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How to save on auto insurance

Auto insurance can't be taken for a test drive. But you can get a good deal -- if you shop around and take some steps you might not have considered.

See, you don't just buy auto insurance. You actually buy several different types of insurance: collision, comprehensive, uninsured motorists, bodily injury and so on. Some states mandate certain insurance, and of course, lenders require coverage -- until the car's paid for, it's their investment you're protecting.

Sure, an insurance agent can help you with these figures. But remember: The more insurance you buy, the more commission the agent gets. So it's better to work this one out yourself. Learn more about different types of auto insurance, and figure out how much you can live with by reading "car insurance basics."

Additionally, you can save money just by comparison shopping. Though Americans love to shop around for cars and drive several blocks to save a few cents on fuel, few U.S. drivers bother to comparison shop for auto insurance. In fact, the latest survey of consumers by Progressive Insurance found that only 20 percent shopped around for auto insurance. Progressive's study also asserts that the cost of a six-month auto insurance policy for the same driver with the same coverages varies from company to company -- the difference can vary $500 or more.

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So, don't just go with your father's insurance company, or the first one you see in the Yellow Pages, or even the same one you've been using for years. Shop around when you buy a new vehicle and compare the rates again about once a year.

You can shop the old fashioned way. Call three or four local agents, giving each of them your driving details. The Web, with its database and searching capabilities, offers newfangled ways to shop for insurance, but it doesn't always save time over calling.

Whether you shop by phone or by Web, give the exact same details to three or more companies and you'll end up with a range of quotes. Should you simply pick the least expensive? Not quite. You want to make sure this insurance company doesn't just cost less, but also provides the appropriate service if you file a claim. For this reason, some people are willing to pay more for a "name" insurance company. You can check an insurer's claims-paying ability at Standard & Poor's Ratings Service: Insurance. No one likes to buy insurance -- it's a product that's best when never used. But keep thinking about that $500 and suddenly a few minutes of insurance homework don't hurt so much.

Although shopping around for auto insurance is the No. 1 tip, it's not the only one. Here are eight more ways to save -- including a few you may not have considered before:

  • Get married and get older.
  • Take a defensive driving course.
  • Ask about membership discounts, because they're not always going to volunteer it.
  • Install a car alarm.
  • Pay six months in full, twice a year, rather than financing the premiums.
  • Buy a car with safety features such as anti-lock brake system, alarm and air bags.
  • Move to a "better" ZIP code. Areas where there are more uninsured motorists and more wrecks get slapped with higher rates.
  • Keep your driving record clean so your insurance company is never tempted to raise your rates.

-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003

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