If you own a car, you almost certainly pay for auto insurance. Most states require drivers to carry a minimum amount of car insurance, and even in the two states where insurance isn’t required — drivers are still financially liable for any damage they cause behind the wheel. No matter where you are in the US, having car insurance is essential. Choosing the right coverage can feel overwhelming, but buying car insurance doesn’t have to be a daunting undertaking. We’ll walk you through the process, step-by-step.
Step 1: Gather your information
In order to get a quote from a car insurance company, you’ll first need to provide them with some basic information. This usually includes:
- Driver name and date of birth, and names of all drivers in the household
- Driver’s license number and issuing state
- Vehicle Information Number (VIN)
- The vehicle’s current mileage
- Address where the vehicle is registered
- Name of registered owner
- Prior insurance carrier and expiration date
- Vehicle’s date of purchase
- What you use the vehicle for (work or leisure)
Step 2: Decide how you want to buy car insurance
You can purchase insurance directly from an insurance company or through an independent broker/agent. Buying insurance directly from a company online or over the phone is a convenient option, since you can cut out the middleman and do your own research. Plus, online-only insurance companies are often more affordable because fewer overhead costs allow them to offer lower rates. However, it might take more effort on your part to compare policies or file a claim in the future since you won’t have the help of an agent.
Independent agents and brokers don’t work for a specific insurance company. They can show you a variety of policies and options with several different insurers, and they can give you a more objective opinion on your choices. Since brokers usually work off commission, their services are free to use. However, an extra broker’s fee may be added into the cost of your premium.
Step 3: Determine how much car insurance coverage you need, and familiarize yourself with your state’s requirements
As we mentioned earlier, most states require drivers to carry a certain amount of insurance. Liability insurance covers the costs if you cause an accident, property damage or injury to someone with your vehicle. However, the minimum amount of liability coverage isn’t always enough to cover others’ expenses after an accident, so if you can swing it, consider purchasing higher liability limits than required by law.
It’s essential to look into your state’s specific requirements, as some states require drivers to purchase additional coverage beyond basic liability insurance. For example, several states require uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage, which pays for your expenses if you’re hit by a driver who is uninsured or doesn’t carry enough insurance to cover your costs. And if you live in a no-fault state, you’ll likely have to buy personal injury protection (PIP), which pays for your medical bills regardless of who is at fault in an accident.
The penalties for driving without insurance in states where it’s required range from a ticket to jail time. Even if you have insurance, you could still be breaking the law if you don’t have the right amount of coverage. You don’t want to skimp on coverage, because you may have to pay the penalties with money, time, or your driving privileges. Not worth the risk.
There are also supplemental insurance coverage options you can purchase as well, such as roadside assistance which covers things like flat tires or a dead battery. Be sure to do some research and determine which policies will best suit your needs, and the requirements of your state.
Step 4: Get your quotes, and choose the best one
No matter how you apply for insurance, you’ll probably get quotes pretty quickly. Some carriers will offer you multiple versions of a quote, usually a basic one with low coverage limits, a standard option with average coverage limits and a third option with very high coverage limits. Keep in mind that working through an independent agency may take longer, but you’ll get quotes from multiple companies rather than just one at a time.
Remember that it’s generally a good idea to have high coverage limits for the necessary coverage types, but the higher your limits are the more you’ll pay. Your quote may also include some types of coverage you don’t actually want or need, so look carefully at your options.
Step 5: Compare your quotes and select the best one
You may be tempted to choose the car insurance company that offers you the best price, but be sure to do your research on the different carriers. Carrier A may have quoted you slightly higher rates than Carrier B, but if it has significantly higher claims satisfaction ratings, that extra cost could be worth it. And not every car insurance company offers the same coverage options, so if you need something specific, you should consider which company offers that type of coverage.
Reviewing an insurance company’s track record and business reputation is just as important as examining the quotes they’ve offered you. The most cost-effective auto insurance policy means nothing if there’s not adequate customer service to go along with it.
Be sure to check the insurance company’s reputation on sites like TrustPilot or the Better Business Bureau, just to ensure that your insurer won’t leave you in the lurch.
Step 6: Pay for your new policy
You did it! Once you’ve compared your quotes, read up on your potential insurers, and picked a car insurance company that you feel good about, it’s time to put that policy in force and get insured.
Whether you are getting quotes directly from an insurer or through an independent insurance broker, you can sign up for the policy through either option and know that you’ll be getting the same rate. Also a bonus: both brokers and carriers can offer you discounted rates on other insurance policies through the same carrier, like renters or homeowners insurance. If you’ve been working through an insurance broker, they may even be able to sign you up for the policy themselves.