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What is Auto GAP Insurance and Should I Get It?

Gap insurance, which stands for "guaranteed asset protection," is an optional type of auto insurance that covers the difference between what you owe on your car loan and the actual cash value of your vehicle in the event that it's stolen or totaled in an accident. While standard auto insurance policies typically only cover the market value of the car at the time of the claim, gap insurance provides an extra layer of financial protection for those who have a loan or lease on their vehicle.

How does gap insurance work?

When you finance or lease a car, there's often a period of time when the amount you owe on the vehicle is higher than its actual cash value. This is because cars depreciate quickly, especially in the first few years of ownership. If your vehicle is stolen or deemed a total loss during this time, your standard auto insurance policy will only pay out the current market value of the car, leaving you responsible for the remaining balance on your loan or lease.

This is where gap insurance comes in. If you have gap coverage and your car is totaled or stolen, your insurer will pay the difference between the vehicle's actual cash value and the amount you still owe on your loan or lease, minus your deductible.

Example: Gap insurance explained

Let's say you finance a new car for $30,000. A year later, you're involved in an accident that totals your vehicle. At the time of the accident, your car's actual cash value has depreciated to $20,000, but you still owe $25,000 on your loan.

If you have collision coverage, your standard auto insurance policy will pay out $20,000 (minus your deductible) to your lender. However, you're still on the hook for the remaining $5,000 balance on your loan. If you have gap insurance, your insurer will cover that $5,000 difference, so you can pay off your loan in full and move on.

What does gap insurance cover?

Gap insurance is designed to complement your collision and comprehensive coverage. It kicks in when your vehicle is declared a total loss due to a covered peril, such as:

  • Theft
  • Accident
  • Natural disaster (e.g., flood, hurricane, tornado)
  • Fire
  • Vandalism

Gap insurance covers the difference between your vehicle's actual cash value and your loan or lease balance, minus your deductible. However, it does not cover:

  • Your collision or comprehensive deductible
  • Missed loan or lease payments
  • Engine failures or other mechanical repairs
  • The cost of a rental car while your claim is being processed
  • The diminished value of your vehicle after an accident
GAP Insurance Covers GAP Insurance Does Not Cover
Theft: Protection in cases where the vehicle is stolen and not recovered. Death: Costs associated with death, such as funeral expenses, are excluded.
Totaled vehicles: Provides coverage when the vehicle is damaged beyond repair. Bodily injury: Medical expenses and treatment for physical injuries are not included.
Negative equity: Pays the difference between the car's market value and the outstanding loan amount. Deductibles: The policyholder must cover their own comprehensive or collision deductible.
Repair costs: Does not cover expenses for repairing the vehicle or property damage.
Vehicle replacement: Rental and replacement vehicle costs are not included.

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When you might need gap insurance

There are certain situations where having gap insurance can provide valuable peace of mind. You may want to consider purchasing gap coverage if:

  • You financed your car with little or no down payment
  • You have a loan term of 60 months or longer
  • Your vehicle depreciates faster than average (e.g., luxury vehicles, electric cars)
  • You rolled negative equity from a previous car loan into your new financing
  • You lease your vehicle (many leasing companies require gap coverage)

When you don't need gap insurance

On the other hand, there are times when gap insurance may not be necessary, such as:

  • You made a significant down payment (20% or more) on your vehicle
  • Your loan term is less than 48 months
  • You own your car outright (i.e., you don't have a loan or lease)
  • The amount you owe on your vehicle is less than its actual cash value

Where you can get gap insurance

There are several places where you can purchase gap insurance, including:

  1. Your auto insurance company: Many insurers offer gap coverage as an optional add-on to your existing auto policy. This is often the most convenient and affordable option.
  2. Your car dealership: Dealerships typically offer gap insurance when you finance or lease a vehicle through them. However, dealership gap coverage tends to be more expensive than getting it through your insurer.
  3. A stand-alone gap insurance provider: There are companies that specialize in providing gap coverage separate from your standard auto policy. However, this option may be more expensive and less convenient than bundling it with your existing insurance.

How do I get gap insurance?

The process of getting gap insurance is relatively straightforward. Here are the steps:

  1. Determine if you need gap coverage based on your financial situation and risk tolerance.
  2. Contact your auto insurance company and ask if they offer gap insurance. If so, get a quote for adding it to your policy.
  3. Compare the cost and coverage of gap insurance from your insurer, dealership, and any stand-alone providers you're considering.
  4. Purchase gap insurance through the provider that offers the best combination of price and coverage for your needs.
  5. Make sure you understand the terms of your gap policy, including any exclusions or limitations.

Keep in mind that you'll need to have comprehensive and collision coverage on your vehicle in order to purchase gap insurance. Additionally, some insurers require that you buy gap coverage within a certain timeframe after acquiring your vehicle (e.g., within 30 days of purchase).

When John's brand new Toyota Camry was stolen from his driveway just 6 months after he bought it, he was devastated. He still owed $28,000 on his auto loan, but his insurance company only paid out $24,000, which was the car's actual cash value at the time of the theft. Luckily, John had purchased gap insurance, which covered the $4,000 difference. Without it, he would have been stuck paying off a loan for a car he no longer owned.

The Bottom Line

Gap insurance can be a valuable investment for those who have a loan or lease on their vehicle and want extra financial protection in case of theft or total loss. By covering the difference between what you owe and what your car is worth, gap coverage can help you avoid paying thousands of dollars out of pocket in the event of a worst-case scenario.

However, gap insurance isn't right for everyone. If you own your car outright, have a significant amount of equity in your vehicle, or are comfortable with the risk of having to pay off your loan balance in the event of a total loss, you may not need gap coverage.

Ultimately, the decision to purchase gap insurance comes down to your individual financial situation and risk tolerance. Consider the cost of coverage, your vehicle's value and depreciation rate, and your ability to pay off your loan or lease balance in the event of a total loss. By weighing these factors carefully, you can make an informed decision about whether gap insurance is right for you.

Written by
Ivan Korotaev
Debexpert CEO, Co-founder

More than a decade of Ivan's career has been dedicated to Finance, Banking and Digital Solutions. From these three areas, the idea of a fintech solution called Debepxert was born. He started his career in  Big Four consulting and continued in the industry, working as a CFO for publicly traded and digital companies. Ivan came into the debt industry in 2019, when company Debexpert started its first operations. Over the past few years the company, following his lead, has become a technological leader in the US, opened its offices in 10 countries and achieved a record level of sales - 700 debt portfolios per year.

  • Big Four consulting
  • Expert in Finance, Banking and Digital Solutions
  • CFO for publicly traded and digital companies

FAQ

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Is gap insurance required on a car loan?

Gap insurance is not legally required, but some lenders may require you to have it as a condition of your loan or lease agreement. Check your financing contract to see if gap coverage is mandatory.
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Can I get gap insurance after I buy a car?

Yes, you can usually add gap insurance to your existing auto policy at any time, as long as you meet your insurer's requirements (e.g., having comprehensive and collision coverage, your car being under a certain age or mileage).
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Can I get gap insurance through my insurance company?

Many auto insurance companies offer gap coverage as an optional add-on to your policy. However, availability may vary by insurer and state, so check with your provider to see if they offer gap insurance in your area.
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How much does gap insurance cover?

Gap insurance typically covers the difference between your vehicle's actual cash value and your loan or lease balance, minus your deductible. However, coverage limits may vary by provider, so read your policy carefully to understand what's covered.
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How does gap insurance work after a car is totaled?

If your car is totaled, you'll file a claim with your auto insurer. If you have gap insurance, your provider will pay the difference between your vehicle's actual cash value (minus your deductible) and your outstanding loan or lease balance. This helps you avoid having to pay out of pocket for a car that's no longer drivable.

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