Finding the Best Auto Insurance
The top performers in our review are Geico, the Gold Award winner; Nationwide, the Silver Award winner; and Travelers, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing auto insurance to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 12 companies.
Finding good, affordable auto insurance requires some searching, but it's worth the effort. By law, anyone who drives needs to have the minimal level of state required insurance, and those who have a vehicle loan are required to carry more than minimal coverage. If you are involved in a serious accident, you'll be glad to have as much coverage as possible to handle medical bills and car damage. Generally, the more coverage you have, the higher your premiums will be, although this is not always the case. That's why it pays to compare quotes.
We compared the 12 largest auto insurance companies that provide coverage for individuals in most areas of the U.S. Even though USAA is one of the largest companies, it was excluded since its plans are only available to those with military connections. AARP was also excluded because its plans are provided by The Hartford Financial Services Group, which we have reviewed separately.
While comparing insurance companies keep in mind that premium rates vary greatly based on numerous factors, and some services might not be available in your area. In addition, while it is rather straightforward to find upfront information about insurance companies, it's difficult to discover details about how well claims are processed and paid.
What Affects Car Insurance Rates?
Insurance rates are carefully calculated based on numerous factors. Personal factors include age, location, average miles driven, gender, marital status, education and driving record. Financial factors include the replacement cost of the car, repair costs, claim history, insurance history and credit score.
To give you an idea of what a low-risk insured person might look like compared to a high-risk person, see these two extremes:
Low-Risk: A 40-year-old married female who is college educated and lives in a low-incident area. She also has a better than average credit rating, a good driving record, steady previous insurance and no claims in over five years. The car has low repair costs and is not tied to a bank loan. She might only be required to pay $60 to $90 per month for insurance.
High-Risk: A 23-year-old unmarried male without a college education who lives in a high-incident area. He would have spotty or bad credit, a DUI or other major moving vehicle violation, has been without insurance in the past and has recently submitted claims. The car is expensive to fix and a there is a loan on the vehicle. This person's premium may be over $300 per month. In this case, some insurance companies may even deny coverage.
As you can see, numerous factors contribute to your premium. In addition, there are no protections in respect to gender, education, location or credit discrimination. Insurance companies are allowed, to the best of their ability, to calculate the risk of insuring individuals. If you are in the high-risk category, you might have to take a higher rate until you can build up a better history and or perhaps trade to a lower-priced, paid-off car. To learn more about the basics of auto insurance see our articles about auto insurance.
If you are in the low-risk category, you may save some money by bundling your auto insurance with other plans such as homeowners or umbrella insurance. Some insurance companies also offer discounts to those who pay premiums in advance or by automatic payment. Discounts aren't always listed on the company's website, so you'll want to ask about discounts before you enter a new contract so you can get the best possible rate.
Obtaining Auto Insurance Quotes
First and foremost, get more than one quote. We recommend that you obtain three quotes from three different insurance agencies. In our research, we learned that in most cases you can obtain ballpark quotes with just your basic information. However, eventually you will have to submit your social security number, VIN and other personal information to actually obtain the insurance coverage. Most will check your credit reports and driving status as well before they will provide coverage.
You can obtain a quote by visiting the insurance company's website. On the website, you can enter your zip code or state information and obtain a quote in only a few minutes. You'll need to enter your basic information such as name, address and car make. You will also be asked about your driving history, credit and average driving distances. The company will most likely mention a few discounts, but you should also ask about additional discounts before you sign up.
Possible discounts you might be eligible for include: good driver, good student, senior, hybrid vehicle, safety features, security features, multiple auto, defensive driving course discounts, farm vehicle, automatic payments, pay in advance, teen discounts and more. We noticed that Allstate specifically seems to offer a wide range of discount options. Many also offer discounts to military personnel or government employees, so it is worth asking about if you are associated with these organizations.
You should also consider supplemental add-ons such as:
Uninsured Motorist: Most people should consider this add-on. It helps cover medical or repair expenses when the other driver is at fault and has no insurance.
Roadside Assistance: These plans often include towing and tire changing.
Rental Car Coverage: Covers car rental expenses during the time your car is being repaired.
Gap Coverage: If your car is totaled, gap insurance will help pay the difference between the payout and what you still owe on your car loan.
Pet Insurance: This plan helps cover veterinarian expenses that may occur if your pets are injured in a car accident involving the covered vehicle.
Umbrella Policies: These cover a wide range of liability situations that other insurance policies may not cover completely.
Medical Payments Coverage: Helps pay medical costs related to an accident.
Sound System Insurance: This will cover the cost of replacing stolen or damaged audio or video equipment.
How We Compared Auto Insurance Companies
Because auto insurance premiums differ from person to person, no single company is best for every person. We tried to find out which company offers the best rates to the most people, and which ones have the best consumer experience reputation. We researched industry news, consumer reviews, financial reviews, third-party reviews and more. We also conducted our own research.
For the quote comparison, we obtained quotes for five of the most commonly purchased cars in the U.S. for rather average customer profiles in numerous zip codes. Some quotes were obtained online and others by telephone. We averaged the quote price per vehicle and compared quote rates against their competitors. With this information, we were able to determine whether you might expect to receive a lower than average, average or higher than average quote price from the insurance company. Of course, your quote experience will vary from our test model, but our scores can help you decide which companies you may want to obtain a quote from.
We obtained consumer satisfaction scores by quantifying numerous industry ratings alongside our own experience with the companies. We were somewhat surprised to discover that the 12 insurance agencies scored pretty close together. Most consumers seem happy with their insurance company until they need to file a claim and things don't go the way they wanted. And since most drivers are only involved in a few accidents in their lifetime, they usually do not have to go through the claim processing experience often, so satisfaction scores are generally high. The company that rated the highest was State Farm, with Geico and AAA only a few points below it.
Our Verdict and Recommendation
Once you find the insurance companies that look like they might satisfy your needs, we recommend that you obtain three quotes. Low-risk drivers can likely obtain low-cost auto insurance from Geico. Seniors may benefit from using their AARP membership to receive discounts from the Hartford Financial Services Group. Those who can qualify for accident-forgiveness can benefit from a three-year accident forgiveness policy from Farmers. Make sure to answer the questions as accurately as possible when submitting your quote information. Incorrect information could be cause for non-payment later, so accuracy is critical.
Once you obtain your quotes, it is helpful to call up the insurance company and ask about additional discounts. As tedious and confusing as it may seem, carefully look through the fine print of your policy information. It might even be helpful to consult with an insurance specialist to explain industry terms you don't understand. Careful shopping can help you obtain the best rate for the type of coverage you want.