Maybe you’ve moved to a new state, maybe you’ve bought a new car, or maybe you’re unhappy with your current auto insurance. No matter what the reason may be, you’re in the market for new car insurance.
If you haven’t needed to buy auto insurance before, or haven’t had to do so in years, the process can seem confusing and even intimidating. Do you just go with your parents’ agent? Or use one of those comparison sites that advertise during every sporting event you’ve ever watched? How do you know the car insurance quotes you receive are realistic?
Every driver is, of course, an individual case, with quotes based on factors like driving history, vehicle type, demographics, and location. But you can shop for car insurance and feel confident that you’re making good choices.
We’re going to detail two of the most common ways to buy auto insurance:
- By buying directly through the website of an insurance company
- By calling or visiting the office of a local agent
The first thing to consider is your personal level of comfort with either of these methods. If you’d rather jump a motorcycle through flaming hoops than talk to someone on the phone, maybe online buying will work best for you. But if you prefer a handshake to an algorithm, a walk to the local agent might be in order.
However you decide to buy your car insurance, you’ll need to have a few pieces of information handy in order to get a quote:
- Personal information for every driver in your household, such as age, driver’s license number, and address
- Vehicle information, including year, make, model, and VIN if you have it, for all the cars you own or are about to buy
- Current or previous auto insurance information for everyone in the household
- Driving history information, including tickets and accidents as well as any driving courses you’ve completed
It can also be helpful to know what the minimum insurance requirements are for your state. This will help you compare insurance quotes. Armed with this information, you’ll know if the insurance company’s website is showing you its own bare-bones policy quote but stacking it against quotes from other companies that include more coverage. In the same way, you’ll be able to see if an agent is adding coverage types to your quote that you don’t want.
Once you have all the information at hand, you’re ready to plug it into an online form or give it to an agent to create a quote just for you.
Beyond personal preferences, there are pros and cons for each method of buying car insurance. Let’s dig into some of those differences.
Buying Car Insurance Through a Company Website
It’s the twenty-first century, so most people are going to begin their car insurance search with websites. It’s easy enough to type the name of an insurance company into a search bar and find its website – and the search results will probably return links to the websites of competitors too.
You can get your personalized insurance quote from the homepage of any auto insurer. You’ll start by selecting auto insurance and entering your zip code. Then you’ll be asked to fill in the information listed above, so have it handy.
Remember that no two insurance companies calculate their rates the same way. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to get an insurance company to tell you what’s in this “secret sauce,” as they call it. But you can poke around on their sites to compare the kinds of discounts they offer, usually for things like good grades, military service, or having multiple vehicles on one policy. A company might apply its own discounts to its car insurance quote in the comparison but not apply discounts to the quotes from other companies.
Getting a quote online often takes about 10 minutes.
Get a quote at any hour of the day.
Premiums may be lower because there are no agent fees.
You’ll have to read the fine print on your quote and make sure you understand it.
It can be difficult to find a real person to answer your questions.
You’ll have to file claims yourself via the website.
Buying Car Insurance From an Insurance Agent
There are two kinds of car insurance agents: captive and independent. Captive agents work with only one insurance company. They’re also sometimes called exclusive agents. Independent agents can sell insurance from several different companies. They can also be insurance brokers.
Independent agents can serve the same purpose as a comparison website, since they can look at quotes from several companies and help you choose the best coverage for your budget. Captive agents will only give you quotes for varying levels of car insurance from the company they work with, but they will be your agent for as long as you have a policy with that company.
You can compare car insurance quotes with an independent agent and save money on premiums.
Captive agents can create a plan that is tailored for your situation.
Captive agents are able to file your claims and communicate with the insurance company on your behalf.
You can call either type of agent’s office with questions instead of contacting a call center.
Independent agents will charge a fee in addition to your premium payments.
Captive agents are unlikely to provide comparison quotes from other insurance companies.
Quotes will only be available during office hours and may take time to create.
Making a Decision
Car insurance is a major expense for car owners, along with things like maintenance and fuel. It pays to ask for quotes from multiple companies, either through their websites or an agent.
You can simplify your decision process by reading the results of our study on the best car insurance companies in the country. If you’re on a strict budget, check out our guide to learn which are the cheapest car insurance companies. You can also figure out how much car insurance you actually need before entering any information in a web form or setting foot in an agent’s office. You don’t want to pay for coverage you don’t need, but you also don’t want to be caught short after an accident with too little insurance and too many bills.
The right decision when buying car insurance is the one that you feel confident about. The more information you have, the better your choice will be for your budget and your peace of mind.
The Best Car Insurance Companies in 2020
Our Car Insurance Ranking
The Cheapest Car Insurance Companies in 2020
Average Annual Rates:
- USAA: $885
- Geico: $1,168
- State Farm: $1,234
- Travelers: $1,267
- Progressive: $1,373
- American Family: $1,391
- Farmers: $1,682
- Nationwide: $1,864
- Allstate: $1,880