There is—or was—a bike on your roof rack. Will your insurance cover it?
By Bob Mionske
You enter your driveway and hit the garage-door remote, then hear the crash. After a nanosecond of surprise, you realize that you forgot that little detail clamped to your roof rack. You muster the courage to look and, sure enough, your bike is toast.
If the damage to your frame is beyond repair by the bike’s manufacturer—check your warranty—your homeowner’s insurance policy should cover the replacement cost of the bike if your policy covers damage “caused by a vehicle.” Your bike was damaged by your car, right? A claims adjuster may see it the opposite way and argue that the bike was damaged by your garage, which is also a plausible interpretation. So who is correct?
Under the law, policy terms that are vague or can reasonably be interpreted in more than one way should be interpreted in favor of the policyholder. Furthermore, if a person reading the policy would reasonably believe that the policy provides coverage, the policy must be interpreted as providing coverage. Taken together, these principles mean that even though the claims adjuster may have a plausible argument about what the policy means, if you also have a plausible interpretation, yours prevails.
However, language varies substantially from policy to policy, so check exactly what yours covers. For example, yours may specify that it covers damage caused by “contact” with vehicles—language that would favor the insurance company’s interpretation that the bike was damaged by contact with the garage. If you want to make sure that specific items, types of damage and values of the insured items are covered, you should work with your insurance company to tailor your policy to meet your specific needs; this may result in higher premiums. Before you dig into your policy for extra coverage, consider whether it’s worth it.
Let’s say you drive your bike into the garage, have read your policy and believe that your bike is covered. Should you even file a claim? If you do, you will likely pay a deductible, receive the depreciated value of your bike—unless your policy specifies “replacement cost”— and see an increase in your premiums. For these reasons, many insurance experts advise that claims should be limited to those losses you can’t withstand without insurance, or those in excess of $5,000.
Your best recourse is always prevention. Many cyclists prefer hitch racks where there is no risk of damage when driving under low-hanging structures; also, if your bike is damaged on a hitch rack because you are rearended, you would file a claim against the other driver’s policy, and not your own.
For those sticking with roof racks, there are precautions you can take: Leave the remote where you can’t reach it—in the trunk or even the garage, so you must stop the car, get out and hopefully see the bike before you open the door. Or install signs, mirrors or other visual reminders that you have a bike on top. Whichever method works for you, it’s worth the alternative.
Research and drafting by Rick Bernardi, JD.