Exploring how to get car insurance can seem overwhelming at first. Choosing which types of coverage to buy and which insurance company to go with involves making several decisions, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Bankrate is here to simplify the journey, offering step-by-step guidance on securing coverage that suits your needs.

How to buy car insurance

Buying car insurance requires a tailored approach. Before shopping for insurance, it’s important to consider your unique driver profile and assess your financial situation. This can help determine the level and scope of coverage that best aligns with your needs and wants.

What is your budget for coverage? Liability insurance is typically required. Choosing minimum policy limits can help keep your premium low, but most insurance experts recommend buying as much liability insurance as you can afford since you could be financially responsible if you cause an accident that costs more than your coverage limits provide.

What is your level of risk tolerance? If you have a low tolerance for risk or cannot afford to pay much out of pocket if you have an accident, you may want to consider full coverage car insurance and lower deductible amounts.

Having a general idea of the answers to these questions could help you move more quickly through the steps outlined below.

1. Gather driver and vehicle information

Starting your journey to securing car insurance begins with compiling the essential information and documents. While the specifics might vary slightly from one insurer to another, you’ll generally need to have the following details handy:

  • Personal identification: This includes your driver’s license number, date of birth and Social Security number, which help verify your identity and driving history.
  • Vehicle details: Information about your car, including the year, make, model, current mileage and vehicle identification number (VIN), is important for accurately assessing your insurance needs.
  • Financial information: If you prefer setting up direct payments, have your banking details like the routing and account numbers ready.
  • Current insurance summary: If you’re already insured, your current policy’s declarations page, which outlines your existing coverage, limits, deductibles and any discounts, can provide a useful benchmark for new quotes.

2. Determine coverage type and amount

Before you can apply for auto insurance, you must decide how much coverage to purchase and what optional endorsements you might want. Common coverage types include basic liability, collision, comprehensive, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, medical payments, personal injury protection and roadside assistance coverage. The state you live in and the company you choose will affect what coverage is available.

To determine coverage amounts, you can look at your state’s auto insurance minimum requirements. You may want more coverage than the minimum, but it is illegal to drive with less. However, you may rest assured that you will not be able to purchase a policy with limits that are below your state’s minimum limits. Still, most insurance agents recommend that you purchase higher liability limits to offer more financial protection. If you have a loan or lease, you will likely need a full coverage policy, which typically includes comprehensive and collision coverage.

3. Shop around and compare quotes

Once you’ve pinpointed the coverage you need, the next step is to sift through the market for the best insurance company. Although many aspects of car insurance remain consistent across the board, there can be notable differences in premiums, coverage options, discounts and policy perks from one insurer to another. Armed with knowledge about the specific types and levels of coverage you’re seeking, you can get quotes from various insurers to identify which one aligns best with your requirements.

Don’t overlook the potential for discounts, which can significantly reduce your premiums. Many insurers offer savings for safe driving, multiple policies, security features on your vehicle and more. You can inquire about available discounts when getting quotes.

If time is of the essence and you’re looking for efficiency in your search, consider partnering with an independent insurance agent. They have the advantage of working with a multitude of carriers and can streamline the process by fetching multiple quotes on your behalf. Together, you can review these options to find a policy that matches both your needs and your budget.

4. Fill out an application

At this point, you can contact the insurance company you have chosen and fill out an application. With most auto insurance companies, you can apply in person or online on a company website. Some insurance companies may let you apply by phone or email, as well. Your choice can affect how long the application takes, but the process is relatively quick.

Much of the information needed to fill out your application can be found in the paperwork you assembled in step one and the policy specifics you decided on in step three. Beyond these details, you will need to provide payment information.

Once the application is complete, submit it and wait for a notification of approval. You will usually receive these notifications by email but may be able to request a phone call. If you are working with an in-person agency, you should be able to talk to your agent to determine if your policy was approved.

5. Pay your first premium

Once your policy is approved, you should have coverage as of the effective date you chose in the application step. You likely had to submit your payment information with the application, but in some cases, you may be able to wait for approval to pay. Most companies offer numerous ways to pay your premium.

You could set up an automatic withdrawal from your bank account or credit card, you could pay online or you might be able to pay in cash if you go into an agency location. Most policies can be set up on a number of payment schedules, including monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and annually. You might save money if you pay your entire six-month or year-long premium up front.

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Where to buy car insurance

When it comes to purchasing car insurance, opting for an in-person experience could offer unique advantages. Here’s why you might consider visiting an insurance agent or broker directly:

  • Personalized guidance: Meeting face to face with an insurance agent can provide you with personalized advice tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. An agent can guide you through various policy options and help you understand the nuances of each coverage.
  • Direct answers: When you have questions or concerns, discussing them in person can lead to clearer, more immediate responses. This direct communication can be especially valuable for complex policy details or unique situations.
  • Building a relationship: Establishing a rapport with your agent can lead to more understanding and responsive service over time. This relationship could be beneficial when you need to make a claim or adjust your policy.
  • Local knowledge: Local agents have insight into the specific risks and insurance requirements in your area, which can influence your coverage needs. They can also advise on common claims and potential coverage gaps.

Remember, while in-person interactions offer these benefits, it’s still wise to compare quotes from multiple insurers and read reviews to ensure you’re getting the coverage you need and the service you desire at the most affordable rate.

When do you need to buy car insurance?

There are pivotal times in your life when obtaining or updating your car insurance becomes necessary. One of the most common instances is when you purchase a new car. Whether it’s brand new from a dealership or a pre-loved gem from a private seller, securing insurance is typically required before you can hit the road. Not only is this a legal requirement in many places, but it also provides immediate financial protection in the event of accidents, theft and other unforeseen events.

Adding a new driver to the household, such as a teenager getting their license, is another scenario where updating your car insurance is crucial. Young drivers are often considered high-risk due to their lack of driving experience, which might affect your policy’s terms and rates. It’s important to ensure that all drivers in your household are adequately covered to safeguard your finances against potential liabilities.

Moreover, significant life changes like moving to a new state or experiencing a significant change in your driving pattern, such as commuting longer distances for a new job, can also necessitate a review and possible update of your car insurance policy. Different states have varying insurance requirements, and changes in your daily commute can impact your risk profile and insurance needs. Keeping your policy aligned with your current situation ensures that you remain adequately protected at all times.

Canceling car insurance

There are specific circumstances where you might consider canceling your car insurance. Canceling your policy might be on your mind if you’re switching to a new insurer for a better rate, adding coverage or selling your car without immediate plans to replace it. However, it’s crucial to approach this decision carefully to avoid the potential pitfalls of a lapse in coverage. A lapse, even for a short period, can lead to higher premiums in the future and leave you financially vulnerable in case of an accident or theft.

Frequently asked questions

    • Most drivers are able to purchase car insurance fairly quickly. Depending on the car insurance company you apply with and the type of application process it involves, it could take as little as a few hours to obtain a policy on your car. It’s important to remember, though, that car insurance is written on a case-by-case basis. That means if you have a complicated policy, it could take longer to obtain a quote and purchase coverage for your vehicle. In general, though, you can pay your first premium after your application is approved. Once the company receives payment for your policy, your car insurance will be active as of the start date listed on your policy.
    • The average cost of car insurance is $2,542 per year for full coverage and $740 for minimum coverage, according to Bankrate’s analysis of 2024 rate data from Quadrant Information Services. It’s important to understand, however, that rates vary significantly for each driver based on numerous factors, including your location, driving history and claims history, among other factors. The number of cars you insure, the coverage types you choose, the limits you purchase and your driving history can all impact your premium. As such, your rate may be higher or lower than the average.
    • If you’re just starting to explore car insurance, the best way to find cheapest car insurance may be to start by requesting quotes from a number of different car insurance companies. This allows you to compare the cost of car insurance from each company with other factors — such as coverage options, limits and deductibles — to ensure they are the same across the policies you’re considering. While most car insurance companies offer general discounts like safe driver and multi-policy discounts, by requesting quotes, you’ll also be able to see if any of the companies offer less common discounts you qualify for to help further improve your policy premium.
    • Switching car insurance companies is relatively easy. Once you have found a company you want to switch to, you just need to get the new policy in place before you cancel your current policy to avoid a lapse in coverage. After you have paid your first premium and the new policy is active, you can then cancel your old policy. It may make sense to switch carriers if you move, experience a lifestyle change, need to add a new driver, buy a new car or your current policy is coming up for renewal.
    • Yes, you may still have options for car insurance even if your coverage was dropped by your most recent provider. If your car insurance coverage is dropped, you may be considered a high-risk driver by some car insurance companies. If so, you can generally expect to pay more for coverage. If you’re having trouble securing coverage, it can be beneficial to look into companies that specialize in high-risk car insurance or to contact your state’s Department of Insurance (DOI) to discuss its “assigned risk plan,” which helps provide car insurance coverage when you cannot purchase it elsewhere.