There are many factors that go into determining your car insurance rates. Some, like your age and gender, are out of your control. Others, like where you live and your marital status, are somewhat in your control. Finally, there are several factors that affect your auto insurance rates, like the insurance company you choose to work with, your driving record, your credit score, the kind of car you drive, and the amount of coverage you choose, that are completely within your control.
Deductible: A car insurance deductible is the amount of money you will be required to pay out of pocket to cover a claim. Let’s say a car rear-ends you in traffic, scratching your paint, damaging your bumper and breaking one of your tail lights. The total cost of repairs is $2,500 and your deductible is $500. You will pay the $500 and your insurance will pay out the remaining $2,000 to cover the cost of the repairs. Electing for a higher deductible is one-way drivers can secure cheaper car insurance.
But liability coverage levels come in threes — you’ll probably see something like 50/100/50 up to 250/500/250 in typical policies. You can think of these limits like: individual injuries / total injuries / property damage. Insurers are a little more technical, calling them bodily injury liability, total bodily injury liability and physical damage liability.
One of the most common ways to lower your car insurance rates is by choosing a higher deductible. The deductible is the amount of money you must pay after an accident before your insurance kicks in. So, for example, if you are in an accident and there is $10,000 worth of damage done and your deductible is $1,000, you pay the $1,000 and your car insurance company pays $9,000. A higher deductible means less risk for your insurance company and lower rates for you. However, it also means that you need to have that much money on hand in case of an accident. If you go for a $2,000 deductible and don’t have $2,000 available after an accident, you won’t be able to get the repairs you need.
While all car insurance companies offer a similar product, they differ in how they deliver it. Some car insurance companies are basically self-service, allowing you to shop for and choose a policy completely online. Others use local agents who can meet with you and talk you through the process of buying a policy and personally handle any claims you have. Some companies use a mix of the two. Make sure you find a company that has the type of service you want.
Collision coverage has a deductible, which is the amount you pay before your coverage helps pay for your claim. You can typically choose the amount of your deductible when you buy coverage. So, if you choose a $1,000 deductible and your car is later damaged in a covered accident, you'd have to pay $1,000 toward repair costs. Your collision coverage would help pay the rest, up to your coverage limit.
The main difference between collision and comprehensive coverage comes down to the question of what the driver controls. Collision insurance will cover events within a motorist's control or when another vehicle collides with your car. Comprehensive coverage generally falls under "acts of God or nature," or things that are typically out of your control when driving. These can include events such as a spooked deer, a heavy hailstorm, or a carjacking.
You pay a monthly or yearly fee in exchange for protection against the costs associated with vehicle damage or bodily injury resulting from a collision and certain other circumstances. If your car sustains damage in an accident, you will file a claim with your car insurance company, and they will pay you the amount specified in your policy minus your deductible. If you’re determined to be at-fault in an accident, your premium may go up.
Comprehensive car insurance covers damages from an "act of God," or events that are not caused by a car driving into something else. An "act of God" can include things like damage from a heavy tree branch falling on your car. Since you have no control over when or why a tree branch would fall on your car, this kind of accident would be covered under your comprehensive policy.
Let's use the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy as an example to illustrate the differences between collision and comprehensive. Within that storm, let's consider two events that might have happened: 1) a heavy tree branch fell on your car, or 2) you swerved to avoid a falling tree branch and wound up crashing into a tree. In the first event, you had no control over when or why a tree branch would fall on your car. This kind of accident would get reimbursed under your comprehensive policy. In the second situation, you were driving the car and ultimately swerved into the tree, which makes it a collision, and collision insurance therefore pays for the damages. Events like the hypothetical ones stated above are why it's important to differentiate between the two types of coverage.
Regardless of the type of car you drive or where you drive it, by owning and operating a vehicle and driving it on public roads, your car is vulnerable to all types of losses and damages, both to yourself and to others on the road and their property. Though you’re probably most concerned with accidents, your vehicle can also be damaged by acts of weather such as falling tree limbs or monster-sized hail, vandalism or even invaded by creepy crawlers, especially if you park outside or on the street.
Personal injury or bodily injury protection, which is often a part of full coverage car insurance, covers medical costs for you, your passengers, or other people injured in an accident. This type of coverage is required by most states, but keep in mind that the legal requirement may be too low for real world application. As medical costs soar, a policy that only pays out $30,000 is not likely to be enough, and you will be responsible for any difference between what your policy pays and what the actual medical costs are. It’s tempting to skimp on this coverage, but that can be a costly mistake.
Liability insurance covers you if you’re in an accident deemed to be your fault. It will cover repairs to damaged property, as well as medical bills resulting from injury to the other driver and their passengers. Most states require at least a minimum amount of liability insurance, but it’s a good idea to purchase extra protection if you can afford it.
We surveyed 2,799 consumers who filed a car insurance claim in the last five years, asking questions about their car insurance company. These questions covered satisfaction with the ease of filing a claim, customer service, claim status communication, claim resolution, and overall value. We also asked whether they’d recommend the company and if they planned to renew their policy. We used their responses to build our Best Car Insurance Companies ranking.
Next, take a good hard look at your driving record and credit report, and clean both up if they’re not in good shape. Moving violations, citations for driving under the influence, accidents, and a low credit score all tell car insurance companies you’re at higher risk of being in an accident, making a claim, and costing them money. Some car insurance companies will give you a discount if you can prove you’re a safe driver by installing a tracking device in your car, which can lead to lower rates over time (however, if the tracker shows you routinely drive in an unsafe manner, your rates might go up). A few years without a citation or an accident, as well as a steadily improving credit score, can help you save on car insurance.