UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right coverage choices.
We strive to help you make confident insurance decisions. Comparison shopping should be easy. We partner with top insurance providers. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
Serious earthquakes are rare. When serious earthquakes occur, however, they can cause enormous damage to public property – including vehicles.
Will car insurance cover damage caused by an earthquake? Can you expect your auto insurance policy to pay for earthquake damage? Today, we’re answering everything you need to know about car insurance policies and earthquake coverage.
Most Comprehensive Coverage Auto Insurance Policies Cover Earthquake Damage
If you have a basic liability plan (the bare minimum car insurance required to legally drive), then it’s unlikely your car is covered for earthquake damage (or any other type of environmental damage).
Typically, however, if your car has comprehensive coverage, then you will be covered for earthquake damage. Comprehensive coverage protects your car against a wide variety of unexpected circumstances, including hail damage, storm damage, windstorm damage, earthquakes, and more.
Traditional liability and collision insurance only covers your car when it’s damaged in a collision – like a single vehicle or multi-vehicle accident. Comprehensive coverage, however, covers your car in a wider range of situations.
Your comprehensive coverage auto insurance policy should cover earthquake damage unless earthquakes are specifically excluded within your policy. In rare cases, an insurance company might add a clause to an insurance policy removing earthquake damage. In most cases, however, your comprehensive coverage should cover earthquake damage.
This is the same reason why auto insurance experts recommend adding comprehensive coverage to your vehicle when you live in a region prone to natural disasters. Many western states – like California – have regions prone to forest fires, flooding, and earthquakes, for example. In these states, it may be in your best financial interest to have comprehensive coverage on your vehicle.
How Are Cars Damaged During an Earthquake?
Earthquakes can cause serious damage to vehicles, buildings, and property. Some of the damage that can occur to a vehicle can include:
- Damage related to falling objects, including pieces of buildings or other debris that may fall onto your vehicle
- Fire caused by embers or burning buildings
- Malicious mischief caused in the social chaos following an earthquake, including damage due to vandalism, rioting, looting, etc.
- Broken windshields and other broken glass
- Body damage
- Crushed vehicles and other serious damage that could total a vehicle
Ultimately, it’s rare for earthquakes to damage vehicles in the United States. When a serious earthquake does occur, however, it can cause all sorts of serious damage to vehicles.
What To Do If Driving During an Earthquake
There are certain steps you can take to limit damage if you’re caught in your vehicle during an earthquake or the ensuing tsunami. Some of the tips recommended by disaster experts include:
- Move to a clear area away from buildings, trees, overpasses, underpasses, and utility wires
- Slow down and find a place to stop away from traffic
- Remain in your vehicle
- Check for injuries
- Turn on your radio and listen for further instructions or updates from authorities
- Avoid using your telephone unless reporting severe injuries; mobile networks and emergency services may be overwhelmed following a serious earthquake
- After the shaking stops, continue driving with caution; infrastructure may have been damaged by the quake, and there may be cracks or obstructions on the road
- Do not drive over fallen electrical lines; many people have died or been seriously electrocuted by doing this after an earthquake
Where Do Earthquakes Occur in the United States?
Some countries experience fatal earthquakes and tsunamis on a semi-regular basis. Many countries in the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, for example, are routinely affected by serious earthquakes.
Serious, life-threatening earthquakes in America are rare – but they do occur. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, for example, destroyed much of the city and led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people
Alaska is also one of the most earthquake-prone states in the country. The 1946 Aleutian Islands earthquake and tsunami killed 165 people, while a similarly devastating earthquake and tsunami occurred in 1964, killing 143 people.
The 1933 Long Beach earthquake killed 120 people in California, with other fatal earthquakes occurring in the state in 1989, 1971, 1994, 1812, 1868, and 1872, among other years. Overall, more fatal earthquakes have occurred in California than anywhere else in the United States.
Western states aren’t the only ones that experience earthquakes. South Carolina experienced one of the worst earthquakes in American history in 1886 when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed 60 people.
Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho have also experienced fatal earthquakes over the years. Meanwhile, non-fatal – but still damaging – earthquakes have been reported in Nevada, Texas, New Hampshire, Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and other states.
Conclusion: Most Comprehensive Coverage Plans Cover Earthquake Damage
Certain states are more prone to earthquakes than others. Although rare, earthquakes can cause serious damage to vehicles in states like Hawaii, California, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, among others.
When an earthquake strikes, it can cause serious damage to vehicles in the region. Fortunately for vehicle owners, most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover earthquake damage – just like they cover hail and windstorm damage. If you only have liability or collision coverage, however, then your car insurance policy will not cover earthquake damage.