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You Really Can Lower Your Car Insurance Cost

After years of increases, auto insurance has become a budget pain point for many. But experts say there are ways to keep your rates down. It’s getting more expensive to insure your car, but there are some steps you can take to keep premiums affordable. Average annual automobile insurance rates in the United States rose […]

After years of increases, auto insurance has become a budget pain point for many. But experts say there are ways to keep your rates down.

It’s getting more expensive to insure your car, but there are some steps you can take to keep premiums affordable.

Average annual automobile insurance rates in the United States rose to $1,548 in 2019, according to an analysis by The Zebra, an insurance comparison website. While that was just a 2 percent increase from 2018 — roughly on a par with the annual inflation rate — it followed several years of larger increases, the report said.

Advanced technology is partly to blame for the higher costs, The Zebra said. Automakers are incorporating more anti-theft and safety features into their vehicles, like collision warning systems and blind-spot monitors, which make them safer to drive but more expensive to repair after an accident.

Even a minor fender bender can prove costly to fix, said Robert C. Passmore, assistant vice president of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. Modern bumpers may house advanced sensors that must be replaced or recalibrated after an accident. Repairs no longer involve just “banging it out with a hammer,” he said.

“They save lives and reduce the number of accidents,” Mr. Passmore said of the new safety systems. “But there’s some costs that come with it.”

Insurers are also imposing stiffer penalties, or surcharges, for drivers ticketed for distracted driving. The average surcharge for texting while driving, for instance, is 23 percent of the premium, or more than $350 a year, the report found. These fees typically last for several years.

While insurance rates vary significantly by location because of differences in traffic congestion, crime, weather and state regulations, about two-thirds of American drivers saw their premiums increase last year, The Zebra’s report found. (It analyzed 73 million auto rate quotes from 418 insurers using a driver profile based on a 30-year-old single man with a good driving record and a 2015 Honda Accord EX.)

In some cities and states, the annual cost is much higher than the national average. Michigan had the highest average rate at more than $3,000, followed by Louisiana and Florida, each topping $2,000. Maine and North Carolina have the lowest rates, at just under $1,000 a year. While average rates increased in most states, they fell in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Exactly where you live, down to a few yards, can have a big impact. People living in lower-income ZIP codes were quoted more expensive premiums than those in neighboring communities, a 2018 Consumer Federation of America report found.

Insurers use multiple criteria to set auto rates, including a driver’s age, driving record and typical annual mileage. Criteria vary, since state governments set insurance rules. Some states allow consideration of a person’s credit history — the better your credit score, the more you save — so it helps if you pay your bills on time. Some let insurers consider a customer’s marital status and occupation. At least a half-dozen states, including California, have banned the use of a driver’s sex in setting insurance rates. (Nationally, women pay rates that are about 1 percent higher, The Zebra found, but the disparity is greater in some states.)

Other criteria are based on the vehicle, such as the model year and whether it’s a sedan or a truck.

One way to keep premiums down, say industry experts and consumer advocacy groups, is to compare quotes from different insurers, ideally every year or two.

“It’s worth a little bit of effort,” said J. Robert Hunter, an insurance expert with the Consumer Federation.

If you find a lower rate, state insurance department websites often offer information about consumer complaints, to help you evaluate a company’s record of handling claims before you switch. You may want to go beyond the most visible brands: Consumer Reports recently included some lesser-known companies, like the Rhode Island-based Amica Mutual Insurance, among its highly rated insurers.

Another way to lower your premium is to increase your policy’s deductible, the amount of money that you must pay before insurance coverage begins. (With a $500 deductible, you would pay $500 for a $1,000 claim.) Raising your deductible to $1,000 from $500 will save an average of 13 percent on your premium, The Zebra found. Just be sure to put money aside so you can afford to pay the deductible if you have a claim, said Jon Linkov, the deputy auto editor at Consumer Reports.

And be careful not to let your policy lapse, said Nicole Beck, a spokeswoman for The Zebra. Even a short gap, she said, could trigger a substantial increase when you buy a new policy.

People who drive infrequently may want to consider usage-based insurance, which uses technology to monitor driving and can save about 3 percent, the report found.

For help in understanding coverage, try an online guide from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Here are some questions and answers about car insurance:

Are some cars more expensive to insure than others?

Yes. Older cars, for instance, are generally cheaper to insure than new cars. The driver of a three-year-old Honda Accord would save about 12 percent on premiums compared with the cost of insuring a new model, the report found.

If you are shopping for a car and want to keep insurance rates down, consider a gently used, late-model car, Mr. Linkov said.

Am I required to insure my car?

All states except New Hampshire require minimum levels of liability coverage, which pays for another person’s property damage, medical care and other costs caused by you.

Other types of coverage are usually optional (although if you finance a car, your lender may require them). They include collision coverage, which pays for damage to your car if it hits another car or something else, like a tree or a wall; and comprehensive coverage, which covers damage to your car from most everything else, like fire, hail, flooding and theft.

If your car is aging and its value has declined substantially, you may want to consider dropping optional coverages, to lower your premium, said Mr. Hunter, the insurance expert.

Are driver discounts available?

In many states, yes, so ask your agent. Insurers may offer discounts for bundling auto coverage with other types of insurance, like homeowner or renter’s policies. There may be other discounts for having your premium payment automatically deducted from your bank account, or paying the full premium upfront, The Zebra found. Younger drivers may receive credit for maintaining good grades or taking a driver’s education course.

Content retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/17/business/car-insurance-costs.html.

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