It’s a scene worthy of a Hitchcock film. Some birds in Florida recently have begun acting a bit peculiar. They’ve developed an unusual appetite … for car parts.
According to The Miami Herald, employees at Everglades National Park in Florida are noticing that migrating vultures have a curious taste these days for windshield wipers, sunroof seals and other rubber and vinyl vehicle parts. The employees apparently have tried many tactics to ward off the birds, but nothing seems to be working.
According to animal behaviorist Neven Gibbs, the problem probably has three triggers: boredom, texture and taste. Soft rubber items often are a target for mammalian carnivores like dogs, certain birds like vultures and larger herbivores like horses.
“The horses I trained enjoyed tearing the foam insulation off the watering jugs in their stalls, requiring ingenious methods to prevent weekly repairs during winter months,” Gibbs says.
And it’s not just vultures and horses doing all the damage.
“The more intelligent the animal is, the more inventive they are in the destruction of manmade objects,” Gibbs says. “These vultures undoubtedly just like the feel and taste of the wiper blades and seals. It’s kind of like the way humans like to pop bubble wrap.”
The problem is not only puzzling to naturalists and drivers alike, but to car insurance companies as well. According to The Miami Herald, Everglades biologist Adam Gelber had his GMC Yukon ransacked by the birds, with every piece of rubber and plastic on his sunroof, windows and hood ripped to shreds. His insurance company eventually paid him $1,850 for the damage, but not until after spending close to 20 minutes trying to figure out whether his policy covered the destruction.
So the question you may be asking right now is this: If my car falls prey to one of these hungry winged creatures, will my car insurance company foot the bill?
Yes …and (maybe) no
Car insurance can be divided into three basic types of coverage: liability, collision and comprehensive.
Liability insurance covers the cost of repairing any property damaged in a crash that was determined to be your fault, as well as the medical bills that result from injuries. Most states have a minimum requirement for liability insurance coverage that you absolutely must have, but having this most basic form of auto insurance isn’t going to cover any damage caused by birds (or other animals for that matter).
According to Tom Simeone, a personal injury attorney in Washington, D.C., who specializes in insurance, collision coverage covers damages caused by (you guessed it) a collision. Besides minimum liability, it is the cheapest, most basic type of coverage you can buy, and it also won’t cover you if vultures eat your car.
Comprehensive coverage, on the other hand, is a bird of a different color.
“The tricky thing about this question is that not all comprehensive policies cover this type of damage from a bird,” Simeone says. “It’s really going to depend on your individual policy.”
For instance, Simeone cites two comprehensive coverage descriptions from two major auto insurers:
• One company’s policy says that “the following is covered under Comprehensive Coverage and is not considered collision: fire; missiles or falling objects; hail, water or flood; malicious mischief or vandalism; theft or larceny; rot or civil commotion; explosion or earthquake; contact with bird or animal; windstorm; or breakage of window glass.”
• The second company’s, however, says that comprehensive coverage means damage caused by something other than a collision, including “colliding with a bird or animal.”
Under the first policy, Simeone says, the damage caused by the hungry vultures most likely would be considered “contact with bird,” even though it’s not the sort of contact that comes from a bird flying into a vehicle. Therefore, it probably will be covered.
But under the second policy, “colliding with a bird” is a specific requirement to file a claim, not mere “contact” with a bird. And this is where things get confusing.
“It’s an open question as to whether or not the damage caused by the vultures would be covered by the second policy,” Simeone says. “Given the other types of comprehensive losses covered – which are very broad – it would seem that this would be covered. But it may not.”
Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania, agrees. He compares it to vandalism.
“Exactly what types of damages are covered by which company’s policies are going to differ slightly, but you’ll most likely be covered,” Lynch says.
For Lynch, the damage caused by these birds — ripping rubber pieces off the car — is nothing more than vandalism, and in the eyes of most insurance companies it will be covered.
Simeone is quick to point out, however, that filing this type of claim may not be worth it, since comprehensive claims generally involve a deductible that may be more money than the damage is worth. Windshield wipers and rubber trim are relatively cheap to replace.
It’s not just hungry birds
Even if you don’t frequently park your car under vultures’ nests in the Everglades, California insurance agent Jeremy Schaedler says, you should carefully read your policy and talk to your insurer about what other types of obscure animal damages may or may not be covered.
“This is a very common question for folks … in California,” Schaedler says. “For instance, a very common thing … is damage from mice chewing on a car’s electrical wires. And the damage from that can be surprisingly expensive.”
Schaedler says the question of whether this type of damage is covered depends on whether your policy is a “named peril” policy. These types of policies have a specific list of possible perils that will be covered by your insurance (and will also have a list of perils that are not covered). Many, but not all, car insurance policies cover animal damage.
“The best advice is for a consumer to contact his or her agent or insurance company directly and ask very specific questions about what is and isn’t covered, no matter how outrageous the questions may seem,” Schaedler says.