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The Right Way To Shop Car Insurance (2021)

  • Understand coverage options and policy add-ons.
  • Learn how to shop for the best car insurance at the best prices.
  • Read about two of our top recommended car insurance providers.

Affiliate disclosure: Automoblog and its partners may be compensated when you purchase the products below.

Unless you live in New Hampshire or Virginia, you must purchase car insurance for any vehicle you drive in the U.S. But what are the companies with the highest quality coverage for the most affordable price? And should you shop car insurance by researching only one or two of the best car insurance companies, or is it better to cast a wider net?

In this in-depth guide, we’ll share tips on how to shop car insurance and offer recommendations based on our extensive review of the top auto insurance providers. We always suggest getting free, no-obligation quotes from multiple providers to find the best option for your driving habits, budget, and vehicle.

How To Shop Car Insurance

The keys to shopping for the best auto insurance rates and coverage are knowing what you want and knowing what’s out there. By following some basic steps, you can get a good idea of the available rates and the providers that offer them. You’ll also discover which providers offer the best services for the best prices.

If you’re ready to shop car insurance or even if you’re just exploring your options, check out the four steps to car insurance shopping that we’ll highlight in this article.

1. Decide What Coverage You Need (& How Much)

If you’re a resident of any state besides New Hampshire or Virginia, you’re required to purchase at least the state’s minimum car insurance coverage to be legally allowed to drive. Additional types and levels of car insurance coverage can protect you from significant financial losses and major inconveniences in the event of an accident.

Types of Coverage

First, you’ll want to decide which types of coverage to include in your auto insurance policy. Here are some of the most common:

  • Collision coverage: This covers the cost of repairing damages if you’re involved in an accident with an object or another car.
  • Comprehensive coverage: This covers damages from incidents other than collisions, such as natural disasters, theft, and vandalism.
  • Medical payments insurance (MedPay): This covers medical costs for you and your passengers regardless of who is at fault in an accident. Some no-fault insurance states require this coverage.
  • Liability coverage: A combination of bodily injury liability (BI) and property damage liability (PD), liability insurance covers damages to other drivers and their property. Most states require this type of coverage.
  • Personal injury protection (PIP): Similar to MedPay, PIP also compensates for other losses related to those injuries, such as wages lost due to being unable to work. Some states with no-fault insurance provisions require this type of coverage.
  • Uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM): This covers you and your vehicle if you get into an accident with someone who is uninsured or does not have adequate insurance for your accident-related expenses. Some states require this coverage.

Deductibles & Coverage Limits

Along with determining the type of coverage you need, you’ll want to consider your policy’s deductible and coverage limits when comparing auto insurance quotes. Here’s what they mean and why they matter:

  • Deductible: This is how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket as part of your claim. Typical deductible amounts are $250, $500, and $1,000, but they can go as high as $2,500. The higher your deductible, the cheaper your premium in most cases.
  • Coverage limits: Your policy’s coverage limit is the maximum amount your insurer will pay out to settle a claim. You may be responsible for any amount of money over the limit. Higher coverage limits typically come with higher premiums.

2. Get Car Insurance Quotes from Multiple Providers

Once you’ve decided which type of insurance and how much coverage you want to buy, reach out to a few providers and compare car insurance quotes. While averages you find online can give you an idea of what you might pay, insurers compute individual rates for each driver. This means your premium may be significantly higher or lower than the average you see.

Here are some ways you can request a quote from a provider:

  • Phone: You’ll pass your personal and vehicle information along to someone at the insurance company.
  • Local agent: You can secure a quote from an agent in your area and ask about any discounts or promotions not advertised online.
  • Online: Many insurance companies allow you to request car insurance quotes online by filling out and submitting a form on the company website. After you do this, someone will typically reach out through email or a phone call in less than a day.

What Information Do You Need to Get an Insurance Quote?

Insurance companies use a few pieces of information about you and your vehicle to determine your rates. Before you shop car insurance, it’s a good idea to get all this information in one place for easy access.

Here’s what to prepare:

  • Information about your vehicle: You’ll need to know your car’s make, model, year, and mileage and possibly its vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Other drivers’ information: If you share your vehicle with other drivers in your family, you’ll have to share information about them, too. It will be the same kind of info you’ve shared about yourself.
  • Personal information: Insurance companies may ask you to provide your full name, birth date, address, and driver’s license number. If you’re a student or you’ve served in the military, this could get you a discount, so be prepared to mention this as well.

Factors that Affect Your Auto Insurance Rates

When you shop car insurance, the first number that will jump out at you is the cost of your insurance policy, which is known as your premium. You may see it expressed as the total annual fee or broken down into monthly payments. Here are some factors insurance companies use to determine your auto insurance rates:

  • Vehicle: Generally speaking, expensive cars cost more to insure.
  • Deductible: A higher deductible will usually come with a lower rate.
  • Gender on your license: Men often have higher premiums than women.
  • Age: Insurers charge the highest premiums to teen drivers and senior drivers.
  • Coverage limits: Choosing higher liability limits will raise the cost of your premium.
  • Location: Car insurance rates vary from one place to another. Even within the same state, your rate might be higher if you live in an urban area.
  • Credit history: Drivers with high credit scores will get better rates on their car insurance policies. If your credit is average or just OK, you will pay more.
  • Driving history: Your driving record plays a significant role in determining your rates. A recent at-fault accident or traffic violation such as a speeding ticket could make your rates much higher.

3. Compare Providers (Not Just Rates)

Although rates may be your primary concern when you shop car insurance, here are a few other things to consider when comparing providers:

  • Availability: If you prefer doing business in person, make sure the insurer you choose has physical locations you can visit easily.
  • Technology: Many companies have apps and online tools to manage your account and file claims. If this kind of convenience is important to you, consider it when comparing providers.
  • Reputation: Unfortunately, not all companies pay claims out quickly or without hassle. No matter your premiums, if an insurer has a reputation for not paying claims, you could be at financial risk.
  • Restrictions: You can take your car anywhere you wish for repairs, but some insurers  offer discounts for using preferred shops or require you to visit in-network repair shops before they pay for covered repairs up front.

Provider Reviews

Google, Trustpilot, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website have plenty of reviews for most of the biggest car insurance providers, so these can be valuable resources. Just keep in mind that people often only review a company when they are frustrated, which can skew the number of unsatisfied customers versus customers who’ve had positive experiences.

Another good way to learn about insurance companies is by reading our provider reviews. You can find a comprehensive analysis of State Farm auto insurance – the largest car insurance company in the U.S. – and other companies on this website.

National Car Insurance Premium Averages

As mentioned earlier, we always recommend comparing quotes from providers when you shop car insurance. It’s also best to see how your quote compares to the average premiums in your area.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) maintains information on the average cost of car insurance throughout the U.S. The following table shows the average insurance premiums for three levels of coverage and an overall average. You’ll note that car insurance is available for purchase in Virginia and New Hampshire, even though you’re not required to buy it.

State or District Average Liability Premium Average Collision Premium Average Comprehensive Premium Average Combined Premium
Alabama $511.13 $380.51 $175.28 $1,066.92
Alaska $576.09 $387.12 $147.87 $1,111.07
Arizona $646.75 $326.28 $208.25 $1,181.29
Arkansas $486.72 $375.25 $235.36 $1,097.33
California $616.51 $483.60 $94.72 $1,194.83
Colorado $687.40 $330.50 $272.44 $1,290.34
Connecticut $784.70 $407.54 $133.86 $1,326.09
Delaware $900.32 $352.86 $140.52 $1,393.70
District of Columbia $809.41 $535.96 $228.71 $1,574.09
Florida $1,009.94 $361.79 $149.26 $1,520.99
Georgia $797.80 $408.41 $176.31 $1,382.52
Hawaii $479.27 $357.78 $107.66 $944.70
Idaho $425.89 $262.67 $139.75 $828.32
Illinois $515.94 $339.04 $140.57 $995.55
Indiana $442.69 $286.49 $135.63 $864.82
Iowa $348.87 $252.65 $214.65 $816.18
Kansas $421.78 $287.24 $276.33 $985.34
Kentucky $611.54 $312.51 $164.68 $1,088.73
Louisiana $1,015.36 $487.44 $248.57 $1,751.37
Maine $374.59 $294.80 $113.33 $782.72
Maryland $737.73 $422.06 $167.61 $1,327.40
Massachusetts $658.47 $440.55 $147.06 $1,246.08
Michigan $952.15 $479.11 $159.08 $1,590.35
Minnesota $499.48 $265.74 $206.45 $971.66
Mississippi $538.35 $372.17 $239.34 $1,149.85
Missouri $520.45 $315.49 $216.92 $1,052.86
Montana $435.81 $283.65 $306 $1,025.46
Nebraska $429.35 $272.48 $260.97 $962.79
Nevada $900.40 $366.54 $119.28 $1,386.22
New Hampshire $436.76 $327.30 $118.58 $882.65
New Jersey $955.93 $414.39 $130.26 $1,500.58
New Mexico $576.81 $311.24 $214.10 $1,102.15
New York $920.25 $457.77 $180.64 $1,558.66
North Carolina $391.29 $342.13 $137.45 $870.87
North Dakota $307.97 $279.45 $256.76 $844.18
Ohio $448.59 $302.57 $130.74 $881.91
Oklahoma $508.89 $346.73 $267.99 $1,123.61
Oregon $689.74 $280.61 $106.87 $1,077.22
Pennsylvania $555.42 $376.21 $169.21 $1,100.84
Rhode Island $885.33 $474.58 $140.40 $1,500.31
South Carolina $702.37 $318.08 $207.09 $1,227.54
South Dakota $333.44 $244.47 $327.11 $905.02
Tennessee $477.07 $355.01 $163.83 $995.91
Texas $659.47 $442.88 $269.90 $1,372.25
Utah $601.77 $309.20 $127.53 $1,038.50
Vermont $376.99 $329.47 $147.81 $854.27
Virginia $492.68 $316.05 $148.25 $956.98
Washington $689.18 $312.65 $118.19 $1,120.02
West Virginia $521.74 $350.20 $224.86 $1,096.80
Wisconsin $422.28 $247.95 $159.82 $830.06
Wyoming $356.25 $297.61 $317.22 $971.07

Discounts

Most insurance providers offer discounts that can make your auto insurance more affordable. While these vary depending on the company, many providers offer similar kinds of car insurance discounts. Here are some of the most common:

  • Autopay: If you set your monthly payments to autopay, you may get a discount.
  • Military: Some companies offer discounted rates to active and retired military members and their families.
  • Safe driver: If you go for a long stretch without accidents or violations, you may be eligible for a discount.
  • Anti-theft: You may be eligible for a discount if you have a car alarm or other anti-theft device on your vehicle.
  • Good student: Some insurance companies offer discounts to students who maintain good grades in school.
  • Senior: While senior citizens often pay higher premiums, some companies discount policies for people over 65.
  • Safety features: Driving a vehicle with advanced safety features such as anti-lock brakes can earn you a discount.
  • Paid in full: If you pay your entire annual premium up front instead of monthly, your company may reward you with a discount.
  • Bundling: If your auto insurance company sells homeowners insurance, renters insurance, or life insurance, you can usually get a discount by bundling one or more of these policies with your car insurance.

Not all companies offer all of these discounts, and some companies offer discounts not listed above. It’s also possible for a company to provide a discount through one of its state offices but not another. The best way to find out which discounts are available to you is to speak directly with a local insurance agent.

4. Choose Your Provider

After comparing quotes and weighing your options, the next step is choosing a car insurance provider. Typically, you can sign your policy a few ways. Most companies have an option to sign online, but you can also do it by mail or in person at a local office. If you have auto-renew on your current policy, be sure to turn it off before the policy expires.

Soon after you sign up, your insurance card should arrive in the mail or be available to download online. Keep a copy in your car at all times and another copy at home for your records.

How To Find the Best Car Insurance Rates

When you shop car insurance, you don’t have control over everything that influences your rate, but you can make certain adjustments. Below are a few tips for finding the best car insurance premiums:

  • Shop around: Shop car insurance rates by comparing quotes from several providers. This way, you’ll have at least a few options.
  • Increase your deductible: You can lower your premiums a bit by increasing your deductible, but this puts you at risk for higher out-of-pocket costs.
  • Practice safe driving: Avoiding at-fault accidents and violations can make coverage more affordable in the future. Some companies offer tracking apps that monitor your driving habits and reduce your premiums for safe driving.
  • Improve your credit score: Improving your credit score can make a big difference in how much you pay for car insurance. Reduce any credit card debt or other revolving debt as much as possible to work toward a good credit score.
  • Consider smaller providers: The biggest car insurance companies don’t necessarily offer the best rates. In your search, it’s wise to include a smaller local provider or two that may offer better rates and have more specialized knowledge of your area.

Where To Shop Car Insurance

We know how time-consuming it can be to shop car insurance. That’s why our experts thoroughly researched and reviewed many of the top insurance providers in the country. Based on our findings, we recommend starting your car insurance shopping with GEICO and USAA.

GEICO: Best Overall

As the country’s second-largest car insurance provider, GEICO operates in all 50 states. In addition to consistently offering some of the cheapest rates, the company has numerous discounts, including one for federal government employees.

The insurance industry highly regards GEICO, and the company’s A++ financial strength rating from AM Best is a testament to this. The company also holds an A+ rating from the BBB.

Customers likewise tend to give GEICO high marks. The company scored 869 out of a possible 1,000 points in the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Insurance Shopping StudySM, and while that score is a little below the provider average among large insurers in the study, it’s only three points lower than the top-ranked provider.

The company’s reputation in combination with popular product offerings such as mechanical breakdown insurance makes GEICO a provider worth considering when you shop car insurance.

For more on GEICO, read our full GEICO auto insurance review.

USAA: Best for Military Families

USAA provides insurance, loans, and other financial products to active and retired military members and their families. If you fall into one of these categories and are eligible for car insurance through USAA, it’s a terrific place to look when you shop car insurance.

USAA offers some of the cheapest insurance rates in the industry, along with a few military-specific discounts. One such value reduces your insurance cost by up to 15% for garaging your car on a military base. You can save as much as 60% if you store your car while you’re deployed.

USAA had the highest score among large insurers in the J.D. Power Insurance Shopping Study, but as a provider that is not available to everyone, it was not eligible for the study’s rankings. USAA also earned a “Superior” A+ financial strength rating from AM Best. Online reviews indicate a high degree of customer satisfaction, so it’s easy to see why we recommend USAA if you have access.

Read more about USAA car insurance by checking out our provider review.

FAQ: How To Shop Car Insurance

Does shopping car insurance hurt your credit?

No, shopping for car insurance does not hurt your credit score. Companies check your credit score to help determine your rates, but they use a “soft pull” of your credit, which doesn’t affect your score.

Is it cheaper to have business car insurance?

No. Business car insurance is usually more expensive than consumer car insurance. That’s because more significant risks are involved, and there’s a greater chance that more than one driver will use the vehicle.

Is it OK to buy car insurance online?

Buying car insurance online is easy and fast and sometimes even gets you discounts. It’s also safe, for the most part. However, since you will be handing personal information over, be cautious if you buy your car insurance online.

Our Methodology

Our expert review team takes satisfaction in providing accurate and unbiased information. We identified the following rating categories based on consumer survey data and conducted extensive research to formulate rankings of the best car insurance providers.

  • Affordability: Various factors influence cost, so it can be difficult to compare quotes between providers. Our team considers auto insurance rate estimates generated by Quadrant Information Services and discount opportunities when giving this score.
  • Coverage: Because each consumer has unique needs, a car insurance company must offer an array of coverage options. We take into account types of insurance available, maximum coverage limits, and add-on policies.
  • Industry Standing: Our team considers Better Business Bureau (BBB) ratings, financial strength, and years in business when giving this score.
  • Availability: Auto insurers with greater state availability and few eligibility requirements are more likely to meet consumer needs.
  • Customer Service: Reputable car insurance providers operate with a certain degree of care for consumers. We consider complaints filed with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), J.D. Power claims servicing scores, and customer feedback.
  • Online Experience: Insurers with easy-to-use websites and highly rated mobile apps scored best in this category.

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