How Gap Insurance Works When Your Car Is Totaled

By Ashley Kilroy · September 12, 2022 · 8 minute read

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How Gap Insurance Works When Your Car Is Totaled

Gap insurance is additional coverage drivers can purchase to pay off their auto loan after their primary coverage pays out for a totaled or stolen vehicle. Gap insurance is beneficial when a car’s depreciated value isn’t as high as the loan balance.

Gap coverage can be helpful and cost-effective, but it isn’t always worth it. We’ll discuss how gap insurance works, pros and cons, and what it doesn’t cover.

What Is Gap Insurance?

Not everyone is familiar with gap insurance, since this car insurance term is only relevant to buyers of brand-new cars. It refers to coverage from an insurance agency or car dealership that will pay your outstanding loan or lease balance when your car is totaled or stolen and you owe more than the car’s value.

Your insurance policy or lender might describe gap insurance as loan/lease gap coverage. Gap coverage is accessible only to the original owner of a new car or the leaseholder of a new vehicle. Although it is not required, many car owners who conduct personal insurance planning believe it’s worth the minimal extra cost.

Recommended: How To Save on Car Maintenance Costs

Who Needs Gap Coverage

A new vehicle will depreciate 40% in five years on average. Some cars depreciate more than others, with luxury vehicles and SUVs taking the biggest hit. As a result, during your first five years of car ownership, your car’s value can plummet while your loan balance remains well above your vehicle’s worth.

How much car insurance you need is often based on your comfort level and financial situation. Gap insurance, however, is particularly advantageous if you make a minimal down payment, since your loan amount will be higher. A car loan can take five years or more to pay off. The timeframe of the loan increases the chances of losing the car to an accident or theft, leaving you with an insurance payout based on massive depreciation.

Leasing a car presents a similar problem. Your insurance will cover only the car’s depreciated value. In case of loss, gap insurance can cover any additional amount you owe on the lease. Some lenders may require that drivers purchase gap insurance to obtain financing.

How Does Gap Insurance Work?

How car insurance works isn’t always intuitive. Let’s say you buy a new car for $35,000. You pay $5,000 down and take out a loan for the remaining $30,000. A few years later your car is stolen, and you file an insurance claim. Your car is worth $20,000, but you still owe $25,000 on the car loan. After your policy’s $500 deductible, your insurance pays out $19,500.

At this point, you still owe your lender $5,500 for the auto loan. This is where gap insurance comes in. The policy pays your lender the remaining amount due, and the debt is gone.

How Gap Insurance Works After a Car Is Totaled

In another example, an accident totals your car. A vehicle is “totaled” when needed repairs cost more than the vehicle is worth. Your insurance company provides a payout for the car’s current value.

As in the case of theft, your insurance will send a payout minus the deductible (learn about the types of deductibles in insurance). But you’re still on the hook for the remainder of your car loan. Gap coverage relieves you of that responsibility, saving you thousands.

Recommended: How Much Does Insurance Go Up After An Accident?

Pros and Cons of Gap Insurance

Gap insurance offers a number of benefits:

•   Coverage to satisfy your auto loan in full in the event of theft or totaling the vehicle.

•   Inexpensive pricing when purchased from most insurance companies.

•   Protects you if you can only afford a small down payment on a new vehicle.

•   Especially helpful with cars that rapidly depreciate.

However, gap insurance also has several drawbacks:

•   Unusable if you don’t total your vehicle or lose it to theft.

•   Increases your insurance premium.

•   Less helpful if you put down a significant amount on your purchase, shrinking your loan amount.

•   Doesn’t make as much sense if you rarely drive.

How To Choose the Right Gap Insurance

Most car dealerships sell gap insurance, but you’ll pay far less if your car insurance company adds gap coverage to your policy. Your gap insurance and comprehensive coverage usually will come from the same company. You can’t split the policies between two companies.

Before purchasing comprehensive coverage for a new vehicle, ask the insurance company if it provides gap insurance. Some companies, like Geico and Farmers, don’t offer it.

Gap coverage from an insurance company costs about $60 annually. At a car dealership, you can pay up to $600 for a similar policy. Although you can add that cost to your auto loan, you’ll increase the interest you’ll pay. Plus, you may not have the option to cancel your gap insurance later if you don’t need it.

The company you choose and the level of coverage you need will affect the price of your gap insurance.

When To Cancel Your Gap Coverage

Once you pay off your auto loan, there’s no reason to keep your gap coverage, as you won’t owe your lender anything if you total your car. However, if you’re still midway through paying off your loan, canceling gap coverage might still make sense.

For example, we’ll assume you have $5,000 remaining on your loan. You look up your car’s estimated value on Kelley Blue Book and discover that your car is worth about $4,500. It may make sense to drop your gap insurance and risk the minor $500 financial hit if the car is totaled or stolen.

Selling or exchanging your car is another reason to cancel your gap insurance. It’s wise to make sure your insurance covers your car until the day you sell it — otherwise, an accident could cost you thousands.

If you do cancel your gap coverage, you may qualify for a partial refund. For instance, when you pay off your loan early and the gap coverage was included in the loan, you can possibly request a refund of any prepaid premiums.

What Gap Insurance Doesn’t Cover

Gap insurance can be a tremendous help in certain situations, but there are expenses that the policy won’t cover:

•   Your comprehensive policy deductible

•   Down payment for a vehicle

•   Extended warranties

•   Late payments and related fees on your auto loan or lease

•   Security deposits

•   Lease penalties

•   Carry-over amounts from prior loans or leases

•   Credit insurance charges for your auto loan

How To Save Money on Gap Insurance

​​Gap insurance policies are usually affordable when purchased from a traditional or online insurance company. But you can offset the extra cost by following these steps:

•   Shop around. Remember, your comprehensive, collision, and gap coverage usually come from the same company, but not all insurance companies offer gap coverage. Ask about gap coverage availability and pricing before picking a policy.

•   Look into discounts. You may be eligible for reduced rates if your projected mileage is low or you have a safe driving record. Learn more about how to lower your car insurance.

•   Sign up for voluntary tracking. Your insurance company may offer a lower rate if you allow them to install a tracking device in your car. You’ll have extra incentive to drive sensibly if you’re saving money.

•   Pay annually or biannually. Monthly payments for car insurance often cost slightly more. If you can cover the annual bill up front, you’ll reduce the total amount paid.

Is It Worth Getting Gap Coverage?

Because gap coverage is typically inexpensive, it’s often worth purchasing for a new vehicle. For a few dollars a month, it can save you potentially thousands in the event of a bad accident or theft. Plus, if you’re new to the road, purchasing gap coverage is one of the crucial insurance tips for first time drivers.

However, the lower your loan balance, the less valuable gap coverage becomes. Over the years, the gap between your loan balance and car’s value can close, and gap coverage will be of little value.

Recommended: Does Auto Insurance Roadside Assistance Cover Keys Locked in a Car

The Takeaway

Anyone purchasing or leasing a brand-new car will likely find gap coverage worthwhile — especially if you paid a low down payment. New vehicles depreciate rapidly in the first few years of ownership, potentially leaving the owner with a loan balance that’s higher than the vehicle is worth after an accident or theft. Yet auto insurance pays out only the vehicle’s market value. With an average monthly cost of $5, gap coverage can save drivers thousands. You can cancel gap coverage when you no longer need it.

SoFi makes it easy to shop around for auto insurance. Compare multiple car insurance rates from top insurers, and see quotes in a matter of minutes.

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Does gap insurance give you money?

Gap insurance pays off your car loan after your main coverage pays you the actual value of your totaled or stolen vehicle. That’s important because depreciation can result in a loan balance that’s higher than the vehicle’s value.

Do you need car gap insurance if you have full coverage?

Full auto coverage will pay out your car’s actual market value. However, since your loan balance may be higher than your car’s value, especially in your first few years of ownership, gap insurance is extremely useful in addition to full coverage.

How long does it take to get a gap insurance refund?

After canceling gap coverage, your insurance company will send you a prorated refund in four to six weeks.

Photo credit: iStock/ollo

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