, you get NOTHING. Un/Under coverage protects you against this unfortunate scenario.

Some people view anything more than the minimum insurance required by law as a waste of money because an accident won’t happen to them. Don’t be that person! As motorcycle lawyers, we see how many accidents happen on a daily basis – most of which are not the riders’ fault.

Paying a little extra for additional insurance coverage is the best money you can spend. If you go your whole life without an accident and all those insurance premiums were *wasted,* consider yourself extremely fortunate! At RiderzLaw, we preach this mantra until we’re blue in the face:

“It’s better to have insurance and not need it than to need it and not have it!”