Tire Insurance: Myths and Facts About Road Hazard Policies

Insurance–it’s everywhere. One can insure just about anything. Are tires an investment one needs to insure? Tire insurance, also called a road hazard policy, road hazard warranty, or tire reimbursement plan, is a rapidly growing industry in the automotive world.

Tire warranty plans pay in full or in part for the replacement or repair of damaged tires and/or rims from “road hazards.” Road hazards are defined as pot holes, debris, nails, wood, and other hazards found in the road. Curbs, sidewalks, and stone walls are not road hazards. This is an important distinction to consider when deciding if tire insurance is right for you (discussed further ahead).

Tire plans last for a specific period of time and tire wear tread-depth. Some plans last 2-3 years. Others can last 5 years or 60,000 miles. Several plans come with fixed amounts of coverage: $500 per year up to 4 years. Many contracts require three years of law school to comprehend. In terms of tread depth, a tire is usually considered worn out (and thus the plan null and void) at 2/32 to 3/32 of an inch.

Another important distinction is in the type of plan.

Tire reimbursement plans are just what they say. You, the plan holder, will be reimbursed after the claims process is finalized–usually 2-8 weeks. There is an out-of-pocket expense. These plans are often sold by new car dealerships. The prices can range from $300 to $600 dollars.

Road hazard policies operate similarly to reimbursement plans. However, some tire insurance providers, in partnership with the repair facility, may have a direct-pay relationship. Thus, there would be no out-of-pocket expense, except for applicable deductibles, and items not covered in part or in full. These plans are primarily sold by tire dealers and repair shops. The prices range from $10 to $30 per tire. They also can be based on a percentage of the cost of the tire: usually 12% to 15%.

Both types of plans have a number of variables, requiring a magnifying glass to read the fine print. Also, many are pro-rated warranties, covering only a percentage of the cost of the tire based on its wear.

Claims and Coverage

Depending on the plan, claims are initiated by the repair shop. The process is fairly smooth, although there can be a significant delay from the provider for authorization. This delay may be an hour or an entire weekend. This means that you’ll have to “ok” the tire replacement, and then hope it’s authorized for the full amount, or drive on your spare.

Some plans offer national coverage either among their service facilities or from other repair centers. Claims procedures will vary. Others only provide local coverage, or coverage at the selling facility.

Limitations

Tire insurance does not mean that everything is covered. Pro-rated warranties are based on the wear and tear of the tire. You may get 75%, 50%, or only 10% coverage depending on the tread-depth. You’ll pay the remainder. While there are plans that offer full coverage, even these have limitations, or they may conflict with a repair shop’s policies.

For example, many plans allow for a maximum of $30 to mount and balance one tire, and a maximum of $15 to repair a tire. However, sport tires often have significantly higher mounting and balancing fees–upwards of $50 per tire–and tire repair prices can exceed $90. There are also discrepancies on the tire and rim prices themselves, which in the end, may have to be supplemented by the service customer.

Although there usually is not an issue with the latter given the competitive market, the service center’s price mark up may be unacceptable to the plan provider. In this case, the service center needs to lower the price or you, the service customer, need to pay the difference–or go somewhere else. This does happen!

Rim Replacement and Repair

Rim replacement is becoming less frequent. With the high cost of aluminum wheels and sport wheel packages, tire insurers have opted to have them repaired. Repair will only be done if the rim does not hold air. What this means is that even if the rim is warped–enough to cause a vibration and even premature tire wear–they won’t replace it. Rather, they will send it out to be straightened and repaired.

Rims are replaced only if the damage is so extensive that the new tire, when mounted on the rim, won’t hold air. However, even in this case, especially if it’s an expensive sport wheel, they may still attempt to repair it.

Repairing rims is a bad option. While some rim repair is acceptable, badly warped or damaged rims will in no way ever be the same.

Alignments

If a car hits a road hazard hard enough, such as a pot hole, it’s wise to have the alignment checked. Road hazard policies and tire reimbursement plans do not cover alignments. The service customer will have to pay for this procedure.

Road Hazard Protection Positives

Some plans include tire rotations, wheel balancing, and nationwide coverage.

Myths

Can I pop all 4 tires and get a new set of tires?

You can try. But this type of claim will trigger a number of red flags with the insurer. The policy holder will likely send out adjusters and/or require photographs. You will also have a difficult time explaining how a “road hazard” caused all 4 tire pop.

New tires come with a warranty.

New tires do come with a warranty by the tire manufacturer (Michelin, Yokohama, Goodyear…etc), but not a road hazard warranty. The warranty by the tire manufacturer only covers defects in workmanship. New tire warranties do not cover punctures or damages from external sources. This is why “road hazard” protection is being pushed.

New tires are rarely defective. If there is a problem, it’s usually noticed when balancing the tire. Or, there is a drivability concern such as vibration or noise. If there’s a defect it’s generally caught right away, and the tire swapped out.

It’s so cheap; it’s a no-brainer, right?

Actually, the experts don’t agree with this statement.

The Economics of Tire Warranties

An article from the Washington Post by Terence O’Hara explains the economics of extended warranties and purchase protection plans in general. It is quite fitting for road hazard warranties. He writes:

The decision to buy an extended warranty…defies the recommendations of economists, consumer advocates and product quality experts, who all warn that the plans rarely benefit consumers and are nearly always a waste of money.

‘[Extended warranties or purchase protection plans] make no rational sense,’ Harvard economist David Cutler said. ‘The implied probability [of having an issue with the product] has to be substantially greater than the risk that you can’t afford to fix it or replace it. If you’re buying a $400 item, for the overwhelming number of consumers that level of spending is not a risk you need to insure under any circumstances.’

In short, road hazard warranties are a waste of money. Don’t insure that which you can afford to replace.

Numbers Game and Slim Chances

Like all insurance, tire insurance plans are a numbers game. However, this is a game you have a 98% chance of losing. Insider statistics show that the percentage of claims paid out by providers is as low a 2%.

Curbs

Another interesting note is that a lot of tire damage is caused by curbs. Curb damage is not covered under most road hazard policies. High granite curbs with sharp edges slice through tens of thousands of tires per year.

You Won’t Notice

Many people don’t even notice tire damage. Other than to see if the tires are holding air, who “really” looks at tires? Tires are subject to a whole host of external influences which cause bubbles, slices and gouges. Despite the potential dangers of damaged tires, the damage very often does not translate into any noticeable drivability issue. The point is that if you don’t notice any tire damage you can’t benefit from the coverage.

Research Shows

Those raving about the benefits of a road hazard policy are the actual folks in the industry who stand to benefit from the sale. They’ll argue that it’s so cheap–only $10 to $20 per tire. Even so, for four tires, that’s $80 based on the “possibility,” the “chance,” of damaging a tire that meets the repair/replacement requirement protocols.

Auto Insurance

If a rim and tire has incurred significant damage, it’s quite likely that other problems have resulted as well. The first is that the vehicle may have been jarred out of alignment. Secondly, hub bearings, front end components: tie rods, spindles, ball joints, and a variety of other components may have sustained damage. In this case, auto insurance, which you are already paying for, will pay for everything–brand new.

Free Road Hazard Warranties

Many tires come with road hazard warranties FREE. In other words, in an effort to secure retailers, many tire distributors provide service centers FREE road hazard insurance. Some shops pass this on to their tire customers, others sell them. Ask if the tire “comes” with a road hazard protection policy. If not, request that one be provided at no additional charge. It’s worth a shot.

Also, some car manufacturers provide road hazard warranties FREE of charge for 12 months or 12,000 miles. If you’re buying a new car or even used, ask that the dealer provide a complimentary road hazard policy (after all the wheeling and dealing is done, of course), and just before you commit.

What’s the best road hazard policy?

Money in your bank account.

You Will Have to Undergo Some Driving Lessons Before You Are Allowed to Drive a Car on the Road

To anticipate spending too much money on medical expenses and car repair, purchasing insurance coverage is a good idea. In the event of accident, other people can be in danger too. If you are at fault, other people who are involved in the accident may file lawsuits against you. This particular circumstance will direct auto insurance company to handle all the necessary requirements, for example providing a lawyer, paying court fees, etc.

Insurance company eliminates the hassles, so you will be able to do your everyday activities without worrying about the issues too much. Another reason is that driving without insurance is basically against the law, and there will be penalties for that. Please put in mind that penalties vary between states. The difference can only be in terms of specific details, as instructed by the DMV of your state. All states have the same penalties, but there are differences in the amount of fines, procedures to reinstate insurance, etc. Some of the most common penalties are briefly outlined below.

Driving Ban & Suspended Registration

If you are caught driving without valid insurance, you will be banned from driving and your vehicle’s registration will also be suspended. There is a very simple rule: if the car has no insurance, the vehicle has no plate as well. Commonly you have to turn in the vehicle’s plates to the local DMV. In certain states, such as in New York, car insurance must be provided by a licensed company, meaning your insurer has to be listed or licensed by New York State Department of Financial Services.

Every state has a local insurance department where you can obtain a list of licensed insurers. Please make sure you only purchase coverage from the listed car insurance companies to get valid proof of insurance. In New York, insurance coverage provided by any insurer from any other state will not be considered valid. It makes sense since every state has different details in traffic regulations. If you are driving without insurance, the New York State will suspend your vehicle’s registration until certain time period.

If registration suspension exceeds 90 days, your driver license will be suspended too, meaning you cannot drive any vehicle anymore until your driver license is reinstated. In New York, you have to pay a fee of $25 – $50 to reinstate the driver license. It is better to turn in your plates to the New York DMV before your insurance coverage ends; you will then get a receipt to proof that you already turned the plates in. This rule also applies even if your car is in the storage or parked at public road.

Car Gets Towed

Excluding New Hampshire, all states in the United States penalize uninsured drivers. However, each state implements different set of rules concerning the fines and other penalties. If you commit any traffic offense, your car will be pulled over and the officer will ask you to produce driver license, vehicle titles, and proof of insurance. You will be fined based on the offense. In most states, if you fail to produce proof of insurance, your car will be towed away and impounded.

Because you were driving the car when it was pulled over, you will be responsible for paying the storage fees and fines to get the car back. Depending on the state where you live, the total amount can be thousands of dollars. Considering you have to also purchase insurance before you can repossess the car, it is safe to say you will spend more money in addition to the fines and storage fees. Usually, you will need at least liability coverage to take the car back. However, if your driver license is suspended due to traffic offenses such as DUI (Driving under Influence) or other violations, you may have to take someone with a valid driver license.

You can bring the original insurance document, the copy of it, or simply fax it depending on the DMV. Please also make sure that you bring enough money to pay all the charges. Instead of paying thousands of dollars, it is best to purchase insurance coverage which is probably way less expensive. You can use online car insurance calculator to estimate the price of insurance policies from almost every insurer.

SR-22 Requirements

Once again, depending on the state where you live, proof of insurance can be in different forms. One of the most common is SR-22 document, which basically shows you have the least minimum liability requirement to be considered legal for driving. There are some situations where SR-22 is obligatory such as when you are caught for driving under influence, at fault in the event of accident, you commit too many traffic offenses, or having non-valid driver license.

If you are required to obtain an SR-22 document, you will have to maintain the minimum insurance requirement of the state in which the document is issued and keep the document for usually 3 years, even if you move to other states. If in any case your insurance lapses or is cancelled, your vehicle registration and driver license will be suspended again. SR-22 requirements can be different from state to state, but you can ask your local DMV or insurance company for more details.

Besides SR-22 document and insurance card issued by your insurer, there are two more valid proofs of insurance that you can use. In some states, the preferred form is electronic database sent by your insurer to the DMV. Even if your insurance company uses this procedure, you must always keep the insurance card with you as backup. It is worth mentioning that some people choose not to be insured, yet they use a different form of responsibility, which is a large amount of deposit. Surprisingly, many states allow people to use this form indeed.

There are two possible methods you can use if you choose not to purchase insurance policy from any company. First, you have to make large deposit but the amount varies depending on the state; it is usually from $25,000 to $100,000. Another way is to purchase or secure a bond with a surety company. The surety bond company should be an authorized one in your state. If you prefer to use one of those methods, please make sure to keep the certificate of bond or deposit with you.

Fines

The car is indeed yours after you purchase it, but you are not allowed to drive it on the road unless you also buy insurance coverage for it. The car should be covered by at least liability insurance before it can get to roadway. When you are pulled over due to any reason, the police officer will ask for insurance card or any other valid proof of insurance.

If you cannot produce it, you will receive a ticket in addition to the actual reason why you were pulled over in the first place. For example, if you are being stopped for speeding or driving in the wrong lane, and you are currently not insured, the tickets you receive will include all those offenses. Again, depending on the states, you will probably be able to dismiss the ‘driving without insurance’ ticket.

The other violations have been committed, and there is no way to dismiss the tickets. If you can produce the proof of insurance within the time period indicated on the ticket, this specific offense can be dismissed. This is possible only if you were actually insured at the traffic stop, yet for whatever reason you did not bring insurance card or any other proof of insurance. Based on this, even the best car insurance companies in the world will not be able to save you from the fines.

In case where you were not insured at all at the traffic stop, you have to deal with an exceptionally high fine. In Ontario, for example, the minimum fine for this offense is $5,000. According to NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners), the exact amount varies by state, but it typically starts from $5,000 to $10,000. There is also a 25% surcharge added to the actual fee. Driving without insurance doesn’t make any sense, since you can get cheap auto insurance easily from many companies.

Jail Time

Jail time is usually for repeat offenses only. Uninsured driver will be put in jail for a maximum of 30 days depending on the situation. To make things worse, you still have to appear in court and pay the fines based on the offenses you committed. You will therefore are penalized with both penalties. Based on a study conducted by IRC (Insurance Research Council) in 2011, one out of seven drivers in United States is uninsured.

The main reason is that insurance policies are expensive, which is not a good excuse after all. If you do a little online research, you will find numerous websites providing car insurance estimate services for you free of charge. The websites usually access some of the most reputable insurers in the state and perform the estimation based on the personal data you provide such as age, car model, address, mileage, etc.

Such estimation will not be 100% accurate, but you can at least predict the actual amount you need to pay. If you won’t use independent estimator, you can ask for car insurance quotes from almost every company in the state. Those companies nowadays provide the quotes for free, and you can get it without buying their policies.

What happens if the other driver has no car insurance?

No Pay No Play

This is a relatively new penalty, and it is currently only implemented in 8 states across United States including Oregon, North Dakota, Alaska, Iowa, California, Michigan, Louisiana, and New Jersey. The law basically states that uninsured drivers are not allowed to receive compensations from insured drivers regardless who are at fault in the event of accidents. In Montana, for example, uninsured drivers are allowed to file a lawsuit against their insured counterparts to obtain compensation for non-economic damages.

With ‘no pay, no play’ law, uninsured drivers are prohibited from doing so because they basically are not providing the same benefits to others. In the simplest way, uninsured drivers are considered cheating on those who are insured. Those who do not have insurance will not be allowed to collect compensation for non-economic damages from other drivers who actually have insurance policies.

This can be a good idea, since there are cheap auto insurance quotes all over the market, and some people simply don’t want to purchase it even if it is against the law. The only way that uninsured drivers can file a lawsuit is when they pay large deductible (usually around $10,000). Only after that they can sue for property damage.