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Car insurance buying guide

Getting started

Those quirky characters in auto-insurance TV ads might give you more laughs than actual savings, according to a 2014 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Only 10 percent of 19,000 subscribers who compared premiums found that they would save money by switching insurers. For more on the hidden cost of car insurance check our recent report: The truth about car insurance. plus see our Insurance Center for ways to save money on other types of insurance.

Rising costs

Credit-based insurance scores

Corner-cutting repairs

Control insurer cost factors

Do a rate check every 2 or 3 years

Car insurance is a major expense that you’ll pay as long as you own a car, so you should invest time to get the best deal. Premiums vary widely by state and carrier. But generally speaking, you’ll spend $9,000 to $14,000 over 10 years if you’re single to insure one car; $13,000 to $20,800 for two cars if you’re married. (Those prices aren’t adjusted for inflation.) Shopping smartly can thus help you get the coverage you need at the low end of those price ranges, for savings worth $5,000 to $7,800.

Dig out a copy of your current policy plus records of any at-fault accident claims and moving violations. You’ll be asked for this information every time you request a premium quote, and if you have it at your fingertips, the burden of shopping for car insurance can be made a little easier.

Our 2015 study of more than 2 billion car insurance premiums that major insurers charged 20 hypothetical drivers we created in every U.S. general ZIP code, can help take some of the legwork out of your comparison shopping.

Unfortunately, most consumers, 75 percent, haven’t shopped for auto insurance in the previous year, and of those who did, most researched only one or two companies, according to one recent insurance-industry survey. By looking further afield, you’ll have a better shot at savings.

Because your coverage needs and credit scores change, and insurers generally update their prices every six to 12 months, repeat this shopping comparison every two or three years.

Also shop the market whenever your situation changes, say, if you marry or you need to add a teen to your policy. Ask your insurer what the change will mean for your policy, then shop for a better deal. Forget about getting a separate policy for your teen; we priced that, too, for our 16-year-old sample boy and girl drivers with their own policies, and the premium was almost always more than the increase in cost from adding the kids to their family policy.

Pick a top-rated insurer

Saving is not only a matter of finding the lowest premium. An insurer can charge less in premiums but cost you more overall by lowballing loss estimates, hassling the repair shop to cut corners, and forcing you to pay extra for the manufacturer’s replacement parts if you choose them over cheaper knockoffs. It can also unfairly jack up your premiums after an accident.

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