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Holy cow, car insurance quotes, amiright? To say they’re confusing is a massive understatement. There are just so many numbers. And acronyms. And terms no non-insurance expert should expect to understand. (PIP, anyone? Anyone?) And, while you can get a sense of how much your car insurance would cost — that number is usually prominently displayed right up top — understanding the rest of the quote, like how much protection you get and what you’re still on the hook for, is … well, something else.
But take a deep breath. Comparing car insurance quotes isn’t as tricky as it seems. First, you need to determine how much coverage you need. Next, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with what to expect when looking at quotes. After that, it’s just apples to apples. Let’s break down how to compare auto insurance quotes.
Part of why car insurance quotes are so confusing is because car insurance itself is confusing. For starters, there are different types of coverage. Some are required by law; some are not. And the specifics vary by state. We’ve got a full explainer on how car insurance works right here. But, since it’s so crucial to understanding your quotes, here’s an overview of the major components of an auto insurance policy — and what they cover.
Like we said earlier, comparing car insurance quotes gets a lot easier if you establish how much coverage you’re looking for before you shop around. You’ll want all the quotes you pull to have the same coverage types, limits and, of course, deductibles. How else will you know what insurer is, in fact, offering the best price? Here’s a quick rundown of how to figure out what type of policy you need.
OK, now it’s time to make sense of what you’re seeing on your computer screen. Online quotes have gotten more streamlined in recent years (cough, cough), but there’s a still chance, at some point in your search, you’ll encounter a trio of numbers that looks more like math than anything else. It would appear like so:
That trifecta is actually breaking down the total dollar amount (in thousands) of your liability coverage. The first number represents your bodily injury coverage per person. The second number represents your bodily injury coverage per accident and the third number represents your property damage coverage.
So, if you were looking at the digits above, you’d essentially be buying a policy with the recommended coverage amounts mentioned earlier: $100,000 per person in bodily injury, $300,000 per accident in bodily injury and $100,000 in property damage.
Beyond that, the additional coverage you requested should be listed on the quote (known in insurance-speak as the “deck” or “declarations page”), along with any deductible associated with that portion of the policy. You might also see a list of any car insurance discounts you can or already have qualified for and all the personal information you inputted, along with the make and model of your car (which is worth a scan, just to make sure everything is accurate).
One note on price: Not all insurers will quote based on what you’ll pay each month. Some might list the annual or even semi-annual cost of a policy. (Why? Who knows? Insurance will never get accused of being easy.) Point is, here, too, you’ll want to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. (Prices vary widely enough where it’s easy to get confused on the actual price.) That way, you know what insurer is truly offering the best price.
That’s also hard to say. Beyond how much coverage you’re looking to buy, the cost of car insurance is affected by driving record, place of residence, type of car, how much you drive and your personal details (age, gender, marital status, etc.) But just so you have a frame of reference for what types of prices to expect, the average annual cost for car insurance was about $900 back in 2014.
Keep in mind, if you have a poor driving record or even poor credit score, your quoted rates will likely come in higher than average. Similarly, expect to pay more if you’re trying to insure an expensive vehicle.
Remember, price is just one piece of the car insurance policy puzzle. You also want to make sure you feel good about the insurer you’re doing business with. Do they have a good track record when it comes to paying out claims? Are they known for their customer service? Are they financially solvent? Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get answers to these questions. In fact, sometimes, some important signifiers will be included with your auto insurance quote. The big stats to check when vetting an insurance company include:
It’s also helpful to do a quick Google search for online reviews or to see if there have been any major complaints against an insurer in recent years. And, if the insurer has a designated customer service line, go ahead and give the number a call (or two). That’ll give you some insights into response times. We’ve got more on the finding the best car insurance and best car insurance company for you here.
Colin Lalley is the Associate Director of SEO Content at Policygenius in New York City. His writing on insurance and personal finance has appeared on Betterment, Inc, Credit Sesame, and the Council for Disability Awareness. Colin has a degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.