Shake, Rattle and Roll: Is Your Car Covered for Earthquake Damage?

A pair of California earthquakes this week that sent tremors from San Diego to Santa Rosa fortunately caused no injuries or substantial damage. They're a good reminder that motorists should think about disaster preparedness, particularly for drivers who live in major U.S. quake centers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Monday's magnitude 4.7 earthquake in Southern California's Riverside County was felt as far away as Arizona, followed by hundreds of aftershocks. On Thursday morning, a magnitude 4.6 quake struck 26 miles north of Santa Rosa and was felt across much of Northern California, the newspaper reported. Though it's been some time since an earthquake in the continental U.S. has caused catastrophic damage, car owners should be aware of the vehicle damage temblors can cause.

Angela Preciado, director of auto product management for United Services Automobile Association, said the only way to ensure your vehicle is covered up to its actual cash value for earthquake damage is to carry comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive insurance offers blanket coverage for a broad range of scenarios. They include damage due to fire, missiles, falling objects, hail or water; malicious mischief or vandalism; theft or larceny; riot or civil commotion; explosion or earthquake; contact with birds or animals; windstorm or breakage of window glass.

Preciado noted that the most common car-insurance claims result from broken glass, body damage and paint chipping due to falling objects or other debris. She said car owners might want to consider continuing comprehensive coverage for just these sorts of incidents, which can cause expensive damage greater than their deductible yet still far less than the car's total value.

"A vehicle is not covered for earthquake damage under liability coverage or homeowners insurance," Preciado explained. "Even if you think you no longer need comprehensive coverage, it may be wise to carry this coverage because of all the perils it does cover."

Progressive Insurance notes on its website that "earthquakes can hit your area without warning, even if you are not on a recognized fault line." The company offers the following safety tips for people who are driving when a quake strikes:

  • Move to a clear area away from buildings, trees, overpasses, underpasses or utility wires.
  • Slow down and quickly find a place to stop, preferably away from traffic.
  • Stay in your car.
  • Check for injuries.
  • Turn on your radio and listen for instructions from authorities.
  • Stay off the telephone unless you must report severe injuries.
  • Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution; avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.
  • Look for cracks, breaks or obstructions in the road as you drive.
  • Do not, under any circumstance, drive over a downed electrical line.

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News Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers.  Email Matt