There are 263 million vehicles on American roads, and while they all have different needs when it comes to gas and maintenance, every one of them needs car insurance. Most states require that all drivers have auto insurance coverage – but even if your state doesn’t, having auto insurance is still in your best interest. Your car is a major asset and investment that needs protection, which is what auto insurance provides.
That’s where car insurance companies come in. The 10 biggest car insurance companies in the United States are State Farm, Geico, Progressive, Allstate, USAA, Liberty Mutual, Farmers, Nationwide, Travelers, and American Family. Each car insurance company offers a similar product. You pay a set fee, called a premium, on a monthly, semi-annual, or annual basis. In return, you get a car insurance policy that provides you with car insurance coverage. That coverage pays for expenses related to your car in the event of a crash, theft, or natural disaster. Exactly which expenses are covered depends on the coverage you select and pay for. How much car insurance coverage you need depends on several factors, like the value of your car, the minimum insurance coverage required in your state, and any extra car insurance coverage you want.
Because car insurance companies all offer a similar product and have similar business models, choosing the right car insurance company is all about finding the balance of coverage, cost, and customer service that’s right for you. Some auto insurance companies let you do almost everything online with no human interaction – from getting a free car-insurance quote to buying a policy to making a claim. Others use local agents who meet with you and walk you through the process. Some auto insurance companies also offer a wide range of insurance and financial products, including banking, so you can handle much of your personal business in one place. Car insurance discounts vary by company, as does each company’s online tools and mobile apps. Start by deciding how much car insurance you need. Next, compare car insurance rates from different companies. Then, find best car insurance company for you, based on your budget and the level of customer service you want.
How Do Car Insurance Companies Make Money?
Insurance companies in the U.S. are an outgrowth of mutual aid societies. Prior to insurance companies (and cars, for that matter) community members would band together, often based on religious or ethnic affiliation, to provide funds in case of an emergency. Each member of a mutual aid society would pay a small amount into a fund that members could draw on in case of certain events, like a death in the family. The money the members pulled out of the fund could be used for things like burial expenses – and because everyone paid a little bit, no one person or family had to bear the full cost of an emergency when one struck.
Auto insurance companies follow a variation on that model, but one that that allows them to make a profit. With modern insurance, policyholders purchase coverage from an insurance company. Like in a mutual aid society, everyone pays a little bit, so the insurance company has money on hand to pay for damages. However, because it’s unlikely that everyone who has a policy with an insurance company will make a claim for damages, the insurance company gets to keep the extra money as profit. In publicly traded, or stock, companies, the owners are the company’s stockholders. In other insurance companies, known as mutual companies, the owners are the policyholders, who get their share of the profits as dividends and potentially lower rates.
Insurance companies protect their profits by charging different people different rates for their premiums, based on the risk they represent – that is, how likely they are to get in an accident. Drivers in high-risk groups, which include inexperienced drivers and drivers with lots of tickets or previous crashes, will pay more for car insurance because they’re more likely to make a claim. The same is true for people who live in areas where their cars are more at risk to things like theft or natural disasters. People with expensive or hard-to-fix cars will also pay more because they’re likely to make more-expensive claims.
At its core, car insurance is a bet. You pay your premium, betting that if something happens to your car, you’ll get that money back to pay for repairs, medical bills, and other costs. The car insurance company takes your premium, betting that if you do have an issue with your car, the cost of paying for it will be less than the premiums they’ve collected from you and other policyholders over the years. Insurance companies do lose money on occasion. For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, as many as 500,000 total loss car insurance claims were filed in response to the damage. Those claims cost the insurance industry billions of dollars – money that could have otherwise been profits.
Sometimes the bet will pay off in your favor, and you’ll get more in claim money than you’ve paid in. Even if it doesn’t, however, you benefit from having an auto insurance policy on your vehicle. If your car is damaged, you won’t have to come up with the money for repairs on the spot. Sure, it’s a pain to pay for car insurance every month, but unexpectedly having to come up with several thousand dollars for car repairs because a deer decided to dart out in front of you, or because you hit a patch of ice, is a big pain too.
How Do I Choose a Car Insurance Company?
Choosing the best car insurance company comes down to figuring out your needs and finding the company that meets them at a price that works for your budget.
To figure out how much car insurance you need, start by looking at what’s required in your state. Most states require some basic car insurance coverage to cover your liability in an accident. Your liability is the amount of money you must pay as a result of damages you caused to someone’s property, or injuries you caused. Even in the few states that have no car insurance requirement, liability insurance is a good idea, as medical bills from a car accident can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and you’re not likely to have that kind of money on hand. If you don’t have the money to pay and you don’t have liability insurance, you can be forced to sell your assets, including your house, retirement funds, or collection of “Full House” memorabilia, to pay for those expenses.
Beyond liability car insurance, other coverage options to explore include collision car insurance and comprehensive car insurance. If you’re leasing your car or still paying off a loan on it, you may be required to get these types of auto insurance coverage. If you have a collision with an object or another car, collision insurance covers damages to your car or provides money to replace it if it’s a total loss. Comprehensive insurance provides coverage for damages or replacement due to other types of events, like theft or damage from weather or a collision with an animal.
If you live in a state with limited car insurance requirements, you may also want to opt for uninsured or underinsured driver coverage. This insurance covers your car if the damaged caused by another person exceeds the amount of insurance they carry or if they don't carry any insurance at all.
Gap insurance is another type of coverage you may want. Because new cars tend to lose value quickly, many drivers owe more money on their cars than the car is worth. That means that if an accident totals the car, they’ll only get the value of their car, not the amount they owe, and they’re on the hook for the difference. If you owe more on your car than it’s worth, gap insurance can protect you in case of total loss. Some lenders and lease companies also require you have this kind of coverage.
Even if you don’t own a car, you may want to consider getting car insurance. Non-owner car insurance provides coverage for drivers when renting a car, borrowing a car, driving a company car, or using a car-sharing service. Non-owner car insurance provides liability coverage and coverage for events that may not be covered by auto insurance policies on the car you’re driving but don’t own. Non-owner car insurance is also a way to prove you have car insurance when working to get your revoked license back. Not all car insurance companies offer this type of coverage in all states.
Once you've decided on the amount of coverage you want, you’ll need to look at the insurance companies that offer it in your area, and see what they charge for it. You can get car insurance quotes by checking online or calling insurance agents or brokers in your area. Usually, an insurance agent works for one insurance company and only sells their policies, while an insurance broker sells insurance policies from many different companies. Insurance brokers are also sometimes called independent insurance agents. While a broker can help you compare prices and coverage options across many companies, they also receive commissions from those companies, so be careful you’re not talked into working with a company that’s not the best fit for you. By the same token, insurance agents are measured on the number and size of policies they sell, so make sure they aren’t trying to get you to buy more insurance than you need.
While base price is a primary consideration when buying car insurance, you’ll also want to take the car insurance discounts each company offers into account. Those discounts can make an expensive auto insurance policy more affordable. Car insurance discounts include multi-policy discounts, good student discounts, military discounts, and discounts for good drivers, drivers who consent to having tracking devices in their car, and drivers who get extra training. Check out What Car Insurance Discounts Can I Get? for more details on each of these discounts, and make sure you find out which discounts you qualify for before buying a car insurance policy.
Beyond price and discount, you’ll also want to consider the type of customer service you want from a car insurance company. A cheap car insurance policy isn’t a good deal if you have to contend with terrible customer service or jump through hoops to get your claim paid, so weigh what you pay against the type of service you want. Are you most comfortable working with a local insurance agent, or do you want to purchase insurance and make claims completely online, with limited human interaction? Also consider the tools you want from your car insurance company. Some companies have mobile apps to check your policy and make claims, while others offer old-fashioned paper tools. You’ll also want to look at how the company handles claims and repairs. Can you take your car to any repair shop you want, or do you have to work with a shop selected by the insurer? If you have to make a claim, driving all over town to get the repairs done may be an inconvenience you’re unwilling to deal with.
Finally, remember how insurance companies make money? There’s a slight chance that, through mismanagement or a sudden influx of claims, your car insurance company could be unable to meet its financial obligations. That means that they wouldn't be able to pay out your claim, or the insurance company could go out of business – leaving you uninsured and vulnerable. Make sure any car insurance company you buy from is in good fiscal health, so you don’t get left out in the cold.
Biggest Car Insurance Companies
More than 70 percent of people who buy car insurance buy it from one of the 10 largest car insurance companies in the country. While local companies may work better for your needs, here’s a rundown of the most popular car insurance companies out there.
Founded in 1922, State Farm insurance is a mutual company. That means it’s not publicly traded on the stock market and, State Farm says, it’s a distinction that lets the company focus on policyholders, not shareholders. If you buy a policy from a mutual company like State Farm, in effect, you own a small part of that company.
State Farm has an 18 percent market share of car insurance and underwrites $41.8 billion dollars in policies each year. State Farm also offers homeowners, renters, life, and other insurance products, including health, disability, and small business. It also offers banking products, like loans, retirement and college savings, and checking and credit card accounts. If you’re looking for a full suite of services, from banking to car insurance, State Farm can cover you. Having one company handle many services for you may make things more convenient. You may also get small discounts by keeping all your business with State Farm. On the other hand, if you’re not happy with the service you get from State Farm, you probably don’t want them handling all your business.
You have several purchase options when you buy car insurance from State Farm. You can shop online or with a local State Farm agent. You might appreciate the local agent when it comes time to file a claim because they can walk you through the process.
State Farm car insurance discounts include vehicle tracking, good student, good driver, safe vehicle, and loyalty or bundling discounts.
Geico is the insurance company with the gecko mascot and the funny name. Geico stands for Government Employees Insurance Company, a name that dates to when Geico only served employees of the federal government and people in the military. Now, however, anyone can get an insurance policy with them. Geico insures 27 million vehicles each year with 16 million policies, giving it a 13 percent market share. Geico is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, making it a stock insurance company.
Geico offers a wide range of insurance products beyond car insurance, including motorcycle and RV insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, and business insurance. It does not offer banking products like checking accounts, credit cards, or retirement accounts.
Geico does most of its business online or via phone, but it does have local agents. It also has agents available via phone 24/7 and a mobile app for reporting claims and tracking your claim status. Geico auto insurance discounts include multi-policy discounts and discounts for good students, military personnel, cars with certain safety features, and drivers over age 50.
Progressive is the third-largest car insurance company in the U.S., with 10 percent of the market. Progressive underwrites $22.8 billion in car insurance premiums each year. Founded in 1937, Progressive is a mostly online company that touts low car insurance rates and convenience as its hallmarks. Though Progressive sells most of its insurance policies online or over the phone, it sells through local independent insurance agents as well. It also offers other insurance, like homeowners and renters, but not banking products. Progressive is a publicly traded company.
Progressive car insurance discounts include driver tracking (Progressive was the first insurance company to offer this discount) and multi-policy discounts. Progressive also has a “name your price” feature, where you tell them how much you want to pay each month, what kind of car you have, and a little about yourself, and they tell you how much coverage you can get for that monthly premium. It is an interesting way to shop for car insurance and lets you keep your budget at the forefront of your shopping, though you might be surprised to see the amount of coverage you’re able to buy.
USAA stands for United Services Automobile Association. USAA is a bit different from other large insurance companies in that not just anyone can get a policy. To work with USAA, you need to be an active member of the military, a military veteran with an honorable discharge, a cadet or midshipman at a U.S. service academy, or an eligible family member. Eligible family members are spouses, widows, unremarried ex-spouses of USAA members, and children of USAA members. So, for example, if your grandfather served in World War II and had an honorable discharge, he could join USAA, as could your parents. Then you could join, and your children and spouse could join as well.
Despite not being open to everyone, USAA has a 6 percent market share when it comes to car insurance. It also offers several other services, including banking and investment services, as well as a full line of insurance products. Because USAA works primary with military service members and their families, it has expertise related to specialized situations, like getting a VA home loan or insuring a car while you’re deployed overseas. USAA can also help members navigate moves and real-estate transactions, which are often a part of military life. USAA isn’t publicly traded, so profits go to its members in the form of discounts and dividends.
USAA sells car insurance online and over the phone but has customer service representatives available 24 hours a day. It also has a mobile app for reporting claims. USAA car insurance discounts include good driver discounts, multi-policy discounts, automatic payment discounts, and new car discounts.
Liberty Mutual is a full-line insurance company that offers both personal and business insurance. Liberty Mutual car insurance has a 5 percent market share and underwrites $11.6 billion in policies. It’s a publicly owned company, so profits go to shareholders. Liberty Mutual offers a full suite of insurance policies but doesn’t offer banking services.
Liberty Mutual sells car insurance primarily online and over the phone and provides 24/7 customer support. Liberty mutual car insurance discounts include discounts for new customers, multi-policy discounts, and good driver discounts. Liberty Mutual offers services that can help you save money toward your deductible, and it offers a rate guarantee, so your car insurance rate is set for 12 months at a time.
Farmer’s insurance sells car insurance online, as well as through local Farmer’s and independent insurance agents. With a 4 percent car insurance market share, Farmer’s underwrites 19 million policies and is owned by policyholders, not shareholders.
Farmer’s offers some financial products, like mutual funds and annuities, but doesn’t offer full banking. It does offer a full line of insurance products, including interesting options like pet insurance. Farmer’s car insurance is available in all states and includes discounts like multi-policy discounts, good student discounts, and senior driver discounts. The auto insurance discounts you’re eligible for may vary depending on where you live.
Allstate is a publicly traded company that has a 9 percent market share for auto insurance and underwrites $21.4 billion in premiums each year. Allstate does most of its business through local agents, but the company provides support services online and over the phone as well, so if you have a wreck after-hours, you can still file a claim. Allstate is the parent company of Esurance and Encompass. Esurance is sold primarily online, while Encompass insurance products are sold primarily through independent insurance agents. Allstate was once part of Sears but became independent in 1995.
Allstate insurance discounts include good student, multi-policy, good driver, and senior car insurance discounts.
Nationwide financial services include insurance and banking products. It’s the eighth-largest auto insurance company in the U.S. by market share. Nationwide is not publicly traded; it’s owned by its policyholders. Nationwide sells policies online, through local agents, and over the phone.
Key Nationwide car insurance discounts include safe driver discounts, paper-free billing discounts, good student discounts, anti-theft discounts, family discounts, and accident-free discounts.
Traveler’s insurance is a publicly traded company that offers business and personal insurance. They do not offer financial products or banking. Though Traveler’s insurance has just a 2 percent market share for car insurance, it does have one major distinction: In 1897, it offered the nation’s first automobile insurance policy. It’s also the only insurance company that’s part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, though most people know Traveler’s from its sponsorship of the Traveler’s golf championship.
In addition to offering the usual insurance products, including home, car, and boat, Traveler’s also offers wedding and event insurance. Traveler’s sells car insurance online, over the phone, and through local agents. You can get a free Traveler’s car insurance quote online. Traveler’s offers car insurance discounts for homeowners, good students, new customers, and new-car buyers.
American Family Insurance (sometimes shortened to AmFam) only has a 2 percent market share for car insurance, but that small slice still translates to the company underwriting $4.4 billion in policies. American Family originally offered insurance to farmers, but now its policies are available to anyone. American Family is the parent company of The General car insurance. While The General car insurance is sold primarily online, American Family insurance is sold mainly through local insurance agents, with support from American Family’s online resources and call center.
With its roots in insuring farmers, American Family offers farm and ranch insurance in addition to other types of business insurance, as well as home, renters motorcycle, snowmobile, and classic car insurance. American Family car insurance discounts include multi-policy discounts, family discounts, safe driver discounts, low-mileage discounts, auto-pay discounts, and a full-pay discount when you pay for insurance upfront, instead of in monthly payments.