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Rodent exclusion? It pays to read insurance fine print


I love animals. I also love cars. But a recent event reminded me that in the real world, vehicles and animals don’t get along so well, and that the consequences of their interactions can be pricey.

No, I didn’t hit a deer. That’s the usual story, especially this time of year. During mating season, deer can get a bit distracted. State Farm has studied deer-car collisions for 15 years, and its latest study puts the national average cost per claim at $4,179.

Hitting a deer with your car may damage the vehicle but is unlikely to injure you. But swerving to miss a deer or other animal and instead colliding with a guardrail, tree or another car is an entirely different story. If an animal does appear out of nowhere in front of you, brake as hard as you safely can, but don’t swerve, say safety experts.

If your car is damaged by collision with an animal, that’s a claim on your comprehensive coverage, which is meant to cover things that can’t be blamed on your driving (such as fire, falling trees and theft). But if you damage your car while avoiding an animal, it would count against your collision insurance.

Collision claims are much more likely to lead to higher insurance rates than comprehensive claims. If you damaged property or hurt someone else in the process, that would trigger your liability insurance.

My wildlife woe, which wasn’t covered by insurance and cost me about $6,000, was caused by a much smaller animal. A mouse (or some other tiny creature with pointy teeth) chewed on the wires in the hybrid battery pack of my wife’s Toyota Highlander.

I let a water leak in the passenger compartment, where the battery is located, go unrepaired. During a heavy rain, water met gnawed cables, and the car’s hybrid system took deep umbrage. Unfortunately (I guess), the short didn’t cause a fire, because that might have been covered by insurance. In our case, we had no coverage because of my insurance carrier’s rodent exclusion.

Not all policies have this limitation to their comprehensive coverage, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for If you think you’re at risk for varmint invasion, it pays to check because the coverages and rules vary from company to company and state to state.

David Muhlbaum is a senior online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to

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