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How to shop for car insurance
In many areas of the country, a car is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. However, cars also involve significant expenses, including gas, maintenance, licenses, parking, and, of course, auto insurance. Increasingly, auto insurance is required by law. But savvy drivers carry insurance above and beyond the minimum requirements.
Most of us recognize our need for auto insurance. In fact, there are few things we spend so much money on but hope we never have to use. Fortunately, there are ways we can save if we shop around and choose the right coverage for our needs.
This complete guide to auto insurance explains everything you need to know.
Why do you need auto insurance?
Car insurance can be costly. But not having it could be even more costly. Are you unsure whether you need auto insurance? Here are three reasons why you probably do need it:
- In most states (all except Virginia and New Hampshire), you’re required by law to have insurance (or post a surety bond) if you drive a car.
- If you have an auto loan, your lender will usually require you to have car insurance. If you don’t, your lender could buy insurance for you — then charge you for it. If this happens, you’ll probably pay more and get less coverage.
- A car accident could wipe you out financially if you don’t have insurance, even if the accident isn’t your fault. Insurance can reimburse you for damage to your car, accident-related medical bills, and other costs.
What does auto insurance cover?
Which states don’t require auto insurance?
An auto insurance policy is a collection of different protections, called “coverages.” Standard coverage will depend on the insurance company and policy you choose. There are also optional features that you can add on for an additional cost.
A good insurance agent can help you decide which auto insurance coverages you want. Here are some examples:
Bodily injury liability
This coverage protects you from having to pay the full cost of medical bills if other people get injured in an accident for which you were at fault. It also protects against other claims, such as lost wages and pain and suffering, resulting from an accident that you cause.
Property damage liability
This coverage protects you from having to pay the full cost to repair any damage that you cause to others’ property — to vehicles, fences, or other objects or structures.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist
This coverage protects you from losses caused by someone who doesn’t have car insurance or whose insurance isn’t adequate.
Medical payments or personal injury protection
This coverage protects you from having to pay the full cost of medical bills if you or your passengers get injured in an accident where you are at fault.
This coverage will help pay costs for any damage done to your car as a result of a collision with another vehicle or object (telephone pole, guardrail, tree, etc.).
This coverage reimburses you for car damage caused by something other than a collision, such as fire, theft, vandalism, hail, flood, windstorm, and falling rocks or trees. It also covers damages caused by animals (that is, by accidentally hitting an animal while driving).
Towing and rental car
This coverage helps you if your car isn’t drivable due to an accident. It doesn’t cover maintenance work to your car.
If your vehicle is a motorcycle, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), off-road vehicles, or recreational vehicle (RV), or if you drive your car for commercial purpose (if you’re a driver for Uber or Lyft, for example), you’ll usually need a special type of auto insurance policy or some additional coverage, called a “rider.”
You can also add other types of riders to your auto insurance. The choices vary, depending on what your insurer includes in your policy and offers only as an extra.
Riders usually don’t cost much, but they can add up if you pile them on. So think about which riders make sense for your needs and which don’t before you decide.
Examples of riders include:
- Rental car reimbursement. This rider pays for you to rent a car while yours is being repaired due to an accident or other loss that’s covered by your policy.
- Roadside assistance. This rider provides quick roadside repairs to your car, such as jump-starting a dead battery or changing a flat tire, so that you can drive on to a repair shop. If your car needs more help, this rider will cover towing services.
- Windshield glass coverage. Windshield dings and cracks can be dangerous because the windshield could shatter, tossing glass into your face while you’re on the road. This rider pays to repair or replace a damaged windshield and waives your deductible for this repair or replacement.
- Custom parts and equipment. This rider pays for repair or replacement of after-market accessories, such as a high-end stereo, custom wheels, or a fancy navigation system.
- Gap insurance. This rider pays the difference between the actual cash value of your car and the amount you owe on your car loan or lease if your car is totaled in an accident or stolen. This rider “fills the gap” left when your insurer pays your “total loss” comprehensive or collision claim by paying your car’s cash value. You don’t need this rider if you don’t have a car loan or a lease. You also don’t need it if your car’s cash value is greater than what you owe on your loan (since there’s no gap to fill in this case).
Factors that determine how much your auto insurance will cost
How much you’ll pay for auto insurance depends on several factors. These include:
Your driving record
A significant predictor of whether you’re going to get into an accident is your driving history and the driving history of other drivers on your policy. For example, if you’ve been ticketed for speeding or running red lights, you’re much more likely to get into an accident than someone who is violation-free.
Your gender, age, and how long you’ve had auto insurance
Young males are much more likely to get into an accident than anyone else. In contrast, older men are less likely to get into accidents than older women. As a result, the company will use predetermined tables based on your age and gender to know how to weigh this factor.
Whether you’re married or single
Some insurers view married male drivers as safer than single. This is based on data showing that singles are more likely to get into motor accidents and drink while driving.
Your car’s make, model, and age
The type of vehicle you drive isn’t going to improve or decrease your chances of getting into an accident, but it can determine whether personal injury happens. Cars with excellent safety ratings are likely to get lower insurance rates. But flashy cars, cars focused more on performance than safety, are more likely to get high rates.
Older cars aren’t more likely to get into an accident than newer cars. But because the car’s value declines the older it gets, there’s a lower threshold for damage to classify the car as “totaled.” This is especially the case if the vehicle is no longer in production and getting parts to repair it is more expensive. As a result, collision and comprehensive coverages are pricier on older cars.
Where you live
Insurance companies are regulated by states, so rates can vary greatly depending on where you live. For example, drivers pay an average of $1,264 in New Jersey and $572 in Idaho, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
The majority of accidents happen close to home. So, if you live in an urban area where population density is high, you’re more likely to get into an accident. If you instead live in a rural area, your rates will be cheaper because an accident is less likely. What’s more, different states make different types and amounts of insurance coverage mandatory for drivers.
The number of miles you drive per year
One of the questions you’ll get during the application process will require you to estimate how much you drive per year. Included in that is your daily commute. The more time you spend on the road, the higher your chances are of getting into an accident.
It can be hard to make an accurate estimate, but resist the urge to fabricate the numbers. Insurance companies can use third-party vendors to verify how much you’re driving and revoke any discounts you’ve received for low mileage.
How many auto insurance claims you’ve submitted
Insurance companies consider drivers who have a history of making claims to be higher risk. The size of the claim also matters. So, if you have several large claims in your insurance history, expect to pay a higher premium.
Your policy’s limits and coverage deductibles
A deductible is an amount that you pay out of pocket before your insurer pays out for your claim. If your policy has higher deductibles, your premium should be lower.
Auto insurance alternatives
Only New Hampshire and Virginia don’t require drivers to have auto insurance, provided they can afford to self-insure in case of an accident. However, 32 states also allow drivers to post a bond instead of buying insurance. When you post a bond, you accept financial responsibility for the full bond amount. What percentage of this you must deposit as cash to post the bond varies and is affected by your credit rating.
Which states allow you to deposit a bond instead of buying car insurance?
|State||Bond Amount||State||Bond Amount|
Auto insurance discounts
Does your son or daughter get good grades? Do you have an outstanding driving record? Are you insuring multiple cars or buying auto insurance from the same company that insures your home? You may very well qualify for substantial discounts.
Whatever your driving circumstances, it’s worth your while to shop around to determine what discounts you qualify for. Especially if the insured driver falls into a high-risk group, obtaining one or more discounts can mean the difference between an affordable premium and having to keep the car in the garage while the would-be driver relies on public transportation.
Some insurers offer discounts for auto insurance if you:
- Insure more than one car with the same company.
- Insure your car and home with the same company.
- Have airbags, anti-lock brakes, or anti-theft devices on your car.
- Complete a defensive driving class, especially if you’re an older driver.
The right discounts might “keep the wheels turning” and keep you off of public transportation. Discounts, particularly in combination, can save you a lot of money.
How much can I save with auto insurance discounts?
|Discount||Average Savings||Discount||Average Savings|
|Affinity (such as teachers, firefighters)||5% to 15%||Safety features||Up to 10%|
|Alternative fuel vehicle||Up to 10%||Senior||5% to 10%|
|Autopay||Up to 5%||Student away from school||Up to 30%|
|Full payment||Up to 5%||Telemetrics device||Up to 30%|
|Good driver||10% to 25%||Accident-free||Up to 5%|
|Good student||Up to 20%||Anti-lock brakes||Up to 10%|
|Low mileage||Up to 20%||Anti-theft||Up to 10%|
|Military||8% to 15%||Defensive driving course||Up to 10%|
|Multi-policy||Up to 8%||Early signing/renewal||Up to 10%|
|Multiple vehicles||Up to 25%||Emergency road assistance||Up to 5%|
|New vehicle||10% to 30%||Homeowner||5% to 15%|
|Safe driver||Up to 10%||Single annual payment||5% to 10%|
|Students away from home||Up to 30%||Paperless||Up to 3%|
Scoring a discount or two could help you save on auto insurance. But the real savings come from shopping around for the best auto insurance coverage for your needs.
Shopping around for auto insurance
Shopping around is important because the factors that affect your rate are always in flux. Maybe you were responsible for a fender-bender, improved your credit score, bought a different car, got married (or divorced), or added another driver to your policy. Perhaps your insurer just raised its rates. Whether or not you can control the factors, shopping around can still save you money.
And make sure you notify your insurer if you change jobs or stop working and expect to drive fewer miles. That could affect your rate as well.
It’s also smart to call your insurer or agent before you purchase a new car. That way, you won’t be unpleasantly surprised by your new auto insurance premium. And remember, the lowest premium might not be the best value. Choose a highly rated company to protect yourself from any unexpected difficulties if you have a claim. For example, a disreputable insurer might force you to use a poor mechanic or pay only for after-market parts that aren’t as reliable as the parts your car’s manufacturer installed.
Finding the right auto insurance policy takes some legwork. You need to shop around. Make sure to ask questions about the coverages that are offered, both standard and as add-ons. And think about whether you prefer a higher premium and lower deductible or higher deductible and lower premium.
Before you sign up for a policy, study it carefully. Make sure you know what it covers before you commit to it. And once you’ve signed up for it, make sure you review your policy documents. Don’t put this off till you have to submit a claim.
To find the best policy for you, compare leading auto insurance companies side-by-side below.