With a little shopping around and knowing what makes your rates rise and lower, you can save big, says Michelle Megna, managing editor of CarInsurance.com: “I recommend doing this at least once a year, if not at each six-month renewal.”
The savings really can be tremendous. A rate analysis by CarInsurance.com shows the average savings you get from comparing rates range between $350 and $3,000, depending on what state you live in. Each insurer plugs dozens of different data points into its equation to come up with a unique price for you.
But no two companies calculate rates the same way, which is why it's worth consulting several of them. It’s particularly important to shop around when milestone events occur, whether positive or negative in nature. They include:
- Purchasing a car
- Adding or removing a driver from a policy
- Getting married or divorced
- Buying a house
- Getting a DUI or other major violation
- Being in an accident
- Having a significant change in credit score
How to Save on Car Insurance:
Review the discount menu. Don’t just rely on an insurance agent to tell you which discounts you qualify for; ask for the full menu that the company offers and review it carefully. You might find a few that aren’t so obvious. Note that in some states drivers can receive a discount on insurance if they complete a driver safety course, for example, like the AARP Smart Driver Course.
Groom your credit report. CarInsurance.com’s rate analysis found that rates for drivers with fair credit scores were, on average, 17 percent higher than rates for those with good credit scores. Rates for drivers with poor credit were even higher: 67 percent more than those for drivers with good credit.
Consider giving up smoking. “Most car insurance companies don’t ask if you’re a smoker or not,” says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst at CarInsurance.com. Still, there are exceptions. A few car insurance companies may inquire about your smoking habit and charge you higher rates if you say yes. This has everything to do with their internal claims data. “It’s likely these companies have data that shows smokers are more likely to be in accidents,” Gusner says. If you’re a smoker and aren’t ready to quit, ask your insurer if your habit factors into your rates. If it does, consider shopping elsewhere.
Change your deductibles. A deductible is the amount you pay for a repair before insurance coverage kicks in. Often, people buy insurance with a deductible of $500. But if you can afford it — or truly believe in your ability to avoid causing an accident — consider raising your deductible to $1,000 or higher. “You can save up to about 30 percent off your monthly premiums by hiking your deductible,” Megna says.
Lower coverage for older cars. “Don’t buy comprehensive and collision insurance if you have a car that’s more than 10 years old and worth less than $3,000,” Gusner says. State laws generally mandate only that you buy insurance that covers damage to others — liability insurance. Comprehensive and collision coverage for your own car is optional (unless the car is still financed; most finance companies require these coverages). Why pay hundreds of dollars a year for coverage that at most will pay out the full value of a car worth just a few thousand dollars?
Safety Features May Not Equal Discounts
You would think that insurers would offer discounts if you have driver-assistive features such as blind-spot warning systems, which are increasingly common on new cars. But most haven’t been on the market long enough to generate meaningful statistics. So many insurance companies don’t offer discounts for high-tech features. In fact, insurers may charge you higher rates if your car is loaded with them. The reason: “These items can be expensive to replace and repair,” says CarInsurance.com's Megna says.
This should change as data starts to roll in regarding the actual value of these safety features. And a handful of insurers have begun offering discounts for certain ones, such as a lane-departure warning system, a collision-preparation system and adaptive cruise control. Ask your insurer if you might qualify for lower rates. But don’t let insurer ambivalence keep you from buying a car with driver-assistive features. “Paying a little more to have a blind-spot detection system, for example, may keep you from having an accident,” Megna says.
Warren Clarke has been writing about autos for 17 years, many of them as content editor for Edmunds.com