If you've ever discovered your car and a telephone pole wrapped together in cellophane on April 1, you've felt the wrath of an April Fools' prankster.
Cars wrapped in cellophane, balloons stuck behind tires (so they "pop" when the victim begins to drive off) or vegetable oil on the muffler (it smokes when the driver starts the car) may be in good fun, but can you file an auto insurance claim if something goes wrong — or is the joke on you?
"Only pranks that actually result in damage to your automobile would be eligible for consideration for a claim," says Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania.
So while the popping noise may scare you, it won't be grounds to file a claim if neither you nor your car was harmed as a result of the prank.
On the other hand, if the prank damages a person or property, the prankster is responsible, says Randy Reep, a defense attorney in Florida. It's like throwing a baseball toward someone without meaning for it to actually hit the person, Reep says. "If you hit them, even accidentally, you would be held responsible," he says.
Harming someone without malicious intent does not put you in the free and clear when something goes awry.
For example, if a mischievous prankster smashed eggs and shaving cream onto your car as a joke and it ruined the paint, it would be considered vandalism, says Ryan Hanley, an insurance agent at Murray Group Insurance Services in New York.
"If you don't know who pulled the prank, the damage would be covered under vandalism or 'malicious mischief' under the comprehensive portion of your car insurance policy," Hanley says.
If the prank is serious enough to warrant a vandalism claim, you'd need to file a police report, according to Hanley.
Note: Comprehensive coverage is optional, not mandatory. If you don't have comprehensive coverage, then damage from an April Fools' prank won't be covered. You'll have to pay for any damage out of your pocket. And even if you do have comprehensive coverage, you'll still be subject to your deductible of roughly $250 to $1,000.
If you know the prankster, you could file a claim with that person's auto insurance company. If the prankster and victim know each other and there's been relatively minor damage, the prankster typically pays for the damage out of his pocket, Reep says.
Going to court?
If the damage is extensive or the prankster fails to pay, you may have to take the jokester to court, Hanley says.
An example of a prank involving potentially extensive damage: Draining a car's transmission fluid, preventing the car from shifting into gear. "If your mechanic finds the problem immediately, it may be fixed for under $100. But it could cost you $3,000 or more if the entire transmission requires replacing," says Dave Riccio, owner of Tri-City Transmission in Arizona.
In a case like that, it'll be up to your insurance company (or the prankster's) to decide whether the damage is covered, says Roger Redden, a Farmers Insurance agent in California.
If the prank involves stealing something inside your car, such as a laptop computer, you'd need to file a claim with your homeowner's or renter's insurance company. Auto insurance does not cover personal property inside your car.
If you do end up filing an auto, home or renter's insurance claim because of an April Fools' prank, keep in mind that your premiums won't go up, since you're "the innocent victim," according to Hanley.