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Three Major Insurance Events of Which Every Homeowner Should Be Aware

Purchasing a home can be a rewarding, pricey and overwhelming experience, especially for first-time buyers. And, if your aren’t a Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg or one of the many others found on the Forbes 400, chances are your house will be one of the most significant investments you’ll make, so choosing the right home isn’t a decision that’s made lightly.

Shopping for a home can be exhausting as you research neighborhoods, tour homes, apply for a loan, negotiate the purchase price, organize inspections, and wade through a seemingly endless stack of paperwork. You also need to select an insurer and homeowners insurance policy. This is critical, as it will protect your investment for as long as you own your home, so it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make. To protect your investment, your belongings and loved ones, following are some tips for both new and veteran homeowners.

1. Fire and water damage are the two most prevalent causes for insurance claims.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that there were 63,312 wildfires and 3,595,613 burned acres in the U.S. in 2014. Additionally, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 487,500 structure fires in 2013, which resulted in $9.5 billion in property damage and amounted to approximately one home structure fire per 85 seconds. There are several steps a homeowner can take, both inside and outside of the home, to prevent becoming one of these statistics.

Inside:

  • Install at least one smoke detector on each floor and check them regularly to ensure they’re working. Be sure to put in fresh batteries at least twice a year.
  • Don’t overload wall outlets or use items with frayed electrical cords.
  • If you have a chimney, hire a chimney sweep to inspect and clean it before cold weather arrives. It’s also a good time to check and be sure that your chimney cap is in good condition to catch any stray embers coming up the chimney stack.
  • Keep flammable items (e.g., curtains, furniture, etc.) away from portable heaters.
  • Don’t leave lit candles unattended and keep them out of reach of children and pets.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your home. Make sure everyone knows how to properly use it and have it inspected once a year.
  • Never leave a lit stove unattended and keep flammable materials away from the burners.
  • Be sure to have an escape plan in the event of a fire and practice it with your family twice a year.

Outside:

  • Regularly mow your lawn and clear away clippings, dry twigs and branches from buildings. Be sure to clean your roof and gutters of leaves and other debris that can become a fire starter.
  • Keep branches trimmed so they don’t hang lower than six feet and bushes pruned to no higher than 18 inches.
  • Keep garden hoses attached to faucets to aid fire personnel, if necessary.
  • If a wildfire starts, track smoke and its impact on your visibility to determine if you should evacuate prior to an official evacuation notice being put in order. Monitor if the fire and smoke change direction to determine your safest evacuation route.

Using fire-resistant materials around your property and on your home provides added protection and may even save you money in the event of a loss. For example, fire-retardant plants like rockrose, ice plant and aloe resist ignition. Fire-resistant shrubs to consider when landscaping include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac and shrub apples, and hardwood, maple, poplar and cherry trees are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers. Speak with your local garden center to learn more about the plants that can protect your home from fires.

Water damage is the second largest cause of insurance claims; however, certain circumstances aren’t covered by a standard homeowners policy. To differentiate, damage that is caused by weather (e.g., natural flooding from hurricanes, flash floods, etc.) is referred to as flood damage and requires flood insurance, which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Water damage is usually caused by bursting or leaking pipes, plumbing issues, malfunctioning household appliances (refrigerators, hot water tanks, dishwashers, washing machines) and HVAC issues.

Homeowners can take the following steps to protect against water damage.

Inside:

  • Check appliance hoses once a year and replace any that are cracked or have leaks.
  • Review your appliance owner’s guide for maintenance tips to keep them in good working order.
  • Inspect pipes for cracks and leaks. If any are detected, have them repaired immediately.
  • Make sure showers, tubs and sinks are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Know the location of your main water shutoff valve so you can turn off your water supply in the event of a burst pipe or damaged hose.

Outside:

  • Keep rain gutters and downspouts free of debris. Install gutter guards to prevent debris from accumulating and position downspouts to direct water away from the house.
  • Ensure windows are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Inspect the roof for damaged, missing or old shingles and replace them.

2. Some of your belongings may have limitations to their coverage.

Certain items like fine art, rare stamps or coins, wine collections, antiques, expensive jewelry and collectibles may not be fully covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Speak with your local insurance agent to ensure you have the right amount of coverage for everything you own.

3. Home renovations may impact your insurance rates.

If you’re considering building an addition, remodeling or putting in a pool, keep in mind that your insurance premiums will likely be impacted to protect this new investment. Square footage is one factor in determining a premium. Additionally, if renovations include higher value materials, the replacement cost in the event of a loss will go up, affecting your insurance rates accordingly. Swimming pools increase your liability exposure, which will increase your premium; however, pools can be great assets. In addition to providing a fun way to cool off on hot days, pools can act as a barrier for wildfires and an added source of water for firefighters, if necessary. And most renovations add to the comfort and livability of a home, as well as its resale value, which is well worth the added protection. Speak to your local insurance agent to determine how much your premiums will change and be sure to ask about any money saving discounts.

You Got Into a Car Crash…Now What

Automobile collisions can happen so fast that it’s easy to become disoriented, and you may not be thinking straight immediately after the accident. So, what do you do next?

Ideally, you’re prepared and have your license, vehicle registration and auto insurance card readily available. It’s also a great idea to keep an emergency kit in the vehicle just in case you need it. While every crash is different, you should always follow these five important steps.

1. Safety First

The first step is to secure the scene. If the vehicles are drivable, move them to the shoulder or as far away from traffic as possible and turn on your hazards to warn other drivers. Assess the situation and check to see if anyone has been injured. If so, dial 9-1-1 immediately to get medical help.

It’s worth investing in road flares and orange warning cones or reflective triangles to further warn other drivers. Crack the flares and place them in front of and behind the vehicles along with the cones or triangles.

2. Call the Police

The second step is to call the police – even if it’s just a minor collision – to file an official report documenting the incident.

The police will speak with and collect information from all drivers, passengers and witnesses to the accident. They will note the precise location, the date and time of the accident and document all injuries and damage to property. You’ll be asked to provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of car insurance. The police will then take this information and complete their official report.

Accident reports vary by state, but the California Department of Motor Vehicles outlines state guidelines in an easy to reference accident guide and many of these apply to most situations. Police reports can take anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks to complete, depending on the complexity of the accident. Always ask for a copy of the accident report number and note the names and badge numbers of the responding officer(s), so you can request a copy of the report once it is available.

3. Gather Information and Document the Damage

While the police are on their way it’s important to exchange information with the other drivers involved. Use your smartphone to take photos and gather the necessary details. You’ll need the contact information of the driver(s) involved, any passengers, the registered owner of the vehicle(s) and any witnesses, the make and model of their vehicle(s) and license plate number(s), as well as their insurance information. If you don’t have a smartphone, keep a pen and notebook handy in your glove compartment.

Take pictures of the damage you can see and the scene of the accident as you observe it. This will provide protection against false claims. Write down the events as you remember them, describing the collision in as much detail as possible. You should also take pictures and video of all of the drivers and their passengers. Doing so will help the police and your insurance company.

4. File a Claim

You should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. They will need the same information provided to the police. Even if you’re in a minor fender bender, report it so you’re protected against unforeseen or future claims, because sometimes injuries and damage aren’t readily apparent.

You should also make your insurance agent aware of the accident, as he or she can help spot red flags and help resolve problems.

5. Know Your Rights as a Driver

Familiarize yourself with state laws and know your rights. Accident claims in California are regulated by the California Department of Insurance, and drivers’ rights under the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations (www.insurance.ca.gov) mandate that insurance companies must:

  • Advise you of benefits, time limits and coverage;
  • Acknowledge and investigate a claim while providing forms and instructions within 15-days;
  • Respond to communications within 15 days;
  • Accept or deny the claim after it is filed;
  • Pay reasonable towing expenses;
  • Offer a fair settlement reflecting covered damages;
  • Pay the claim no later than 30-days from the settlement date; and
  • Advise you whether or not they’ll recoup costs from the other party.

It pays to do your homework before you choose an insurance company. Check reviews to see what their current customers are saying about the company, make sure they offer 24/7 claims service, and check to see if they stand behind the repairs made by their body shops. Mercury Insurance, for example, guarantees all repairs made by their direct repair facilities for as long as you own your vehicle.

Dangers of ‘Connected’ Vehicles

Mercury Insurance is launching a campaign to educate the public and policyholders about the dangers of ‘connected’ vehicles. Improvements in technology that often have the goal of making vehicles safer are turning cars into 4,000-pound computers on wheels, vulnerable to being hacked.

Mercury is providing this online informational site allows your customers and consumers to enter their vehicle make, model and year to score its vulnerability on a scale of 1 to 6 and learn about specific ways a hacker might be able to unlock or even take control of it.

https://blog.mercuryinsurance.com/how-hackable-is-your-car/

Tips for Protection

Forbes reports that by the year 2020, there will be 152 million connected cars worldwide. Connected vehicles transmit wireless signals and radio waves, making them susceptible to thieves who can, among other things, hack into a car’s electronic ignition and steal the vehicle. They can also remotely take control of the vehicle away from its owner while driving, which can lead to a potentially dangerous situation out on the road.

Mercury Insurance recently connected with cybersecurity expert Craig Smith to learn how consumers can protect their vehicles against cyberattacks. The author of “The Car Hacker’s Handbook,” shared the following tips:

  • Remove dongles when the vehicle isn’t in operation. A dongle is a small device that plugs into the on-board diagnostics port under a car’s dashboard and can be used to monitor driving habits and a vehicle’s performance. Some companies offer apps that connect to them via Bluetooth to monitor driving habits that can help improve gas mileage or measure the miles you drive to set accurate insurance rates. Consumers who wish to use a dongle in their vehicles should try to use it sparingly and take it out of the car when it isn’t being driven.

Note: Since these devices can increase the risk of a cyberattack, Mercury doesn’t use this technology to monitor our customers’ driving habits.

  • Lock key fobs in a metal drawer or refrigerator. Cybercriminals can break into a vehicle to steal its contents by intercepting the key fob signal to open the vehicle, then tricking the vehicle into thinking the owner’s electronic key fob is closer than it really is. This type of attack involves amplifying the key fob’s signature and is mainly a concern when vehicles are parked on the street.

Placing keys in a metal drawer or refrigerator at night can help protect against this kind of hacking activity by blocking out or reducing the signal of the keys so that they aren’t transmitting when not in use. Parking in a well-let area will also help if you don’t have access to a garage.

  • Disable in-car wireless services. Remote hackers will look for vulnerabilities in a device that is capable of wireless communications that transmit through cellular or radio waves, such as Wi-Fi.Wireless systems like telematics, satellite or digital radio, internet, Bluetooth or wireless key fobs can provide entry points for attackers. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see what features the vehicle has and then decide which wireless systems are important and only enable those options. The other systems should be disabled.
  • Visit your service department if you suspect you’ve been hacked. There are no pre-determined signs if a vehicle has been hacked, so if your vehicle is performing strangely, take it into the dealership to discuss the problem. It could just be a normal configuration problem or a bug in the particular software version the car’s computer is using.

How Hackable is Your Car? Enter your vehicle details in Mercury’s infographic to see.

Additional Resources

Stricter Laws For Hand-Held Devices While Driving

cell-phone-in-hand-while-driving

What Californians Need to Know About Assembly Bill 1785

Smartphone technology is ever-evolving and while these phones conveniently allow us to carry the Internet in the palm of our hands, they’re also a source of distraction for modern-day drivers.

Many states have passed laws against hand-held cell phone use to combat distracted driving, and California’s is about to get stricter.

Distracted driving has declined since 2009 due to laws regulating cell phone use for drivers, but it continues to be a big problem and it’s the cause of many collisions.

The new law Governor Jerry Brown recently signed, Assembly Bill 1785 (AB1785), prohibits ALL hand-held use of electronic devices while driving. Drivers should be encouraged knowing that the law is intended to protect them by keeping their undivided attention on the road. So, put down those smartphones while driving because it’s now against the law to:

  • Read, write or send a text message.
  • Hold your phone and talk.
  • Check or post to social media.
  • Take a video.

Basically, it’s against the law to use technology in your hands in any way while behind the wheel.

This new law requires drivers to mount their smartphones to the windshield or dash, similar to the mounting of GPS devices in vehicles, provided that the device’s use is activated by a simple swipe of the screen to turn features on or off. These conditions impose much stricter rules surrounding cell phone use in vehicles with the aim of reducing distracted driving crashes that are caused by smartphone or electronic device use.

Mercury Insurance wants to remind everyone that distracted driving is not worth the risk. Visit our Drive Safe website for driving tips, vehicle tips and tools to help keep you and your family safe behind the wheel.

 

Distracted Driving

distracted-drivingTexting, cell phones, eating and other distractions are causing an increase in traffic accidents

OMG! This is nothing to LOL about. Texting while driving is a leading cause of accidents for teenagers and it claims thousands of lives each year. 1 Texting while driving also reduces a driver’s reaction time so much that it’s the same as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which would make you legally intoxicated.2

Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that drivers are four times more likely to get into an accident when texting and driving. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in traffic accidents involving distracted driving, including texting, with an estimated 424,000 people injured.3

Distracted driving is more than texting. Distracted driving occurs any time a driver takes their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel or their mind off their primary task, which is driving safely.

Activities that can cause distracted driving include:

Texting
Using a cell phone or smartphone
Eating or drinking
Talking to passengers
Grooming (shaving, applying makeup, etc.)
Reading
Reading a map
Using a navigation system
Watching a video
Adjusting a radio, CD or MP3

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that reading a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, this is similar to driving the length of a football field blindfolded. 4 Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision than attentive drivers. 5 Those simply aren’t good odds.

At the very least, a traffic accident caused by distracted driving is certain to lead to an increase in a driver’s car insurance rates.

These common sense steps can help prevent accidents and save lives:

Text messages can wait until your car is turned off.
Pull over to the side of the road to read that map.
Input the address into the navigation system before you leave.
Don’t blast the radio.
Allow enough time so you can eat at the restaurant and not while you’re driving.