Compare car insurance companies

These are the top five auto insurers in the U.S. as of 2016, ranked by annual premiums written:

  1. State Farm
  2. Berkshire Hathaway (Geico)
  3. Allstate
  4. Progressive
  5. Farmers

Yet in your state there are probably several hundred more carriers to choose from. The more flaws you have in your risk profile, the more likely you’ll find that rates from different companies vary significantly – sometimes by thousands of dollars. In fact, many top-tier car insurance companies don’t insure higher-risk drivers – those who need an SR-22 filing, for example, or who are under age 25 – but instead direct those clients to their subsidiaries.

We suggest you compare at least three companies, along with looking at a renewal from your current insurer. You can find customer ratings, details on discounts and contact information for most top car insurance companies on our site.

Compare using up-to-date information

If there have been changes in your life since the last time you shopped around, make sure they are reflected in your new quotes.

For example, getting car insurance after marriage or buying a house usually mean cheaper rates, because married people and homeowners tend to file fewer claims. You may have added a teen driver to the household. Or you may have moved to a new ZIP code, which can change what you pay radically.

Comparing car insurance quotes usually requires only the information you have in your head: Your name, address, make and model of car, previous insurance history and a timeline of past claims and violations.

When you find a quote on a policy you like, you’ll need more specific information to actually buy it.

We recommend you have handy your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), your driver’s license number and those of any other drivers on the policy.

Compare coverage and limits apples-to-apples

Make sure each car insurance quote you compare is for the same type and amount of coverage.

A good way to start is with your current policy’s declarations page, which lists the types of coverage you have, your deductibles and limits and your premiums you pay for each.

  • Ask yourself if the liability insurance limits you chose would still protect your home, savings and other assets if you were at fault in an accident. If you own very little, you don’t need high limits. If you’ve gotten married, bought a house or built a nest egg, you need more.
  • Ask yourself if you still need comprehensive and collision – “full coverage” -- to repair or replace the car. At a certain point the premiums you pay would be better put toward saving for a replacement.
  • Ask yourself how you would pay for treatment if you were injured in an accident that is your fault. If you do not have health insurance, consider adding some kind of medical coverage. If you have health insurance, consider whether you have the savings to pay for deductibles and co-pays, and whether the passengers you routinely carry have health insurance as well.
  • Ask yourself what would happen if an uninsured motorist totaled your car or put you in the hospital. Uninsured motorist bodily injury and uninsured motorist property damage are two very different coverages, and not all states require them. We recommend getting uninsured motorist coverage so you're protected against such instances.
  • We recommend you visit’s auto insurance coverage calculator to see what drivers like you are buying.

Compare your deductibles

Deductibles on your collision and comprehensive coverages are one of the best means you have of influencing the rates you see.

Most car insurance claims are small. When you choose a higher deductible, you are assuming more of the risk of paying those claims.

We recommend you choose an amount that you can pay from savings or are confident you can scrape together. Your car won’t be repaired until you pay your share.

Compare potential for big discounts

A company that sells both auto insurance and home insurance wants you to buy both. If your family has more than one car, it wants to insure them all.

Auto and home insurance bundle and multi-car insurance discounts can be substantial.

A slightly more expensive premium from an insurance company that can bundle your auto and home coverage might be cheaper once the discount on both policies is applied.

If you have a teen in the household, the company with the more generous good student discount might be less expensive after the discount is applied.

Almost all companies that offer “pay-as-you-drive” plans such as Snapshot or In-Drive will offer you a 5 discount just for enrolling after you buy a policy. Later, after you have installed a monitoring device, the discounts can range from nothing to as much as 50 percent. These plans can pay off if you are a very cautious and extremely low-mileage driver.

Compare payment plans

Almost all carriers offer the option of payment plans. Typically you will need a car insurance down payment of 8 to 33 percent. Expect to pay a fee for the privilege, between $3 and $10 per payment.

Not all carriers accept all forms of payment. Consider whether you will pay by:

  • Check or money order
  • Bank bill pay
  • Electronic funds transfer (EFT) – automatic online payment
  • Credit card
  • Debit card

Conversely, you can expect a discount for payment in full, usually 5 to 10 percent.

Compare the fine print

If you have black marks on your driving, insurance or credit history, you may be comparing car insurance from what are known as nonstandard companies. They’re known as nonstandard because the policies they sell can have exceptions to “standard” coverages and situations.

The most common are:

Limits on permissive drivers. Standard policies allow you to lend your car to any licensed driver; a nonstandard policy might not, or it might limit how much coverage a permissive driver is given. This is known as a “step-down” provision.

No automatic coverage: Standard policies also insure you behind the wheel of a rental car, up to your limits, and automatically transfer to a new car for a short period. A nonstandard policy might not.