Car protectionIt seems like every time you turn on the television, you encounter a commercial that asks whether you're paying too much for your car insurance. Thanks to the Internet and a little planning, you can now answer that while having lunch. Whether you're shopping for your first policy or looking for a better rate, going online is a gateway to a world of auto insurance quotes and information. As you'll see, low cost is just one factor to consider. Let's take a look at some tips to keep in mind when you go online to buy car insurance.

Where to Buy From

While there is a seemingly endless number of companies issuing auto insurance policies these days, there are really just two ways to buy car insurance: You can purchase a policy in-person through an agent -- a licensed individual who sells policies on behalf of one or more insurance companies -- or you can buy directly from an insurer via website or telephone.  

Buying car insurance online still accounts for a relatively small portion of total auto insurance sales, but due to ease of use, it's increasing in popularity. Whether you shop for car insurance online or come see a licensed agent, make sure you come prepared with all of the information you need to get an accurate quote. Take stock of your car's make, model, year, vehicle identification number (VIN), the zip code of where you park the car at night and any aftermarket safety or anti-theft accessories installed on the car. Get the license numbers of every driver to be insured under the policy, as well as the date when they were first licensed, and obtain a copy of your driving record. Get an updated credit score as well -- your credit rating can affect your auto insurance premiums, since some insurers say those with poor credit scores are more likely to file claims [source: Roberts-Grey]

Lower Your Rates

There are a few steps you can take to get lower insurance premiums, as well. Tally up the number of miles you drove this year versus the previous year -- a significant decrease in the mileage you drive might help you get a lower quote. Consider completing a defensive driving course online, insuring multiple vehicles (or your home) through the same insurance company or looking for a plan with a higher deductible. You might even want to eliminate certain types of insurance not required by law in your state; some people forego collision and comprehensive coverage on very old cars, for instance.

Also, take a look at your auto insurance policy every year to find out how much you're paying in premiums and how much coverage you're getting in return. The cost of the same policy can vary widely between companies based on factors like how much the company spends on advertising, commissions paid to the agent and the risk levels of the company's pool of insured drivers.  Reaching out to your independent agent in these matters may help expand your options, and find more value for your dollar.  

Regulations and Requirements

Tan carAuto insurance is regulated on a state-by-state basis, and a state's insurance department usually has a bunch of relevant information to your search in the consumer information section of its website. The depth of information varies, but these websites often include profiles of the different insurance companies licensed within the state, sample price comparisons charged by competing agencies to cover common vehicles, and consumer guides to auto insurance. Many insurance departments also provide complaint indexes, which tally the number of consumer complaints upheld against a particular company versus the number of policies they have issued. This information can be valuable in determining which company to sign with.  Just because a company offers you a cheap quote doesn't mean you should let it insure your vehicle. Take a close look at the terms of your policy to ensure it matches your last auto insurance policy, and that you're getting an equivalent amount of coverage (or at least the minimum amount required by law in your state).

Examine the terms of the agreement to make sure the company doesn't require the use of cheaper aftermarket materials for repairs instead of the original factory parts, which can pose safety hazards.

Do Your Research

In addition to the complaint indexes maintained by state organizations, you can refer to consumer satisfaction databases on websites like ConsumerReports.org and JDPower.com. You should also make sure that your insurance company is financially stable before purchasing your policy. In addition to checking with your state insurance department, ratings organizations like A.M. Best and Standard and Poor's are good resources to determine a company's financial state. And don't forget to look to your friends and family for recommendations, as well.

Practical Advice

To start comparing quotes, try logging on to an independent auto insurance website like ours, with a comparative rater, where visitors submit information about their car and driving history in exchange for an array of quotes from different insurance companies. Typically, a quote will be provided immediately, and many companies provide a chance to purchase immediately, depending on the type of policy and coverage involved.  Competent agents will also follow up with you via email or phone, if you provide it, to help clear up any questions or concerns you might have. 

Before you submit any sensitive information through a website, look for a security policy to ensure that any communications are reasonably protected from third parties, and set your web browser to notify you when you leave a secure connection.

Keep in mind that insurers often charge less to clients who have been with them for a long time without filing a claim, so once you find a rate that fits your budget, look for those discounts when renewing your policy. However, check online before each renewal for rate fluctuations in your favor.

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