While combing through a friend’s finances with him in search of savings opportunities recently, we struck gold with his car insurance. He is going to save hundreds of dollars over the next year as a result of making one minor change and at this point in his life, that will go a long way for him. In the process, I realized that car insurance is probably a large potential savings opportunity for a lot of people and I was inspired to write a post on the basics. Please note that I am no insurance expert and none of this, or anything in any other post for that matter, is intended as legal advice. But I do know a fair bit and I may be able to help point you in a direction that will save you some cash.
The first thing I tell anyone about insurance in general is that in many cases, loyalty counts for nothing. In my experience, the only reward for staying with a company long term is a consistent premium increase. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all companies but it also doesn’t cost you anything to get a few quotes to make sure your existing company is still competitive. I recommend doing so every couple of years or so. Companies seem to make fairly regular changes to the way they rate drivers, vehicles, etc, and the only way to find out about them is to shop around and see who is offering you the best deal today. Don’t assume that anything will be consistent from person to person or even from year to year for the same person. Numerous variables go into what premium is charged. Some agents seem to be very willing to shop around for you as a new customer but very reluctant to do so when you are already on the books. This has to do with their business model. However, just as with almost any other service, if you are less valuable as an existing customer than you were as a new one, become a new one again – for someone else.
Another important thing to look at with car insurance is your coverage itself. Liability coverage is required in most states now and is required by common sense and basic human decency everywhere. Sometimes the legal minimums are lower but I recommend at least 100/300 for bodily injury and 100 for property damage – and 200/400/200 wouldn’t be overkill either. Remember, if you run out of insurance coverage, you’re on the hook from that point on. And things can get expensive very quickly whether you’re paying to repair cars or people so skimping on this to save a few bucks on premiums could be a very painful decision in the long run. Liability coverage also benefits you in the form of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. There are simply far too many irresponsible people out there and as usual, people who make one bad decision, such as not having car insurance, tend to make others as well. In my relatively young life, I’ve already been rear ended by not one, but two uninsured drivers while stopped behind lines of cars at stoplights. It doesn’t get any more “not at fault” than that. In both cases, I was very glad to be covered by my own insurance company even though the drivers who hit me hadn’t had the decency to get coverage of their own.
So where can you save money on coverage? In the physical damage section. For this part, you need to consider both the car you’re driving and your financial situation. First of all, if your car is worth less than $5000, you may want to consider passing on collision coverage altogether. Of course, this means if you are in an at fault accident, you have to pay to repair the damage to your car. But most accidents are minor ones that involve little more than replacing a bumper, which is usually around $1000. Plus, if your car is worth that little, chances are you’re not going to repair minor damage anyway. So by not having the collision coverage, you’re really betting that you either won’t get in an at fault accident or that if you do, it will be a minor one. I like those odds. That said, if you don’t have a reasonable emergency fund of at least $5000, you may want to think twice about this.
Please note that if there is a lien on your car (in other words, if you have yet to pay it off), you cannot do this because it will put your loan in default status. You probably don’t want a visit from the friendly repo man anytime soon – even if your lender is likely to call and threaten you for a while before they go to that extreme.
If you want to follow a more minor version of the no collision coverage strategy that doesn’t put an auto loan in default, you can raise the deductible. Going from $500 to $1000 usually makes a decent difference in the premium. I have never seen going higher than $1000 do much of anything so I leave it there. This should pretty well confirm what I said above about most accidents amounting to a $1000 bumper replacement; insurance companies literally bet on it with their pricing.
Aside from coverage changes, there are a few other more traditional methods of lowering your car insurance premium. You can pay for six months at a time or annually if your insurance company offers that option. This usually saves you a little and offers the bonuses of both a head start on any credit cards you may be churning and locking in the premium for the full term you’re paying for. For example, I will only do a full year here in Houston since premiums are rising very quickly as insurers work to recoup their Harvey related losses. You can also get a discount for getting your car insurance from the same company as your homeowners/renters policy. You can talk to your agent to make sure you’re getting all the discounts you may be eligible for (good student, membership in certain associations, completed safety classes, etc). In the case of many insurers, you can also get a discount for letting them use a gps to monitor your driving habits. However, as a safe driver, but one who also likes to get where I’m going in a timely fashion, I’m always going to pass on that offer.
This obviously isn’t exhaustive of every possibility but hopefully it will give you an idea or two to try out. Good luck and safe travels out there!