Buying car insurance online is increasingly common. Insurers have been improving their sites and, in many cases, have made buying a car insurance policy a truly paperless transaction.

At the same time, industry surveys continue to find that most people prefer to deal with an insurance agent or other "real person" before they buy a policy. So if you want to do just about all of your car insurance shopping online, and then actually purchase the policy offline, you're in good company.

You're also like many consumers if you don't want to get bogged down completing online auto insurance quoting forms and having to remember the date of that last fender-bender, your car's vehicle identification number (VIN) and the liability limits of your current car policy.

The nice thing is, you don't have to. Many insurance websites use databases to streamline the quote process. It is increasingly common for you to be able to enter your name and address and have the insurer's website instantly provide details on your cars and your driving record. That makes getting a quote easy.

There are three types of online car insurance quotes:

1) A single quote from an insurer's website.

2) Lead generation sites that gather your quoting information and pass it on to multiple insurance agents and companies that pay them for leads. You will get multiple quotes from this process but you'll get them from emails and phone calls from agents and company representatives (and, yes, they will try to sell you a policy in the process).

3) Quotes from multiple insurers through an online quoting engine.

Single Quotes

Single quotes are quotes from individual insurers. Many insurer websites generate quotes quickly but, remember, you're only getting a quote from one company. Progressive will provide quotes from two or three other big car insurers so you can compare rates, and has aggressively advertised this capability. The Esurance site allows you to quickly change the coverage terms on a single screen and then recalculate your premium.

Lead Generation Sites

There are lots of lead generating sites. InsWeb and NetQuote are two that market their service widely. InsureMe is an agent-based quoting site.

Because there are many smaller car insurance companies that sell policies in just one or a few states, you might consider searching the Internet for local lead generation sites - just search your state's name and "car insurance rates" and you'll see plenty of choices. Be prepared to be called and emailed by agents.

Online Quoting Engines

Online quoting engines allow you to enter your information, then participating insurance companies contact you with their quotes. You can easily obtain comparative quotes from several car insurers, depending on the state where you live.

These quoting engines are excellent comparison shopping tools. Don't be surprised if you see wide disparities in quotes for what are essentially identical products. The sites provide quotes before requiring you to interact with their participating insurance companies, so you can get the information you want without someone trying to sell you a policy. Also, they will store your quotes, allowing you to come back periodically and quickly refresh the pricing information.