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We have a cracked windshield that will cost nearly $800 to replace. I want to do it through insurance if we can, but my wife says that making a claim will make our rates go up. Is that true? I’m also a little confused about what exactly we have coverage for – they went through everything really fast when we bought our insurance. I just know that we pay a small fortune every month. – Emily, Kitchener, Ont.

If you need a new windshield and want your insurance to help ease your pane, your rates shouldn’t take a hit – if you have coverage.

“That’s a comprehensive claim and it won’t cause your rates to increase,” says Anne Marie Thomas, senior manager of partner relationships for rate-comparison site Insurance Hotline.

But, even though your rates won’t go up, there might be limits on how many windshield claims you can make. If you have too many – say, one every six months – your insurance company could raise your deductible. Or, they could refuse to pay for any more windshield claims, Thomas says.

The catch is that you can only make a claim if you bought comprehensive coverage that includes glass damage. But what is comprehensive coverage?

There are three types of coverage that form part of an accident policy: liability, collision and comprehensive, according to Thomas. “Liability is mandatory, and the other two are optional – you don’t legally have to have them to drive your car,” she says.

Liability, collision and comprehensive insurance: what they cover

Liability insurance covers any damage you cause to other people or their property, including their vehicle.

"If you drive through someone’s house and you injure them and take down the side wall of their house, the insurance company would pay out,” Thomas says. “You have to have it so people are protected if you cause damage to anything that doesn’t belong to you while you’re driving.”

It’s also called personal liability and property damage or third-party liability coverage.

Generally, it includes accident benefits coverage for both you and whoever you hit, Thomas says.

“The insurance company will pay for rehab,” she says. “Although the amounts covered vary by province.”

While insurance rules vary by province, each province requires you to buy a minimum amount of liability coverage. It’s typically $200,000, but it varies. In Nova Scotia, for instance, the minimum is $500,000. In Quebec it’s $50,000. You can then pay more for extra liability coverage. “It’s not uncommon to have two million,” Thomas says.

The next form of insurance to pay attention to is collision insurance. It covers the cost to repair your vehicle if you hit something and you’re at fault.

Finally, comprehensive insurance covers almost anything else that’s not a collision.

“Comprehensive covers theft, hail, vandalism and if you’re hit by flying objects or animals,” says Adam Mitchell, an insurance broker based in Whitby, Ont. “If a tire bounces off a truck and hits you, it’s comprehensive. If it’s already sitting on the road and you hit it, it’s collision.”

There’s also all-perils coverage, which is a combination of both collision and comprehensive.

A cheaper version of that is specified-perils coverage, which only covers damage from specific things, such as fire, theft and lightning.

“It’s comprehensive light,” Thomas says. “For example, in Alberta, because there’s so much hail, they’ll say, 'We’ll offer you comprehensive, but we won’t cover you for hail.’”

In British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, you have to buy liability insurance from each province’s government-run insurance company. For collision and comprehensive, you can either buy from the government-run insurance company or a private insurance company.

The rate escape?

Unlike at-fault collision claims, comprehensive claims don’t affect your insurance premiums.

So if your windshield was cracked by flying gravel – and not because you drove into a tree – it would be covered by comprehensive coverage, if you have it. And your rates would stay the same.

But you might not be covered. In places that have a lot of gravel and see a lot of windshield claims, such as Alberta, companies will often remove windshield coverage from the policy in exchange for a rate break.

“We see policies adding a special endorsement to remove windshield coverage,” says Rob de Pruis, Western Canada director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Since driver-assistance systems are making windshields increasingly pricey to repair, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance company to see what coverage you have, de Pruis says.

And if you do have coverage, that replacement is likely still not free. To replace a windshield, you’ll usually have to pay the cost of your comprehensive deductible.

“If you don’t replace the windshield, there are some policies that allow you to have rock chips repaired without paying the deductible,” de Pruis adds.

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