How to Buy Car Insurance

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Most states require car owners to carry a minimum level of insurance coverage no matter what they drive. Leasing or financing a new vehicle comes with additional car insurance requirements. Even if you don’t own a car, you may want or need coverage. Whatever reason you have for buying a car insurance policy, this guide can help you through the process.

  1. Determine which types of car insurance you are required to have and which are optional.
  2. Have your personal and vehicular information at hand.
  3. Get car insurance quotes from at least three companies.
  4. Compare premiums, coverage amounts, and limits.
  5. Make your decision and buy your new car insurance policy.
  6. Cancel your old policy, if you have one.

There are three ways to get car insurance: buying it online, contacting a company representative (sometimes called a captive agent), or working with an independent insurance broker. You can also use an insurance comparison calculator like ours to help you determine the best company, best coverage, and best rate. Below, we’ve outlined three ways to buy car insurance and some pros and cons of each.

Buying Car Insurance Online

Pros:

  • You can get car insurance quotes, buy a policy, and print your ID cards all in one place.

  • You don’t need to speak with an agent to buy a policy.

Cons:

  • Some people may find the lack of human contact impersonal.

  • If you have a question, you may not be able to find the answer online.

Buying Car Insurance With a Captive Agent

Pros:

  • Agents can walk you through the entire buying process, from quote to purchase.

  • An agent can answer your specific questions and figure out tricky coverage issues.

Cons:

  • Most captive agents only work for one company and may not be able to provide car insurance quotes from multiple providers.

Buying Car Insurance With an Independent Broker

Pros:

  • An independent broker can provide you with rate quotes from multiple auto insurance companies.

  • Unlike captive agents, a broker’s primary allegiance is to the client, not an insurance company.

Cons:

  • It’s a two-step process. Once a broker has presented options to a client, they hand the information over to the insurance company, which completes the transaction.

  • Brokers may charge a fee for their services.

If you’re planning to buy or lease a vehicle and don’t currently have auto insurance, you will need to have a policy in place before you get behind the wheel. Likewise, if you are a newly licensed driver and not covered by someone else’s policy, you will need car insurance. Even if you have had car insurance for years, it’s a good idea to review your coverage annually or when major life events occur, such as marriage or moving. You may be able to save money by switching insurers.

Many insurance companies recommend buying a policy as soon as it is practical before you get behind the wheel. But even if you find yourself having to make a sudden or unexpected car purchase, many dealers can help you obtain coverage before you drive off the lot. Some insurance companies will also allow you to buy car insurance online within a matter of minutes. It’s important to note that some states require drivers to show proof of insurance to register a new vehicle.

To make your car insurance purchase process run as smoothly as possible, it’s best for you to have the following information ready:

  • Driver’s license number
  • Social security number(s) for each driver on the policy
  • The vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • The car’s make, model, year, and current odometer reading
  • Vehicle safety and security features, such as anti-lock brakes or a GPS anti-theft tracking device
  • Where you park your car, such as in a garage or on the street
  • Your home address and ZIP code
  • Estimate of how many miles you drive every year
  • Desired coverage levels and deductible amounts
  • Whether the car is owned outright, financed, or leased
  • Any other drivers in your family that you plan to insure

Even if you don’t own a car, you may want to buy car insurance for the protection it provides.

non-owner insurance, Also called non-driver insurance, is designed for people who do not have their own car but borrow a friend’s regularly, travel often and rent a vehicle, or use car-sharing services frequently. Depending on the state you live in, non-owner insurance may also be appropriate for people who have to file an SR-22 form in order to prove they are insured or to have their driving privileges reinstated.

This kind of insurance covers liability for bodily injury and property damage to others that occurs while driving. Depending on the company and policy, it also may include personal injury protection (PIP), medical payment coverage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist protection. Non-owner car insurance typically does not include collision coverage, comprehensive insurance, or theft protection.

Car rental insurance is designed for people who do not have car insurance or whose auto policy does not extend to vehicle rentals or carries a high deductible. This kind of insurance is sold by the rental company and is valid only for the duration of the rental agreement. Car rental insurance typically covers the following, although you may be able to purchase each component separately:

  • Liability coverage applies to property damage and injuries to others caused while you’re driving. If you do not carry car insurance, you will probably be required to purchase this type of coverage.
  • A collision/loss damage wave shields you from financial responsibility should your rental vehicle be stolen, vandalized, or damaged in an accident or other mishap.
  • Personal effects coverage protects your belongings in the event they are stolen from your rental car. If you have a homeowners or renters insurance policy, it may also cover your personal effects.
  • Personal accident insurance Covers medical bills for any injuries you or your passengers may sustain as a result of driving.

Every state except New Hampshire and Virginia requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance, and many states require additional coverage as well. But a bare-bones policy may not cover all of your expenses if you are involved in a crash or other event that causes damage, loss, or injury.

Liability insurance covers bodily injury and property damage if you are found at fault in an accident. It’s important to note that the protections only cover the other parties involved. Liability insurance will not cover your own losses. Some states also require uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance. If you have this coverage, you’ll be protected if you are involved in a crash with a motorist who doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover your losses. In addition, a handful of states require personal injury protectionor PIP, which provides coverage if you or your passengers are injured or your car is damaged in an accident.

States also specify minimum obligation limits for bodily injury and property damage, typically expressed by three figures (eg, 25,000/50,000/25,000 or 25/50/25). The first number represents the maximum dollar amount of coverage for any one person hurt in an accident. The second indicates the total coverage amount for all injured persons. The third represents the limits of coverage for property damage. Minimum liability varies by state. Contact your state department of motor vehicles or division of insurance to find out what your insurance requirements are.

Should I buy more than the minimum car insurance required?

Depending on where you live, how often you drive, and what kind of vehicle you own, you may want to carry more than just the state-mandated minimums. You may want to add other types of coverage to your auto policy, such as:

  • Collision insurance Covers damage to your vehicle in the event of an accident with another automobile or if you hit a stationary object like a tree or retaining wall.
  • Comprehensive insurance Protects your car from damage caused by a non-collision event such as a tornado, flood, hail, or wild animal.
  • Gap insurance will cover the difference between what you may owe a lender on a vehicle loan and what the car is actually worth in the event that it is totaled or severely damaged.
  • Medical payments (MedPay) coverage applies to healthcare costs associated with a covered incident, regardless of liability, for the driver and passengers.
  • Rental car reimbursement isn’t insurance. It’s optional coverage that will pay for a rental car in the event your vehicle is rendered undrivable and needs to be repaired.

Our study data shows that USAA offers the cheapest car insurance rates, with Geico close behind. A driver with a clean record can expect to pay just under $1,000 on average for coverage with USAA. It’s important to note that USAA insurance only to members of the military and their families. If USAA isn’t an option for you, Geico may be. Its average premiums are about $150 more for similar coverage. Your actual rates may vary, based on factors including coverage amounts, what you drive, and where you live.

2022 Average Rates:

Learn More

For more information about auto insurance, see the following guides:

Other Ratings from 360 Reviews

For more information on other types of insurance, see the following guides:

At US News & World Report, we rank the Best Hospitals, Best Colleges, and Best Cars to guide readers through some of life’s most complicated decisions. Our 360 Reviews team draws on this same unbiased approach to rate insurance companies and agencies. The team doesn’t keep samples, gifts, or loans of products or services we review. In addition, we maintain a separate business team that has no influence over our methodology or recommendations.

US News 360 Reviews takes an unbiased approach to our recommendations. When you use our links to buy products, we may earn a commission but that in no way affects our editorial independence.

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