What if lightning strikes my car?

Crawford Frazer
You may obey speed limits, mind all road rules and use prudence every time you're behind the wheel -- but no matter how carefully you drive, you can't control where lightning strikes. If lightning happens to strike your car, what should you do? Will your auto insurance cover the damage?
Safety tips

The National Weather Service recommends trying to avoid lightning before it strikes. Listen to the local weather forecast so you know what's coming, and try to refrain from driving through the storm in the first place. If you're driving, pull over if possible and get to a building. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you've heard the last thunder clap.
If you do find yourself caught in the storm while on the road, the National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI) recommends the following:
  • Pull safely to the side of the road.
  • Turn on your hazard lights.
  • Turn off the engine.
  • Roll up the windows, put your hands in your lap and wait until the storm ends. Do not touch any metal on your car, including door and window handles, the car stereo, gearshifts and the steering wheel. These things are connected to the outside and, if lightning strikes your car, you could become an energy conductor if you touch them.
Not all vehicles are equal when it comes to safety. Fully enclosed metal-top vehicles are your best bet, according to the National Weather Service. Convertibles offer little protection.
You may have heard that the rubber tires on your car will protect you, but the National Weather Service says this is a myth. As NLSI points out, lightning already has traveled many miles when it strikes your car; a few more inches in your tires won't stop it. As long as you don't touch any metal, the car's metal skin will provide more protection than your tires will.
What about my insurance coverage?

According to NLSI, lightning can cause only minor damage -- or total your car. The extent of the damage may depend on whether the road is wet and what materials your car is made out of. Some of the damage that can occur, according to NLSI, includes:
  • Burn marks on the inside or outside of the car.
  • Tire blow-outs.
  • Damage to the vehicle's wiring.

These things can be expensive to repair, and you'll need to get auto insurance that covers lightning damage. Minimum liability coverage won't be enough, and collision coverage won't pay for it either. You would need to get comprehensive coverage.
Comprehensive coverage (which is optional and will cost extra) covers damage not caused by collision, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, including weather-related damage like lightning. Even if there's no visible damage to your car, you may need to have a diagnostic test performed to determine electrical damage, NLSI says. Your insurer may then have to decide whether the damage could have been caused by anything other than lightning before compensating you.

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