The word shopping brings thoughts of immediate excitement to most people. But if you combine the word shopping with insurance— as in “shopping for automobile insurance” — it produces the opposite result. The thought of shopping for automobile insurance makes the eyes glaze over and the heart rate drop to the pace of a slumbering couch potato.
Couch potato? Indeed. D heller, a consumer advocate at The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights (a California-based consumer advocacy group) and a recognized automobile insurance issues specialist, told us that too often “people purchase car insurance by calling the number on the tv.”
But wait, this is important stuff! You want to be adequately covered if you get in an fortuity. And you certainly don’t want to pay more for automobile insurance than you have to. Maybe waiting for a solution to be beamed into your living room is not the greatest idea.
How can you stay alert while searching through this cloudy subject? Just remember: There is money to be saved. How much? Hundreds, even thousands, per year. For example, one of the authors typed all of his insurance information into a comparative auto insurance service. The quotes (for very basic coverage on two old car) ranged from $1,006 to $1,807 — a difference of $801 a year. If you’re currently dumping thousands into your insurance companies coffers because of a couple of tickets, an accident, or a questionable credit score, shopping your policy against others may be well worth the effort.
Look at it this way — you can convert the money you save into buying of something you’ve lusted after for a long time. Hold that goal in your mind. Now, let’s begin.
Before you can shop for something, you have to decide what you need. The first step in finding the right car insurance for you is to figure out the amount of coverage you need. This varies from state to state. So take a moment to find out what coverage is required where you live. Make a list of the different types of coverage and then return for the next step. (You will find a list of each state’s requirements and an explanation of the various types of vehicle insurance in “How Much car insurance Do You Really Need?”. Also, check out “Little-Known But Important car insurance Issues” as it has a glossary of basic insurance terminology.)
Now that you know what is required, you can decide what — if anything — you need in addition to that. Some people are quite cautious. They base their lives on worst-case scenarios. auto insurance companies love these people. That’s because auto insurance organizations know what your chances are of being killed or maimed, and how likely it is for your vehicle to be damaged or stolen. The information the car insurance organizations has collected over previous decades is crunched into “actuarial tables” that give automobile insurance adjustors a quick look at the probability of just about any occurrence.
It is important to keep in mind that the basis of car insurance is a difference of opinion between you (the insured) and them (the auto insurance firms). You believe you will, at some point, probably get in an chance event. The car insurance company believes you probably won’t. And the vehicle insurance chance event, is willing to take your money to prove you wrong.
So how much auto insurance should you buy beyond your state’s minimums?
“Look at your personal financial situation,” Dennis, director of the Insurance Consumer Advocate Network (I-CAN) and former insurance adjuster, advised. “If you have assets to protect — and that is all auto insurance is doing — get enough liability coverage.” For instance, if you purchase $50,000 of bodily injury liability coverage but have $100,000 in assets, attorneys could go after your treasures in the event of an car crash in which you’re at-fault and the other party’s medical bills exceed $50,000.
Dennis noted that his general recommendation for liability limits are $50,000 bodily injury liability for one person injured in an fortuity, $100,000 for all people injured in an car crash and $25,000 property damage liability (that is, 50/100/25) given that half of the vehicles on the road are worth more than $20,000. Here again, though, let your financial situation be your guide. If you have no assets, don’t buy excess coverage.
Another issue D howard mentioned is that the limits of any uninsured and/or underinsured motorist coverage that you purchase cannot exceed the limits of your liability coverage. Such coverage, he said, can be valuable, as it will cover lost income if you’re out of work for several months after being injured in a major car crash.
Your driving habits may also be a condition. If your past is filled with crumpled fenders, if you have a lead foot or a long commute on a treacherous winding road, then you should get more comprehensive coverage.
“Consumers should also be aware that they don’t have to buy the service [of collision and comprehensive coverage],” D howard, said. “If your automobile is older, if you have a good driving record and if there is a low likelihood that it would be totaled in an fortuity, but a high likelihood of it being stolen, you could buy comprehensive but not collision.” Seems like good advice for all of the 1989 Toyota Camry owners reading this article — this has been the most stolen automobile in the nation for several years (it’s often stolen for parts). But we would expect that most of them on the road have well over 100,000 miles.
At this time, a rather sobering point needs to be interjected. Just having vehicle insurance doesn’t protect you from absolutely anything bad that might happen. First, the insurance organizations needs to back up the claims that they make in the fine details of the contract. TV ads show folksy adjustors at the scenes of natural disasters passing out claims checks like coupons for cocktail wieners at a supermarket. But, in case you haven’t noticed, real life is a bit different from TV ads. If you have an car crash, your automobile insurance organizations will take a close look at your claim before mailing you a check. And the check may be written for an amount much smaller than you had hoped. For this reason, you should be intimately familiar with the terms of your policy and call the companies with any questions you might have.
Now that you have made several practical and philosophical decisions, it’s time to start shopping. Begin by setting aside about an hour for this task. Bring all your records — your current vehicle insurance policy, your driver license number and your vehicle registration. Drink plenty of coffee. Have a phone at your elbow. And, of course, power up your computer.
Begin with the web based services. If you go to InsWeb.com or other auto insurance quote sites, you can type in your information and get a list of comparative price quotes. The form takes about 15 minutes to complete. If this bores you, just remind yourself that you are saving money and you can use that money to buy something nice for yourself. If the entire shopping process takes you two hours to complete, and you save $800, you’re effectively earning $400 an hour.
A few things to keep in mind: (1) When you use quote services, you may not get instant vehicle insurance price quotes. Some companies may contact you later by e-mail, and some that are not “direct providers” may put you in touch with a local agent, who will then calculate a quote for you. (A “direct provider,” like Geico, sells an auto insurance policy to you directly; other firms like State Farm sell automobile insurance through local agents. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each later.) (2) It’s not easy to get quotes from these sites in all states — if you live in New Jersey, for instance, you’ll probably find it faster to pick up the phone, since most insurers currently don’t provide online price quotes for this state.
You can also try getting insurance quotes from some of the insurance organizations listed on the Edmunds.com Web site — Esurance, Geico, or Progressive. The forms will take about 10 minutes each to complete.
Of course, there are many other insurers that you can contact online. But remember, while you’re researching organizations, make notes in a separate computer file or on a piece of paper divided into categories. This will keep you from duplicating your efforts. When you visit the different online insurance sites you should take note of several things:
Annual and monthly rates for the different types of coverage — make sure to keep the coverage limits the same so that you can make “apples-to-apples” comparisons
An 800 number to call for questions you can’t get answered online
The insurance organizations payment policy (When is your payment due? What happens if you’re late in making a payment?)
Discounts offered by the insurance companies that pertain to you
The automobile insurance organizations consumer complaint ratio from your state’s department of automobile insurance Web site (more on this below)
The automobile insurance companies A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s ratings (more on this below)
Once you have exhausted your online options, it’s time to work the phones. Those firms you haven’t been able to get an online price quote from should be contacted. Surprisingly, doing this process verbally can actually go faster than the online counterpart, providing you have all the information regarding your driver license and vehicle registration close at hand. When you get a price quote, be sure to confirm the price. Also, ask them to fax or e-mail the quote to you as a record.
While talking to the automobile insurance firms telephone salespeople, make sure you explore all options relating to discounts. car insurance companies give discounts for a good driving record, favorable credit score, safety equipment (for example, antilock brakes), certain occupations or professional affiliations, and more. For more guidance in this area, check out “How to Save Money on auto insurance.”
Always bear in mind that your mission isn’t just to buy the cheapest vehicle insurance out there; it is to buy the cheapest car insurance and still receive adequate coverage and service. “You don’t want to pay to get a great deal on auto insurance and then not get your car repaired after an car crash,” Heller noted.
Your final selection should depend on two things:
a. the reliability of the insurance organizations based on the criteria above;
b. the price of the quote.
We can all find the lowest premium, but it may not be immediately obvious how to determine whether a firms is reliable. When we say “reliable,” we’re talking about how the insurer treats you, the customer. Particularly, how will the firms deal with you when you file a claim? Will you be paid the full amount to which you are entitled? And will you be paid promptly?