Fixed term insurance plans. Best Car Insurance Buying Guide - Consumer Reports

Why It Pays to Shop Around

The factors that help determine your car insurance premium are constantly changing. Maybe you’ve had an at-fault accident, or perhaps your financial picture and credit-based insurance score has improved. Different insurers reward or penalize you differently for such changes, which can result in significant variations in the premium you’d pay to different competing companies. Buy auto insurance online.

You can turn price-hike headaches into savings opportunities by periodically searching for a better deal. Shopping around can help offset price increases caused by cost factors you can’t completely control.

Auto-insurance premiums have skyrocketed in the 12 months ending August 2017, up more than 8 percent, or four times the overall rate of inflation. If your income is treading water in today’s economy, car insurance is taking a bigger bite out of your household budget.

Credit-Based Insurance Scores

You may not realize it, but your credit-based insurance score could be causing you to pay more for your insurance than necessary, thanks to most carriers’ use of credit scores in setting premiums. Even with a clean driving record, car owners can pay hundreds of dollars a year more for insurance if they have anything less than the best credit score. These scores are secretly calculated by each insurer using methods that produce scores that are very different from the familiar FICO score.

High and rising premiums have also contributed to an estimated 30 million consumers driving without insurance. That could shift some or all of their liability costs to you.

In the Driver's Seat: Taking Control of Your Policy

Here’s how to take back control over how much you pay for this unavoidable household expense.

Do a Rate Check Every 2 or 3 Years

Shopping smartly can help you get the coverage you need for less. By looking beyond just a couple of insurers, you’ll have a better shot at savings. You should also shop the market whenever your personal circumstances change—say, if you marry or you need to add a teen driver to your policy. Ask your current insurer what the change will mean for your policy, then shop for a better deal. Before getting quotes, dig out a copy of your current policy as well as records of any at-fault accident claims and moving violations. You’ll be asked for this information every time you request a premium quote.

Saving money is not only a matter of finding the lowest premium. An insurer can charge less in premiums but cost you more overall if you get in an accident, by lowballing loss estimates or hassling the repair shop to cut corners. It can also unfairly jack up your premiums after an accident.

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Beyond price, many consumers also weigh service, reputation, and agent access. We surveyed 23,000 subscribers who filed a claim in the three years ending in January 2017. An impressive 91 percent of them were highly satisfied with how their claim was handled and settled by their auto insurance company. Check our ratings to find out which groups won customer kudos.

Set the Deductible Right

A higher deductible reduces your premium because you pay more out of pocket if you have a claim. By hiking the collision insurance deductible to $1,000 from $500, a married couple with two new Toyota Camry LEs can cut their annual premium by $140 per year on average nationally, we found in our latest study of car insurance pricing. If you have a good driving record and haven’t had an at-fault accident in years, or ever, opting for a higher deductible on collision might be a good bet. Just make sure you can afford to pay it if your luck runs out.

Review All Your Coverage

Liability coverage pays for bodily injury and property damage that you cause in an accident. Don’t get caught short by reducing your liability limits to the state minimums. Buying more coverage might seem like an odd way to save, but if you have a costly claim, your personal assets may be at risk. Buy standard 100/300/100 coverage, which pays for bodily injury up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident, and property damage up to $100,000. If you have a high net worth, boost bodily injury even further.

• One of every eight drivers today may be uninsured, according to the Insurance Research Council. Protect yourself by buying uninsured/underinsured motorist protection with the same limits as your liability coverage.

• Consider canceling your collision and/or comprehensive coverage when the annual cost equals or exceeds 10 percent of your car’s book value. Otherwise, you could end up paying more over time than you would recoup for repair or replacement of your damaged, stolen, or totaled vehicle.

• If you have another car that you can use while your vehicle is being repaired, forgo rental-reimbursement coverage. Dump roadside assistance if you have an auto-club membership that’s a better deal—or if it comes as part of your car’s warranty.

• Review your personal injury protection and medical payments coverage: Forget it if you have good health coverage; keep it if you don’t or if your usual passengers might not be well-insured.

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Watch Crash Repairs Closely

Claims payment is where the rubber hits the road in car insurance. Your insurer might push you to use shops in a direct-repair program (DRP) or use cheaper replacement parts, rather than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. Tests by Consumer Reports and others have found that some non-OEM parts fit poorly, are more prone to rust and corrosion, don’t always meet federal safety standards, and may not provide good protection in a crash.

The Truth About Discounts

Discounts are sales pitches that lure in lower-risk drivers, but the actual dollar savings may not be that much, or that consistent. When we scrutinized prices in 2015, student-driver-training discounts were worth only $63 in annual savings on average nationally; however, the good-student discount won our hypothetical family an average savings of $263. For unmarried drivers, bundling auto and home insurance yielded an average savings of just $97 per year. Single drivers with anti-theft car equipment saved only two bucks a year.

Control Your Cost Factors

Maintain a Good Credit Score

Most car insurers use credit-based insurance scores to help set your car insurance premiums. All states except California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts allow this practice. In general, lower scores produce higher premiums, but the impact varies unpredictably from insurer to insurer because carriers use various rate-setting formulas.

For example, having a “good” credit score rather than an “excellent” one raised the annual premium by $380 for our model couple with two Toyotas. That’s more than the $270 average increase from having one at-fault accident. And a “poor” credit score instead of “excellent” can raise your annual premiums more than two DWI convictions.

So start shopping if your insurer hiked your rate in the absence of any ticket or at-fault accident that might explain the increase; a change in your secret score may be the culprit.

Most important, if your finances have been adversely affected by the slack economy, military deployment, divorce, job loss, death of a family member, medical problems, identity theft, or other factors out of your control, ask your insurer for an extraordinary life circumstances exception. If the insurer grants your request, a poor insurance credit score won’t be used against you to jack up your rate.

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A major cost component in auto insurance is miles driven per year. The average is about 12,000. But if you’ve changed jobs and commute fewer miles, the lower mileage might translate into lower premiums. A new job that’s only 6 miles closer than your old one could reduce your annual commuting miles by 3,000 and cut your annual premium by $50. Let your insurer know if you’ve retired or lost your job; your reduced driving could knock 5 to 10 percent off your premiums.

Vehicle damage is the biggest cost component for auto insurers. So your premiums will vary by auto model. When comparing models, ask your car dealer to show you the “Relative Collision Insurance Cost Information Booklet,” produced annually by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or download the PDF here. The Highway Loss Data Institute also posts data on collision, bodily injury and property-damage liability, and other types of losses by vehicle make and model. Or ask your insurer for premium quotes on the different vehicle models that you’re considering.

Manage Teenage-Driver Risk

Adding a teenager to your policy can hike your costs by 90 percent, on average nationally. But the average increases we found for a model 55-year-old married couple with a 16-year-old boy or girl driver added to the family policy varied by state, from a low of 16 percent in Hawaii to a high of 159 percent in North Carolina. Some insurers charged our sample married couple as much as 250 percent more for adding a 16-year-old driver to the family policy; others charged a lot less.

After you add a new teen driver to your policy and learn how much your premiums will increase, shop around for a better price for the exact same coverage.
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