Car Insurance GOTCHAS!

The official "industry" word for them is EXCLUSIONS.

William Shernoff, a California lawyer who specializes in insurance claims, says they are the clauses stuffed in the back of insurance policies that can end up canceling the very coverage your policy promises.  Shernoff says they are often the first things insurance companies use to deny your claims.

The most common car insurance exclusions, according to Shernoff:

* MEMBER-OF-THE-HOUSEHOLD EXCLUSION. If you let someone in your household drive the car, they are excluded unless you add them to the policy and pay the extra premium.

* LIMITED LIABILITY EXCLUSION. The accident's your fault. You're sued. You're covered, right? Well, not if a judge awards damages above your liability coverage, an average $30,000 per accident.

* GEOGRAPHICAL EXCLUSION. Your policy may be worth nothing if you drive your car outside of the continental United States. Ask your insurance company before you take that road trip to Mexico or Canada!

* UNINSURED MOTORIST EXCLUSION.  Shernoff says coverage for being injured by an uninsured motorist is typically fixed at $15,000/$30,000.  Most policies allow you to add to that coverage for a little additional premium.

J.D. Howard of the Insurance Consumer Advocate Network ( adds these gotcha's:

* "FAMILY POLICY" vs. "NAME-INSURED ONLY." You may think your policy covers your family, but look for the words "family policy" or "name-insured only." If it is "name-insured only," you may have to shell out another 10 to 15 percent on your premium to get the right coverage.

* REPAIR SHOP RESTRICTIONS. Some auto policies restrict your choice of repair shops. Some even insist that you use after-market parts instead of the manufacturer's original parts.  You should at least have a choice.

* APPRAISAL CLAUSE. An appraisal clause would be a good thing in your policy. It would allow you to get a third-party appraisal if you think the insurance company is low-balling you on the reimbursement.