GAP Coverage Buying Guide (Comparison + Scenarios)
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UPDATED: May 25, 2021
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|Average Annual Insurance Cost||$20|
|Average Total Cost from Dealer||$350 - $800|
|Term to Know||Actual Cash Value|
|Best for||Luxury/Sub-compact Cars|
It’s a scary moment, getting into a serious accident. There are health concerns, the brush with a serious injury or even death, and the concern over your passengers. Then there’s your car itself.
It might be your first car or one you’ve driven for 15 years. It’s yours and there may be some emotional attachment to it. Who wants to see their car all smashed to bits?
At that moment, thoughts may race through your mind: What’s the extent of the damage? Will my car insurance company cover the repair costs? And, of course, the dreaded, Is my car totaled? You may feel a knot in your stomach just thinking about the situation. It’s a situation no one wants to go through, and yet it happens every day.
There were 6.7 million car accidents in 2018 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and 32 million from 2014 to 2018. Some of these result in totaled cars. One day, that statistic may apply to yours.
No one wants to think about it, but it’s true. We all run this risk every day when we drive. So what do you do if your car is totaled, and how does insurance get involved?
You may have heard of something called GAP insurance. It’s not very well-known and completely optional. However, it can save your bacon when your car is deemed a total loss.
Let’s dive in.
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GAP Coverage in Car Insurance Explained
Imagine a world where you didn’t owe anything to a dealership. Imagine that you had peace of mind knowing that if the worst in terms of property damage happened in an accident, you’d be covered.
Now, imagine if that safety net cost as little as five cups of coffee each year. Let’s get going.
What is GAP coverage?
GAP stands for guaranteed asset protection. It’s used in car insurance to cover you for the catastrophic loss of your car, when your car is so damaged the repairs would cost more than the car is worth. This can happen in two situations.
- When a car is damaged and it will cost the insurance company more money to repair it than for what it’s worth
- When the car is damaged to the point where it can’t be used or can’t function.
Both are considered total loss events. How does this relate to GAP insurance? According to Investopedia,
Gap insurance is a type of auto insurance that car owners can purchase to protect themselves against losses that can arise when the amount of compensation received from a total loss does not fully cover the amount the insured owes on the vehicle’s financing or lease agreement.
In less technical words, GAP covers the gap between how much your car is worth and the remainder of your loan. For instance, consider the following situation.
- You have a car valued at $15,000 that’s been deemed a total loss.
- You still owe $17,000 on your car loan.
Because of that, if you have GAP insurance, your insurance company will cover the $2,000 difference between the value of your car and the remaining balance on your loan.
What does it cover?
GAP insurance, as stated above, covers the gap between the value of your car and how much you have left on your loan. It works either through an agreement with a dealership and a bank or an insurance company.
When you buy a car, you get financing either from a bank or the dealership, unless you’re paying with cash. As part of that financing, you might be offered GAP insurance. If you choose this route, the GAP coverage will come through either of those two parties.
There is another option, which is the insurance company. If you decide to purchase GAP coverage through an insurance company, it’ll be the one to pay out on your GAP claim. This payment doesn’t go to you. It goes directly to whichever you financed with.
GAP coverage is often used in conjunction with comprehensive and collision coverages to almost completely cover you financially if your car is totaled, either from avoidable or unavoidable events.
GAP can also be called loan/lease protection, as it covers your loan or lease of the car (though there are some differences that will be covered later).
It can also be sold or bundled with new car replacement coverage, which pays out the amount of a brand new car with the same make and model in the event of a total loss.
What is a total loss event?
According to Investopedia, “Actual total loss [or total loss] is a loss that occurs when the insured property is totally destroyed or damaged in such a way that it can be neither recovered nor repaired for further use, or the insured is irretrievably deprived of it.”
An example would be a car so damaged that it can’t be repaired or function ever again. This can happen in an accident, a fire, or a riot, just to name three situations. An actual total loss can also occur when the car is completely lost and can’t be recovered.
This is the case with vehicle theft. Although there is no way of knowing if the car has been damaged, it likely can’t be recovered, meaning it would be considered an actual total loss.
Now, you might have the question, “How does the insurance company consider my car to be totaled?” According to The Dowd Agencies, your insurance company will send out an adjuster who will take pictures of the damage (and the parts that haven’t been damaged, as well).
They’re looking for the extent of the damage along with pre-existing damage that should be excluded in the claim. Afterward, they run the numbers on the repairs and see just how much repairs will cost in comparison to the value of the car before the accident.
As The Dowd Agencies states, if the repairs for your car exceed 50 percent of the value of the car, it will be deemed a total loss. Some sources put this number higher, around 75 percent. Ultimately, it depends on your insurance company.
If your car is repaired, you’ll be reimbursed for repairs if you have collision or comprehensive coverage. If your car is deemed a total loss, you will be reimbursed through collision and comprehensive coverages and your GAP insurance will kick in.
What is actual cash value?
According to Nolo, “A vehicle’s actual cash value is usually set based on an examination of the sale price of the same or similar vehicle — model year, make, condition, options — in the same geographic area.”
This means that if you have a 2016 Honda Civic in somewhat deteriorating condition, an adjuster will research what a similar car in that condition and in the same geographical area would be worth, such as a Honda Civic in California, Texas, or Michigan.
This is the case if your car is approaching the total loss designation.
A common way of researching car values is to use a leading resource such as Kelley Blue Book.
The actual cash value can be contested if you feel like the value they gave you was too low or too high. You can ask how they determined the actual cash value or do your own research. This can help you negotiate a claim or prepare for an appeal through the insurance company.
What is a hypothetical situation where GAP would be needed?
There are many situations where GAP coverage would be needed. Here is one.
Let’s say you’re driving a 2019 Dodge Charger. It was worth $27,390 on the lot but now has lost $7,000 in value. You got a nice deal on the loan, 60 months at zero interest. Now, you have 53 months still left on the loan and owe around $24,200.
It’s a nice car, red and vibrant. So vibrant that a thief takes notice. They break into the car, fire it up, and drive it away. You wake up to see no car in your driveway. It’s a sad day.
Fortunately, you have GAP coverage through your insurance company. Because your Dodge Charger is gone and can no longer be recovered, it’s deemed a total loss.
You’re out a car but your insurance company pays out the difference between the actual cash value of your car ($20,390) and the amount you have left on the loan ($24,200). By having GAP coverage, you save around $3,800.
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The Car Insurance Cost of GAP Coverage
We know you have a question. It’s usually the first question that comes to mind when thinking about car insurance. Because at the end it’s the bottom line. “Tell me, what is the price of this insurance?”
That’s what this section is all about. While the price of GAP insurance can be described in just a few words, its value is different. In this section, we compare GAP insurance to other kinds, including comprehensive, collision, and liability.
We want to give you an idea not just of the price of GAP insurance, but how it works and how it ties together with some of the others to create more financial protection for you and your family.
Let’s get started.
How much does GAP coverage cost?
There isn’t much information out there about specific GAP premiums and rates. The NAIC doesn’t have anything and neither does the IIHS, at least from this research.
The lone bit from the leaders in the insurance industry comes from the Insurance Information Institute. It states that GAP coverage adds an average of $20 to a person’s annual premium.
This amounts to $140 over a seven-year period, which is when most finance agreements will be finished. The III’s number comes from insurance companies. If you get your GAP coverage from an insurance company, this is the average.
But what about the banks and dealers?
Edmunds writes that GAP coverage from dealers runs from $350 to $800, presumably for the lifetime of the loan. This is still more than an insurance company, according to the $20 average per annual premium.
Either way, it’s not much — at least compared to some of the heavyweight insurance coverages such as collision, comprehensive, and liability.
How does GAP coverage compare to comprehensive coverage?
Sometimes, GAP coverage is lumped together or paired with comprehensive coverage. However, you may have the question, “What is comprehensive insurance coverage?”
Comprehensive is considered “other than collision” coverage. It covers events and situations considered out of your control. This is everything from hitting a deer to your car being vandalized. Incidents include:
- Hitting an animal
- Vehicle theft
- Weather damage
- Natural disasters
- Acts of God
Comprehensive premiums are about $120 higher than the average GAP insurance premium. All numbers about car insurance rates come from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Auto Insurance Database Report.
|Comprehensive Average Premium||$153.32||$148.05||$143.40||$148.26|
The two insurances often work together in a total loss situation. Comprehensive pays the customer back for the actual cash value of the car, and GAP coverage pays the balance between the actual cash value and the remaining balance on the loan.
How does GAP coverage compare to collision coverage?
There is comprehensive coverage, which covers events other than collision, and then there is collision coverage. As you’d expect, it covers, well, collisions — specifically, all collisions except for those with animals. Incidents include:
- Hitting a fixed object
- Two-car accidents
- More than two-car accidents
- Hitting a pothole
Premiums for collision insurance are much more than GAP coverage and on average $170 more expensive than comprehensive coverage.
|Collision Average Premium||$342.40||$322.63||$308.35||$324.46|
Collision works the same way as comprehensive with GAP. During a total loss situation, collision reimburses someone for the actual cash value for their vehicle. GAP, in turn, covers the gap between the actual cash value and the outstanding balance on the loan.
How does GAP coverage compare to liability coverage?
Liability coverage is somewhat the opposite of collision and comprehensive coverages. While the latter two coverages protect your car and reimburse you for repairs, liability reimburses the other driver or parties in an accident.
Liability pays not just for the repairs to their car or cars, but their medical bills, as well. This makes it much different than any insurance coverage we’ve talked about.
However, there is one similarity between GAP coverage, collision and comprehensive, and liability.
They all save you money. In the event of an accident or serious incident, all have the possibility of saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Because collision and comprehensive limits are based on the actual cash value of your car, liability has higher limits, as it involves cars and medical bills. Its premiums tend to be higher than both of those, as well.
From 2014 to 2016, they were $200 higher than collision and $400 higher than comprehensive.
|Liability Average Premium||$566.51||$538.76||$530.12||$545.13|
Liability doesn’t have any direct relationship with GAP, though the two can be confused. However, having both adds more coverage and protects you financially in case of a major accident.
How does GAP coverage compare to full coverage?
Full coverage is another fancy term for having three coverages grouped together. Those are the ones we’ve already talked about in comprehensive, collision, and liability insurance.
The idea is that when you have all three of these coverages, you’re protected from most situations involving damage to you or another person’s vehicle. Premiums for all three combined are about $1,000 on average.
|Full Coverage Average Premium||$1,062.23||$1,009.44||$981.87||$1,017.85|
Pairing full coverage with GAP means you’re protected in accidents, small and large, whether you’re at fault or not.
The other driver and their passengers are protected, you’re protected, and if your car is a total loss, you’ll be reimbursed for the value of the car and the gap between the value of your car and the remainder of the loan.
Does it always work out like this? As we’ll see in the scenarios section, it’s not always that clear-cut.
How do you get the best rate with GAP coverage?
Getting the best rate on GAP insurance is similar to getting the best overall rate with insurance. And, for that, we turn to three tricks.
The first trick is to raise the deductible. The deductible is the part of insurance you have to pay before any payout from a company. This means that if your GAP policy is $4,000 and your deductible is $500, you need to pay $500 to receive $3,500.
By raising the deductible from, say, $500 to $1,000, you might be able to drop the premium by a little bit. It’s a risk because if something happens, you’ll have to pay more money. But you can save a little bit month to month.
The second trick is to ask for discounts. Everyone knows the basic discounts such as being a good driver. However, insurance companies often have between 25 and 35 discounts, most of which are not well-known.
|Discounts||Allstate||American Family||Farmers||Geico||Liberty Mutual||Nationwide||Progressive||State Farm||Travelers||USAA|
|Adaptive Cruise Control||-||-||-||-||x||x||x||-||-||-|
|Daytime Running Lights||x||x||x||x||x||x||x||-||x||x|
|Electronic Stability Control||x||x||x||-||x||x||x||-||-||-|
|Forward Collision Warning||-||-||-||-||x||x||x||-||-||-|
|Lane Departure Warning||-||-||-||-||x||x||x||-||-||-|
|New Customer/New Plan||-||-||-||-||x||-||-||-||-||-|
|On Time Payments||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||x||-|
|Seat Belt Use||-||-||-||x||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|Students & Alumni||-||x||-||x||x||x||-||-||-||-|
|# of Discounts Provided||28||27||34||32||38||35||36||20||28||28|
These discounts can save you up to 15 to 20 percent on your overall rate.
The third trick is to use your company’s telematics system. A telematics system is an electronic program, usually an app, that monitors your driving behavior. It’ll record if you brake hard, turn too sharply, use your cell phone while driving, and more.
The better you do, the higher your discount. Some telematics programs offer up to a 35 percent discount on rates. Some offer discounts just for signing up.
Car Insurance GAP Coverage Scenarios
If thinking about all the situations regarding car insurance gives you a headache, you’re not alone. Car insurance is tricky and researching the technical details might make anyone want to take an aspirin.
We understand and feel your pain. In this section, we’ve got you covered. We will discuss six vastly different situations all looking at which insurances cover those events and how GAP fits in.
Let’s rock and roll.
What happens if my car is flooded?
Let’s say you live in Florida and a hurricane is on the way. There are mandatory evacuation procedures, and in the rush, you have to leave your other car behind. It’s just sitting in the driveway as you depart and the hurricane is 40 minutes away.
When you return, your car has been flooded. The seats are wet, it smells of mold, and when you try to start the car, there’s just a sputtering of the engine. What do you do?
The first thing is to tow it to an auto repair shop. They give you the bad news. Your car needs a new engine, new seats, and a new radio. You call your insurance company. They have you file a comprehensive insurance claim.
An insurance adjuster finds that your car is totaled. It was worth $7,000 at the time of the hurricane, but you owe $9,000 to the dealership.
You don’t have GAP insurance, so, while your comprehensive claim nets you $7,000, you’re still on the hook for the $2,000 you owe the dealer. There goes your next vacation.
What happens if I hit a tree & total my car?
You’re driving down the road at night, windy roads through the forests of California. As you turn, your car slips off the road. You’re going into the ravine, braking hard, slowing your Toyota Prius down, when you clip a tree. The tree crashes down onto your vehicle.
When you get out, you see a huge dent in your engine. The car is smoking just slightly, captured in the flickering headlights of your car. You pull out your phone to call your insurance company to get a tow.
They take your car to the shop and they give you the bad, but expected news: Your car is totaled. You file a collision claim with the car insurance company. When police responded to the scene, they found that you were not legally drunk or on drugs. You were not texting and driving.
You receive the money for the car, which was worth $12,000 at the time of the crash. Fortunately, you have GAP insurance because the money left on the loan was $15,000. You’re covered all the way through.
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What happens if I total my car immediately after pulling out of the lot?
You went into the dealership for a minivan and came out with a Mustang. That car salesperson did their job. As you’re pulling out of the lot, you notice a large truck heading your way. It’s speeding, which you’ll think of later as you’re filing your lawsuit, and it smacks your car almost like a T-bone.
Your car spins just slightly and oil starts leaking out of the bottom. You’re safe and not harmed, which is positive, but because you took it off the lot, the car has dropped a certain percentage in value.
The number can be large, as it’s reported a car can lose 10 percent of its value in the first month and up to 20 percent the first year. Some even say that the 10 percent drop is in the moment you drive the car off the lot.
The car salespeople run toward your car. This is a big deal and they’re making sure you’re unharmed. However, while you are physically okay, financially, you’re about to take a beating.
After all, that Mustang was worth $26,000 and it dropped 10 percent when you drove it off the lot. You elected to not get GAP coverage. You owe $2,600 to the dealership as your car is deemed totaled.
Should have gone for that minivan.
What happens if my car catches fire & explodes?
While you’re in a department store in a questionable part of town, you see in the distance a man sneak up and open up the gas tank in your car. You see a brief flare, like fire, which the man stuffs in the tank, then runs away.
You scream as your car explodes. What do you do?
Because this is considered an act of vandalism or another crime-related activity, your insurance company will file the claim under comprehensive insurance.
And you have a pretty good case. Your insurance pays out the value of your car and you have GAP insurance.
You’re fully covered for the loan and the reimbursement on the car.
What happens if my car is stolen?
You wake up one morning to find that your car isn’t in your driveway. You stare in disbelief at the empty space before calling your daughter to see if she had borrowed it for the day. She hadn’t.
Fortunately, you have cameras installed around your house. You review the video and see the lady who serves food with you at the soup kitchen opening the car with a clothes hanger. She later drives off.
Fortunately, you have comprehensive insurance. You file a claim and because the car is considered an unretrievable item, your car is listed as totaled. You receive the full cash value for the car but do not have GAP insurance.
You have to pay the remainder of the loan, which is $4,000.
What happens if I need to file a claim with GAP coverage?
If you’re looking to file a GAP insurance claim, there are a few points that might be helpful. First, according to Avvo, you’ll want to contact the GAP provider and inform them of the total loss of your vehicle.
Next, according to MasterTech, you’ll want to gather a few forms.
- Vehicle valuation report
- Total loss worksheet
- Insurance settlement
- Declarations page
- Financing contract
- Loan history
- Police report
- Buyers order
- Refunds for other products purchased
You’ll want to have as much information as possible. Insurance companies and dealers are in the business of making money, and paying out on a claim is losing money. Beware of any situation where you might get less than you deserve.
When to Get GAP Coverage in Your Car Insurance Policy
Sometimes all a person wants is a quick guide as to when to buy GAP coverage. Here is that guide. Let’s fire away.
When would you want to buy GAP coverage?
There are a few instances where you might want to buy GAP coverage.
|When you might want to buy GAP coverage||Reason|
|You made no downpayment on the car||Your car will likely depreciate faster than you can pay off the loan|
|You bought an expensive car||Your car will drop the same percentage as others but that percentage will mean more money|
|You don't have cash reserves to handle the gap if your car is totaled||If you don't have the cash reserves to pay the remainder on the loan, you could be sent to collections or face legal action|
|You took out a loan of 60 months or longer||If your loan is long, that means you payments are less than with a shorter loan and the car will depreciate faster than payments|
|You plan to drive a lot||This will depreciate your car quicker, meaning you have more remaining on the loan than the car is worth|
|You bought a car that depreciates quicker than others||If you bought a car that depreciates more quickly than others (luxury, subcompact) you'll be left with a GAP on your loan|
When would you not want to buy GAP coverage?
Similarly, there are a few instances where you might not want to buy GAP coverage.
|When you may not want to buy GAP coverage||Reason|
|You owe less on your loan than the car is worth||GAP insurance would be useless in this instance|
|You have cash reserves to pay the gap if you need to||If you're financially sound, you wouldn't need GAP and could save a little extra money each year|
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How to Buy GAP Coverage (Car Insurance)
Okay, so you’ve made the decision. You want to buy GAP insurance. But already you know there are different options for buying it. We’re going to look at the two main ones.
- Buy from a dealership
- Buy from an insurance company
Which one do you go with? In this section, we’ll cover all those options to give you all the information for purchasing GAP insurance through one of those two.
How do you buy it from the dealer?
Dealerships certainly get a bad rap when it comes to GAP insurance.
Many companies, including independent review companies and insurance companies, accuse dealerships of misleading customers and charging unnecessarily high rates for GAP insurance.
This, combined with high-pressure sales tactics, can give dealerships a bad reputation when it comes to selling GAP insurance.
Various trade magazines and automotive publications have pushed back against this, citing the pros of going with a dealership rather than an insurer. They include:
- No deductible
- No risk of cancellation
- No rise in rates
- High coverage limits
Edmunds notes, however, that a typical GAP insurance policy from the dealership is between $350 and $800 over the course of the loan. This is much higher than the $20 annual add-on from insurance companies referenced by the III.
If you buy a car, often the salesperson and people in the dealership will try to sell you GAP insurance before you leave. The key here, and with GAP insurance in general, is to know you have options outside of the dealership.
Do some comparison shopping. And if you want to go with the dealership after all that, give them a call and set up an appointment.
How do you buy it from insurance companies?
When it comes to insurance companies, some offer GAP and some don’t. There are a few that offer a similar coverage to GAP called loan/lease coverage. With this coverage, a certain percentage of a car’s actual cash value goes to cover your loan.
Meaning, that if an insurance company considered your car totaled, your loan/lease coverage would pay a percentage of the actual cash value toward covering the remainder of the loan.
The difference is that GAP coverage, for most insurance companies, must be bought within a certain time frame. Loan/lease coverage can be purchased anytime.
For both, it is possible to call car insurance companies to see their offerings for GAP and loan/lease before making a decision about which company to go with. Speak with an agent or call a company’s customer service to get more information.
What are the specs from the top 10 companies for GAP insurance?
When it comes to GAP insurance, you might be wondering about the top 10 companies. All but two offer GAP coverage or some kind of alternative.
|Top Company||Has GAP?||Alternatives|
|Farmers||No||New car replacement coverage; new car pledge|
|Liberty Mutual||No||New car/better car replacement coverage|
|State Farm||No||Payoff protector (through an account held with State Farm Bank)|
|USAA||No||Car replacement coverage (in the past; no longer available on website)|
How do you know if you already have it?
A quick way to look is to check your purchasing or financial agreement with your dealership or the policy with your insurance company. As well, you’ll want to look for something called a “GAP waiver.”
This means that the GAP between your car’s value and the loan is waived when you have a total loss event. So you would have no need for additional GAP insurance.
Common Mistakes When Purchasing GAP Car Insurance Coverage
Ready to purchase GAP insurance? Have the company or dealership you’re looking for?
Great. However, one moment. Here are three common mistakes people make when purchasing GAP insurance. Let’s get moving.
Have I assessed my financial situation?
The crucial step to understanding if you need GAP is to assess your financial situation. The big question comes down to the actual cash value on your car and remainder on your loan.
If the gap is large, you might want to consider GAP insurance. But if you feel you can cover the GAP with personal funds and that doing so wouldn’t be a hardship, then you might want to forego it.
It’s just a little extra every year through an insurance company and between $350 and $800 on average from a dealership. But if you don’t need it, you don’t need it.
Is the dealer pressuring me?
One of the parts to watch out for is at the end of your purchasing process. That is when your dealership is likely to bring up GAP insurance. In your mind, you might be thinking, “I’ve just spent $25,000. What is another $700?”
Logically, it might seem correct, but the emotions that come into play when buying a car can also take a toll. Dealerships create a high-pressure atmosphere full of negotiating tactics designed to wear you down.
This can lead to some fatigue, which makes it a little easier to spend that kind of money.
Have I checked out all my options?
It’s helpful, given the above situation, to know that you have options when it comes to GAP insurance. You can buy through an online insurance company or from some of the top 10. Your insurance company may already offer it.
Shopping around can lead to more comprehensive pricing and an ability to make the best decision for you financially.
GAP, really, at the end of the day, is simple and straightforward insurance. It covers the gap between the actual cash value of your car and the remainder of the loan in a total loss event.
It bundles together well with collision insurance and comprehensive insurance.
With all three of these, you’ll be protected completely financially in many situations. Combined with liability, you have almost complete protection for financial damages to your car.
It’s cheap, at just $20 extra per year on average according to the III, if you get it through an insurance company. Many of the top 10 companies offer it.
Knowing your financial situation can help, especially if you’re dealing with a larger gap due to a quickly depreciating car such as a luxury vehicle.
At the end of the day, it’s completely optional. The rest is for you to decide.
Car Insurance FAQs
Every guide about car insurance has some FAQs. Here are five about GAP insurance.
#1 Can GAP insurance be canceled?
Yes. Through an insurance company, you should be able to cancel in the same way you cancel any insurance—by calling the company or your agent. If you paid upfront with a dealership, you should be able to cancel and receive a prorated refund.
#2 Why is GAP insurance bad?
It’s not necessarily bad. In fact, it helps a lot of people get through difficult financial situations. However, it may be considered not very valuable for a lot of people who don’t have much of a gap between the value of their car and the remainder of their loan.
It may also be expensive if you go through a dealership rather than an insurance company, according to some sources.
#3 Will GAP insurance cover a blown engine?
GAP insurance will only kick in if a car is deemed a total loss. While this may happen when an engine is blown, GAP insurance won’t cover the cost of a new engine. Instead, you’ll receive compensation for your car through collision or comprehensive, then GAP will cover the gap between the value of your car and the remainder of your loan.
#4 Will GAP insurance cover death?
No. When it comes to the car insurance side of things, death is covered through an accidental death and dismemberment insurance or through regular life insurance.
#5 Can GAP insurance be transferred?
No. GAP insurance is for a specific vehicle and loan. It lasts for the lifespan of the agreement and can’t be transferred to another vehicle. In the case of another vehicle, you’d have to buy a separate GAP policy.
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