How to buy car insurance: Choosing the right policy |

How to buy car insurance

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Compare options for finding and getting the right policy.

No matter where you live and drive in the US, you’ll need a minimum level of car insurance coverage to legally hit the road. The options are many, ranging from bare-bones, low-cost policies to expensive full-coverage plans. And actually signing up for the policy can be as easy as picking up the phone or getting an online quote in minutes.

Our top pick:

  • Top-rated insurer
  • Easy online sign-up and reporting
  • Multiple discounts available

Our top pick: Progressive

Save up to 31% with safe driver discounts and bundling all your rides in one convenient policy.

  • Top-rated insurer with 80 years of experience
  • Easy online sign-up and reporting
  • Multiple discounts available

Compare car insurance policies

Name Product Roadside assistance New car protection Available states
Yes, cars under 3 years old & 15,000 miles
All 50 states
Save up to 31% with safe driver discounts and bundling all your rides in one convenient policy.
Included free
Yes, cars under 2 years old
All 50 states
Enjoy having your own dedicated agent to help you get the best discounts and coverage.
Yes, cars under 1 year old & 15,000 miles
Drive less than 30 miles a day? Save on the coverage you need with pay-per-mile insurance from Metromile. Get a low monthly rate then pay just a few cents per mile. Available in AZ, CA, IL, NJ, OR, PA, VA and WA.
Yes, cars under 1 year old & 15,000 miles
All 50 states
Car insurance through Liberty Mutual will give coverage options for almost any situation.
Included free
Root offers simple, affordable insurance that’s ideal for good drivers. Try the Root app for 2 weeks and see how much you could save. Available in 20 states.
Included free
Yes, cars under 1 year old & 15,000 miles
All states except AK, DE, HI, MT, NH, VT, WY
Esurance offers a modern online and mobile experience that helps you take your insurance on the go. Available in 42 states.
Included free
Yes, cars under 2 years old
All 50 states
Backed by nearly 100 years in the business, Farmers Insurance aims to offer options and support to help you find the coverage you need.
All states except Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey
The General offers affordable coverage for nearly any driver who needs car insurance.
Not specified
Elephant Insurance offers low-cost auto insurance with big discounts. Breaking from the national herd could save up to 40% off your current car insurance.
Included free
Known for providing insurance to high-risk customers who may have trouble finding coverage elsewhere, SafeAuto offers a lot of different discounts, from those for homeowners to good drivers.
Discounts, flexible payments and a life coach that guides you to your best rates and coverage with Direct car insurance.
Connects high-risk drivers to providers in its network offering affordable policies
All states except AK, LA, GA, HI, MA, MI, MT, NH, NJ, NY, ND, OK, RI
Dairyland offers auto insurance with flexible payment and coverage options for high-risk drivers in 37 states.

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As a new driver, where do I start with buying car insurance?

If you’re new to the driver’s seat, here are the top ways to shop for protection that covers your needs.

  • An insurance brand’s agent. A main way that people acquired insurance in the past is through a captive agent working exclusively for one provider. Serving as your advocate and point of contact, these agents are known for providing solid support and guidance around the company’s offerings and what’s right for you.
  • An independent agent. Unlike captive agents, independent agents work for you, assessing your priorities to find the best value from among multiple insurance providers. If you like the idea of working with one agent but want pricing options and flexibility from multiple providers, you might want to start here.
  • Direct from a provider. This can mean buying over the phone or through a provider’s website — either method more convenient than meeting directly with an agent. You can often see a breakdown of your policy and work through options at your own pace at a time that’s good for you. A basic understanding of car insurance is helpful.
  • Comparison tool or website. If getting the best rate and coverage is your main priority, compare quotes from top insurance providers against one another, narrowing down the lowest premium against the best policy you’re eligible for.

Buying online vs. buying from an agent

Buying from an agent

  • An agent can guide you through the process and lay out all of your options.
  • An agent will also explain all of the details of your policy.
  • An independent agent might be able to get better pricing because he or she is not limited to one insurance provider.
  • Agents work on commission and might be tempted to sell you coverage you don’t need.
  • Captive agents only represent one company and can’t offer the flexibility of independent agents.

Buying online

  • There is no pressure to purchase unwanted coverages from an agent.
  • Getting a quote online is fast and convenient.
  • Many insurance providers offer a discount for obtaining insurance online.
  • You will need to understand insurance requirements and options, as you will not have an agent guiding you through the process.

How to choose the right coverage

Getting the best value on the coverage that fits your circumstances involves a handful of steps.

    1. Research your options. Learn which insurance providers offer the best coverage for you and the selection available in your area. An idea of what you’re after — the cheapest monthly payments, the most comprehensive coverage or the highest overall customer satisfaction — can help you narrow down your options.
    2. Know your needs. What’s required in your state? What about additional bank requirements that come with car loans or leases? You might need to consider the cost of adding drivers to your policy, especially if your family includes teenagers.
    3. Consider your vehicle and driving habits. Knowing the age and overall value of your vehicle is helpful. For instance, a new BMW M3 typically costs more to insure than a six-year-old Toyota Corolla. But considering extra safety features on newer vehicles, you might save on your policy with safety feature discounts. The driving record of you and any other drivers on your policy also affects the rates you’re ultimately offered.
    4. Start getting quotes. Get in touch with multiple insurance providers that offer the coverage you need to see where they fall in terms of price and value. You’ll get a feel for what’s out there, getting you closer to knowing the best possible value.
    5. Learn about any discounts you qualify for. Most drivers qualify for at least some kind of discount. When calling for quotes or shopping online, check to see if you qualify for any discounts based on your vehicle, age, affiliations or other factors.
    6. Look at more than price. You might save a few dollars by going with one provider over another, but that doesn’t mean it’s your best choice. Know too exactly what’s covered and for what amounts, and see how other customers rate support and claims resolution. No use paying for a policy that doesn’t work as expected when you need it.
    7. Know your policy inside-out. Understand both what you are and are not paying for plus any exclusions that would prevent your claim from being approved. Carefully read through your insurance policy and its terms, gathering questions or points of concern before signing on the dotted line.

If an insurance policy or provider itself ends up a poor fit for your needs, you can typically cancel it for a fee. By getting in touch with your agent about possible changes, you might learn you’re able to drop unnecessary coverage mid-policy or add missed coverage options to your policy.

How do I meet the requirements in my state?

Most states enforce minimum car insurance requirements for drivers, and where you live dictates those minimums.

However, it’s likely that you need these three types of coverage:

  • Liability insurance. When drivers talk about auto insurance, they’re usually referring to liability coverage. Liability covers damage you cause to the other driver’s car and injury caused to the person. It does NOT cover injury to you or your car. All states except New Hampshire and Virginia require you to have at least liability insurance.
  • Personal injury protection (PIP). If you’re involved in a car accident, PIP pays for medical services you may need after, including ambulance rides, nursing care, prosthetics, lost income, child care and funeral services. PIP applies regardless of who’s at fault in an accident.
  • Uninsured motorist coverage. If another driver doesn’t have insurance, you won’t have to work with them to receive compensation. Instead, your own insurance will cover your expenses. You can choose bodily injury (UMBI) or property damage (UMPD) coverage.

Other basic coverages you might want to consider include:

  • Collision. This covers damage to your car caused by a car accident. (It is usually optional. However, if you finance or lease your car, the lender might require it.)
  • Comprehensive. Covers damage to your car caused by things other than a car crash, like vandalism, theft or fire. (Like collision, it is usually optional, but if you finance or lease your car, the lender might require it.)
  • Underinsured. This covers bodily injury and property damage if you are hit by a driver who does not have have enough insurance to cover the costs of damages.

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How do I find the best value?

Once you’ve nailed down the type of insurance you want, and how you want to go about getting it, you can find a deal that gives you the coverage you want at an affordable rate. To do that, the best tactic is to compare rates. Most insurance providers have quoting tools on their websites.

If a provider in your area doesn’t allow for online quotes, don’t let that deter you from finding out if their rates are competitive. Picking up the phone to get a quote can be just as easy as going online. And if you have the time, visiting an agent’s or provider’s office can be key to knowing your options and negotiating an insurance policy that suits your needs.

What kind of discounts can I qualify for?

  • Safe driver discounts
  • Safety devices discounts
  • Antitheft discounts
  • Good student discounts
  • Homeowner discounts
  • Senior discounts
  • Discounts for healthcare workers, educators or government employees
  • Low-mileage discounts
  • Defensive driver course discounts

Compare all car insurance discounts

How to sign up for a car insurance policy

Applying for car insurance involves first getting a quote, and then the application process itself.

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The quote process will differ depending on the insurance brand though most will follow similar steps to those listed below:

  1. Specify what policy you want and when you want it to start: comprehensive; third party property damage, fire and theft or third party property damage.
  2. Input your vehicle type, including non-standard modifications and accessories, if the vehicle is for business or personal use, and if you want to insure it for an agreed or market value.
  3. Enter your personal details and the details of any drivers.
  4. Choose any policy extras and decide if you want to increase your excess to reduce your premiums.

Apply for the best car insurance provider for you

Once you’re happy with how much you’ll be spending each year or month, you’ll have to go through an application which go through the same steps above but in further detail. When this is completed, you’ll make your payment, and the policy will start on the date specified.

Information you must include when applying

While it may be tempting to avoid disclosing some details about your vehicle or driving history from your insurance brand, in doing so you only risk your claim being rejected in the event you actually have an accident. Insurance companies go to great lengths to verify the information you have provided in the event of a claim.

  1. Driving convictions – You’ll need to inform your insurer of anything on your driving record.
  2. Other criminal convictions – Be straightforward about other criminal convictions. If you don’t let insurers know up front, you can find yourself with a policy that is not valid down the road.
  3. Vehicle incidents – You’ll need to share everything in your driving record, including any incidents, accidents, damages or claims you have filed and those filed against you and anyone else on your policy.
  4. Modifications – Include any modifications you’ve made to your car, like installing specialty exhausts or tinting windows. Car mods could make your car more valuable or increase the chances of it getting stolen. While this might seem strange, studies have shown drivers with modified cars are more likely to make claims.
  5. Miles you drive per year – Insurance companies will consider how much you drive your car when determining the cost of insurance.
  6. General info about your car – This includes year, make and model, and whether you own, lease or financed your car.
  7. Other drivers – Your insurance provider will want to know if there are other drivers in your house who might be driving the car.

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Questions you should ask your insurance agent

Getting the best insurance coverage at the best price is all about having the right information. Asking these questions can put you on the right track to a coverage level and cost that works for you.

  • Do I have the right kinds of coverage?
    Good insurance agents are experts at figuring out how much coverage a driver needs. As a rule, you shouldn’t pay to insure anything you can easily afford to fix or replace on your own, with insurance covering your largest assets.
  • Am I getting all the discounts I’m eligible for?
    Your agent is likely aware of ways you could be saving money. But if your circumstances change, you might be eligible for yet more discounts. When you renew your policy or shop for coverage elsewhere, ask about any discounts that might’ve slipped through the cracks.
  • Can or should I drop any coverage?
    As your car ages, its value is likely to depreciate. Eventually, an older car reaches a point where it’s not worthwhile to keep comprehensive and collision coverage. If you drive a vehicle with a market value below $5,000, ask your agent if you should lower your levels of coverage or drop specific parts of your policy altogether.
  • Do I have any other payment options?
    By paying your full policy up front, rather than over six months or a year, you might save around 10% on your annual insurance costs. You might also be able to save money by paying the entire premium in two or three installments, rather than six or 12. If there’s any payment flexibility with your policy, your agent should be able to tell you how to make the best of it.
  • Who should be on my policy?
    For a nuclear family, it’s often best to keep everyone on the same policy. However, if a younger relative lives in your household or if your elderly parents have moved in, you might want to keep them on their own insurance policies for the best rates and coverage options.

Bottom line

It can be a bit daunting for a first-timer who’s looking for car insurance, what with the coverage levels, competition and options available. But learning how to narrow down your needs against your circumstances and budget, you’re likely to find a solid policy at a strong value.

Visit the comprehensive guide to car insurance to get a feel for which providers are out there and to start comparing your options.

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Frequently asked questions

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Andy Frakes

Andy's background in journalism and experiences with endurance sports have left him hungry for challenges, and he finds plenty to conquer with the finder team. When he isn't writing the best car insurance articles on the Internet, he's probably out shooting photos, hunting for bargains in SoHo or eating breakfast food (yes, for the third time today).

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