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How can I lower my car insurance costs?

There are a variety of methods for lowering your auto insurance rates. Here are some tips for doing so. For more information on a particular item click on it.

  • Comparison shop
  • Take a higher deductible
  • Drop collision damage on older cars
  • Buy a low-profile car
  • Check insurance costs by community when you are planning a move
  • Do not duplicate medical coverage
  • Pay premiums annually
  • Inquire about discounts

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What coverage should my auto policy include?

Everyone should have liability coverage for bodily injury and for property damage. These options will protect you if you injure someone else or damage property with your car. You should buy at least $100,000 per person with a $300,000 maximum for each accident to pay medical costs, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering. You should have at least $50,000 in coverage for property damage. Collision and comprehensive are essential for new cars but often can be dropped with an older car. They cover repairs to your car after an accident or in case of fire, theft, or vandalism.

Uninsured motorist coverage, which protects against you against hit and run and people without enough insurance, is required in some states. If your life, health, and disability policies already protect your family, you might want to pass, given the choice. The same is true of medical payments coverage, which pays you in case of injury and disability. For people with substantial assets, umbrella insurance is a good idea. It will protect you against liability judgments in excess of $1 million.

You can keep your premiums low by following a healthy lifestyle. Smokers pay up to two times as much as non-smokers for life insurance. People with high cholesterol also will pay higher rates.

Although a certain minimum amount of various types of auto insurance is mandatory in most states, amounts of coverage vary among policies. The following areas should be covered:

  • Medical: This protects you against medical costs for injuries to you and other riders in the car.

  • Liability: This covers physical injuries to other people and compensation for expenses that might arise from such injuries. It also covers damage to other peopleís property.

  • Comprehensive and collision: This covers damage to your car due to collisions or overturning, fire, flooding, and theft. There is usually a deductible.

  • Uninsured (or underinsured) motorist: If there is an accident and the other driver has insufficient insurance, this covers the expenses of the accident.

Note Note: In certain states, which have "no-fault" insurance laws, personal insurance protection coverage is required and there are some restrictions on liability lawsuits. In certain states, which have "no-fault" insurance laws, personal insurance protection coverage is required and there are some restrictions on liability lawsuits.

Your policy will show the total amounts of bodily injury, liability, and property damage coverage. For instance, a policy of $25/$50/$20 means that, in a single accident, you are covered for $25,000 for an individual injured, $50,000 for all persons injured, and $20,000 of property damage.

The amount of coverage you choose will depend on the stateís minimum requirements, the replacement cost of your vehicle, and how much medical coverage you already have under other policies.

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How should I handle an auto insurance claim?

Here are some tips for making sure that you obtain a fair settlement and obtain payment on a claim as quickly as possible.

  • Start a file on the accident immediately. Put into it hospital bills, police accident reports, and copies of claims you have submitted.

  • Each time you speak to an insurance company representative by phone, write a follow up letter summarizing what was said. Include the date of the conversation and the name of the person spoken to. Put a copy of the letter in the file.

  • If it is taking a long time to obtain your settlement, check your policy to see whether interim rental car expenses are covered. If so, rent a car. The insurer will be motivated to speed things along to avoid incurring this cost.

  • If you feel the company is being unreasonableóis delaying or not acting in good faithómake a complaint to your stateís insurance regulator.

  • If youíre getting nowhere, consult an attorney.

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Does it make sense to comparison shop for car insurance?

Donít assume that all insurance companies charge the same rates. There are several thousand different auto insurers in competition. You can save from 30 to 50 percent by comparing costs.

Costs are usually based on factors such as the age, gender, and driving record of the vehicleís driver's); the state of residence; the age and value of the vehicle; and the frequency and purpose of the vehicleís use.

First, contact the insurance regulating body in your state and find out whether they provide a free pamphlet that ranks insurers by price. Many state insurance departments do this. Obtaining this pamphlet will save you a lot of time on the phone asking for price quotes.

If no pamphlet is available, get quotes from independent agents (those who represent several insurance companies) as well as from "direct writers." Direct writers sell directly to the public and not through agents. You may save about 10% because you're not covering an agent's commission.

Begin by comparing these insurers' rates:

  • AMICA: 800-38-AMICA

  • GEICO: 800-841-3000

  • Worldwide: 800-325-1487

  • Erie: 800-458-0811

  • USAA: 800-531-8080 (Note: USAA is limited to active-duty and former military officers and their families.)

When calling an insurance company, ask if the insurer is a "mutual company"--one owned by its policyholders--as is the case with Amica. If so, ask what percentage of its premiums are returned to policyholders. You may find, for example, that Amica's premiums are higher than those of some other companies, but that it pays annual dividends of 18% to 20% to policyholders. These dividends reduce your insurance costs.

In addition to asking insurance agents and insurance companies, be sure to ask colleagues and friends about their carriers. You might also look in the yellow pages, check with your state insurance department, and look in consumer guides.

Itís important not to neglect factors other than price. Quality personal service may cost a bit more, but provides added conveniences, so talk to a number of insurers to get a feel for the quality of their service. Ask them how you can lower your costs.

Tip Tip: Donít neglect to check the financial ratings of carriers. Check them out in ratings services, such as Moodyís, and then supplement your review by calling your state insurance department for further information. Some state agencies will supply you with the number of justified complaints that have been made about insurers.

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How much of a deductible should I take on my car insurance?

It may pay to absorb the cost of fender-benders yourself. In other words, get the highest deductible you can afford. (The deductible is the dollar amount you agree to pay out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in.) If you cover the cost of small claims and the insurance company covers the large ones, it makes a huge difference: raise your deductible from $100 to $500, for example, and you'll reduce your premiums by 10% to 20%. Raise the deductible to $1,000 and you can save 25% to 30%.

Tip Tip: Donít file a claim for a minor accident. If it's for a couple of hundred dollars, pick-up the cost yourself. This will be more than offset by the rise in your insurance rates that will occur when you file a claim.

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Is it worthwhile to maintain collision coverage on older cars?

Collision coverage takes care of the cost of repairing your car if you're in an accident, regardless of who's at fault; comprehensive pays if your car is stolen or damaged by fire, flood, hail or wind. If your car isn't worth much, why pay a premium for repairs on a vehicle you'll probably replace if it's badly damaged? Collision damage for an older car can cost more than the car is worth.

If your car is worth a few thousand dollars it may not be cost effective to pay for this coverage.

Tip Tip: The rule of thumb -- from the Consumer Federation of American group: Drop collision if your premium is equal to 10% or more of the value of your car. But remember that you generally can't drop collision until your auto loan is paid off.

Tip Tip: Check the value of your old car in the "National Automobile Dealer's Association Official Used Car Guide," known as "The Blue Book." Auto dealers, banks and libraries have copies.

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Does the kind of car I buy affect my insurance?

Before you buy a new or used car, check into insurance costs. Cars that are expensive to repair, or that are favorite targets for thieves, have much higher insurance costs.

Not surprisingly, the more expensive the car, the more expensive the insurance. Cars that thieves love --Porsches, Jaguars, BMWs and sports models in general, are more costly to insure. The latest study shows that it costs three to four times as much to insure a Porsche as a Buick or a Ford.

Tip Tip: Call your insurance company or agent before buying a car and ask what the costs are for several different models.

If you buy a used car, insurance will be significantly lower.

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Does my address affect my car insurance?

Costs tend to be lowest in rural communities and highest in cities where there is more traffic congestion. Additionally, rates vary within cities base upon the incidence of auto thefts and damage within particular areas. Very often zip codes or common streets are used to denote where rates change. Call your agent when you are planning a move to find out car insurance costs in particular areas. While differences in cost will not likely sway your decision as to which house to rent or buy, this may give you an idea which areas you should consider or avoid.

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Does it make a difference if I pay my insurance annual, semi-annually or monthly?

Installment plans are convenient but wind up costing more because of fees or interest charges. You are usually better off paying the entire insurance bill when you receive it.

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What type of auto insurance discounts are available?

Most insurance companies will reduce premiums 10% to 20% for various reasons, such as air bags, anti-lock brakes, and insuring more than one car. There are also safe driver discounts and discounts if you live close to work. Your agent may not think to advise you of all of the available discounts. You should ask your agent for a list of all discounts and what requirements must be met for each.

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Whatís the most cost-effective way to prevent car theft?

The extent to which you go to protect yourself from car theft will depend on (1) how attractive your car is to thieves, and (2) how much money youíre willing to spend. You can use the following methods:

Common-sense (no cost) measures

First, always park in safe, well-lighted, well-patrolled areas. And donít neglect to remove the ignition key, and lock all the doors and close the windows.

Also, donít leave items that might be attractive to thieves in the car. Thieves may break a window, even risking a car alarm, to get to a briefcase, a pocketbook, or a leather jacket or pair of sneakers.

Deterrent devices

These are devices, such as steering wheel locks and alarm systems, intended to deter theft. Weíll start with the least expensive options.

Clubs, shields, and cuffs. These devices are fairly inexpensive, but they are ineffective against a determined thief, who can simply saw through the steering wheel. Thus, if you have a car model that is sought after by car thieves, youíll probably need more than a club or shield. There is also a collar available to cover your steering column (for cars where the ignition is on the steering column). This costs about $200.

Tracking systems. There is one tracking device on the marketóthe Lojack system. This is a system (about $600) with which authorities can track your car once itís stolen. The negatives of this system are that it covers only a specified region, and that you must report the theft to policy soon after it occurs to get the most from the device.

Alarm systems. If your car doesnít have a factory-installed alarm system, you can have one installed, or buy a model that you install yourself. Alarm systems usually include an alarm that sounds when the car is struck or the door or trunk is opened, lights that flash on occurrence of the same eventualities, and a device that disables the starter, ignition, or fuel system. When you leave the car, you set the alarm with a remote control device. If you choose "passive arming," the system arms itself automatically 30 seconds after you close the door. Alarm systems have a panic button that you can press in an emergency.

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What features should I look for in a car alarm system?

Here are some alarm system features to watch for, and some trouble areas to avoid:

  • Make sure the alarm shuts itself off after two or three minutes.
  • Look for a system that has a starter disabler.
  • See whether the system will arm itself even if there is a faulty switch.
  • Make sure there is both hood and trunk protection.
  • Look for a system that allows you to silence the "chirp" that occurs when you arm or disarm the system.
  • Try to get a system that will ignore a false-alarm trigger by bypassing a sensor that sets the system off repeatedly during a certain time period.
  • Look for a system whose shock sensor can be adjustedóan "adjustable dual-stage shock sensor" is good to have--so your alarm wonít go off every time a squirrel jumps on your car or a teenager leans against it.
  • Check whether you system will allow you to add certain features, such as a keyless trunk release.
  • Check whether the system includes an "anti-scan" capability, which will stop thieves from trying endless numbers of codes to try to bypass your security code.

When you have an alarm installed, be sure to do the following:

  • Ask the installation shop for references.
  • Inspect their work area.
  • Get a written estimate.
  • Ask the installers where each part of the alarm will be placed, especially the control box and the "valet switch."
  • Most importantly, after the installers have finished, make sure all of the alarmís features work before you leave the shop.

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