What should I consider when buying auto insurance?

  • Consider your financial or personal situation (marriage, parenthood, home-buying, etc.) to determine appropriate liability limits, which protect you if you are ever sued. Your financial assets and family members who depend on you need protecting, so generally speaking, the more you have to lose, the more protection you will want.
  • If you can afford higher deductibles, they will lower your premiums.
  • Review optional types of coverage to evaluate whether or not you may need extra protection. For example, if you don’t have disability insurance, you might want loss of income coverage.
  • Think about value. The best insurance may not be the cheapest. Standard industry financial ratings assigned to insurance companies will help you evaluate a company’s financial strength (their ability to pay claims). For information about consumer complaints against companies, look at state insurance department Web sites.

What factors may affect my auto insurance costs?

  • Driving history – Maintaining a “clean” driving record (no tickets or accidents) will keep your insurance costs lower.
  • Age, gender, marital status – There is statistical evidence that some drivers (for example, young male drivers) will have more accidents than others, which makes them a higher risk for insurers, so they are charged a higher premium.
  • Driving patterns– Generally, the more you drive, the more you pay. If you use your car in business and drive over 25,000 miles a year in a heavily populated area, your insurance will cost more than a driver living in a rural area with low annual mileage.
  • Your car – Some cars will cost more to insure because they are more expensive to repair, are more easily damaged in an accident or are targets for theft..
  • Amount of insurance – While higher policy limits will cost more, you can lower your premium by increasing your deductibles.
  • Credit history – Some states may use your credit as a factor in determining your rates. If you have excellent credit, you might pay less.

How can I lower my auto insurance rates?

  • Shop around, being sure that the quotes you’re comparing are for the same coverage.
  • Request higher deductibles for comprehensive and collision.
  • Ask about discounts.
  • Maintain a good driving record and credit history.

What discounts are available?

You may be eligible for a discount if you:

  • insure more than one vehicle with the same company
  • are a homeowner
  • have recently taken a defensive driver course
  • have a car alarm, airbags, anti-lock brakes, or automatic seatbelts in your car
  • have homeowners and car insurance through the same company
  • pay in full or through EFT (electronic fund transfer)
  • attend college over 100 miles from home and don’t have a car with you
  • are a full-time student with a grade point average “B” or higher
  • participate in a shared-vehicle car pool

Why does my insurance go up if I have an accident or get a ticket?

Insurance companies charge higher rates to drivers with tickets and accidents because they are statistically higher risks. Since claims statistics and studies by law enforcement agencies show the chances of having an accident increases proportionately to how many tickets and accidents a driver has already had, insurance companies must adjust their rates so the premium accurately reflects the insurance company’s exposure to future claims based on this higher risk.

What does my auto insurance policy cover when I rent a car?

It depends on your policy. The best thing is to review your policy, or ask your insurance agent to review it with you. Your policy may cover autos rented for pleasure, like vacations or special events, but not business. If you do not have comprehensive and collision coverage (often referred to as “physical damage coverage”) for your own car, you may not have coverage for a rental car. And if you damage a rental car, your policy may not cover lost revenue the rental car company incurs while the rental car is being fixed; or the cost of a new car if you total the rental.

I have Property Damage and Physical Damage coverage. Aren’t these the same?

You are required to carry property damage coverage, which covers damage you cause to someone else’s car or property (the fence you hit). There is no deductible for this. Physical damage (comprehensive and collision) is an option that pays for damage to your car. Collision covers damage from your car colliding with another car or object. Comprehensive covers damage from events such as fire, theft, vandalism, weather, and windshield or animal-related accidents. Comprehensive and collision usually have separate deductibles.

If I lend my car to a friend, is he or she covered under my insurance?

Most policies will cover drivers who have permission to use your auto. But check your policy, or ask your agent, to see if the conditions or limits of your policy will change for drivers who are not regular operators of your auto.

What should I do if I have an accident?

First, check to see if anyone needs medical attention. Next, call the police. They will tell you whether you should move the autos, and whether an officer will come take statements from those involved. Try to stay calm. If a police officer questions you, be factual. It is not up to you to talk about whose fault it is. The police and insurance companies will decide that. If law enforcement is not involved, exchange names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance company names with each driver. Try also to get contact information for any witnesses. Contact your insurance company or insurance agent as soon as possible to learn about conditions or procedures you need to follow.

I have an older car whose current value is very low – do I need insurance?

You should always have bodily injury and property damage. In most states you’re legally required to carry a minimum amount.

Insurance for comprehensive and collision is not required by the state, but may be required if the vehicle is financed or leased.

Consider what would happen if the car was stolen or seriously damaged in an accident:

  • Can you afford to replace the car it if it is damaged beyond repair?
  • If your car is damaged but not totaled, how much can you afford to spend on repairs?
  • Without comprehensive, you can’t buy rental reimbursement coverage, which pays for a rental car or other transportation expenses until your car is repaired or replaced.

My job requires that I move to another state temporarily. Will my insurance cover me there?

Your policy covers you anywhere in the U.S., but there may be significant differences from state to state. If you will be residing in another state for an extended period of time, say, over 30 days, it’s a good idea to change your insurance. Significant differences can be minimum limits – one state has $15,000/30,000 and another has $50,000/100,000, for example. Or your state may have no fault coverage including loss of income, funeral expense, accidental death, etc. while another state may not. . In most cases, only military personnel are allowed to reside in one state and maintain residency in another. If you are planning to register your auto in another state, you will need to purchase insurance in that state.

Will my insurance cover my leased auto if it is stolen or totaled in an accident?

Your insurance company will handle your claims the same way whether you own, lease or finance. If you leased or financed your auto and purchased it recently, your insurance may not cover your loan or lease completely. Since you are responsible for the auto, the leasing company will require you to pay the remaining lease payments as well as any penalties for mileage, wear and tear, or warranties, and you won’t get your security deposit back. Review your lease or loan agreement to decide whether to purchase GAP insurance, which covers the difference between your loan or lease and the insurance proceeds you receive for your damaged or stolen auto.

My son has his learner’s permit and is starting to drive. I want to add him to my policy but it will triple the premium! Do I have to add him?

Most companies do not charge for a person with a learner’s permit or require the learner be named on a policy (but some do). Once your son gets his permanent license, he must be covered under your auto insurance, unless he won’t be driving. Newly licensed drivers are involved in more accidents than more experienced drivers, so their rates are considerably higher. For his protection, and for the protection of your financial assets, you may want to review your insurance limits and coverage. Your son’s premiums can be kept lower if he maintains at least a B average in school, keeps deductibles high, and if he drives an older, standard model car (rather than a sports or luxury car).

I plan to buy a new car. Do I need coverage for this car before I drive it off the lot?

Your new car must be insured before you drive it off the lot. If you have a policy in force, the new car will be automatically covered for 30 days. However, if you cover a new car under an existing policy without notifying your insurance company, some companies may change some of your coverage limits until they have received notice from you about the new car, and decided they want to insure it. When you buy a car, new or used, is a good time to review your coverage and check prices among competing companies. Start by getting quotes for the year, make and model of the car you plan to buy. If you’re considering more than one make and model, checking the price of insurance may help you decide. Although two cars may seem the same, the repair costs may be dramatically different, and that will have a significant impact on your insurance costs. And, if you are financing the car, you will be required to purchase comprehensive and collision coverage by your lender or lessor.

My daughter will be going to college in another state, and taking her car with her. Do we need to change her insurance?

If the car is registered to you, and she is not considered a resident of the state where she is attending school, she can be covered on your policy. Check with the State Department of Motor Vehicles to determine whether the car needs to be registered in that state, and your insurance changed accordingly.