25 most frequently asked questions about auto insurance

These are 25 of the most common questions about shopping for car insurance, car insurance coverage, and car insurance laws.

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Rachael Brennan

Rachael Brennan

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

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Ian Bloom, CFP®, RLP®

Ian Bloom, CFP®, RLP®

Certified Financial Planner

Ian Bloom, CFP®, RLP®, is a certified financial planner and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius. Previously, he was a financial advisor at MetLife and MassMutual.

Updated|10 min read

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Shopping for auto insurance

If you have a car, you need a car insurance policy to protect yourself in the event of an accident, but where can you buy car insurance and how much should you expect to pay for it? Below are some of the most common questions about shopping for car insurance.

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Where can I buy car insurance?

Drivers can buy car insurance from individual insurance agents or companies, or from an independent broker that offers insurance from lots of different companies. Drivers can save money by comparing auto insurance quotes and making sure that they get the best possible price on the coverage they need.

→ Learn more about where to buy car insurance

How much does car insurance cost?

Car insurance costs vary a lot from driver to driver, but average premiums can give you a sense of what you’ll pay. Below is a chart showing the average annual rates for full coverage car insurance with 20 different companies:

CompanyAverage annual premium
MAPFRE$1,040
USAA$1,048
Auto-Owners Insurance$1,070
Erie$1,139
GEICO$1,187
American Family$1,227
State Farm$1,383
Nationwide$1,463
NJ Manufacturers$1,481
COUNTRY Financial$1,543
Travelers$1,580
Amica$1,687
Progressive$1,758
National General$1,819
Farmers$1,934
The Hartford$1,939
Allstate$1,974
CSAA$2,318
MetLife$2,431
Mercury Insurance$2,554

How much you pay for car insurance depends on a number of factors, including your age, ZIP code, and driving history. Your rates could be higher (or lower) than the rates listed in the chart above.

→ Learn more about car insurance costs

When should I buy car insurance?

You should buy car insurance before buying a car. Driving without insurance is often illegal and leaves you financially vulnerable in the case of an accident. Whether you are buying a car from a dealership or an individual seller, you can get a car insurance quote and purchase a policy (either online or over the phone) before driving away in your new car.

→ Learn more about buying insurance for a new car

Does my vehicle affect my car insurance rates?

Yes. The make and model of the car you drive play a factor in your car insurance rates. The cost of your vehicle also makes a big difference; the more it costs to repair or replace your vehicle, the more you will pay to insure it.

→ Learn more about how much car insurance costs

What car insurance discounts are available?

Available discounts depend on your insurer. However, common car insurance discounts include various affiliation discounts, reduced rates for students, good driver/no-accident discounts, and hybrid or electric vehicle discounts. One of the most common discounts is a bundling discount for people who have both their home and auto insurance through the same carrier.

→ Learn more about car insurance discounts

Auto insurance coverage

Car insurance coverage is necessary, but what exactly does car insurance cover and how much do you need? Below are the answers to the most common questions about car insurance coverage.

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What does car insurance cover?

Your car insurance coverage depends on the policy you purchase, but a typical car insurance policy includes:

  • Bodily injury (BI) and property damage (PD) liability coverage for damage caused to other people or property.

  • Personal injury protection (PIP) to cover medical expenses and other damages.

  • Collision and comprehensive coverage for damage done to your vehicle in collisions, and in non-collisions (i.e., fire, vandalism, or theft).

  • Uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage protects in the event of an accident where the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance.

There are other types of car insurance available that can help you in a number of situations, such as MedPay and roadside assistance, so be sure to talk to your agent or insurance representative to make sure you have all the coverage you need.

→ Learn more about different types of car insurance

How much car insurance do I need?

At a bare minimum, you need to carry the amount of car insurance required in your state. However, that likely won’t be enough to protect you in a serious accident.

Drivers who want to be fully protected should buy the highest levels of insurance they can comfortably afford. For the vast majority of at-fault car accidents, liability limits of 100/300/100 would be more than enough coverage to pay for all of the damage you caused. Coverages like UM/UIM and PIP can help pay your medical expenses if you are hit by someone who doesn’t have insurance. Adding comprehensive and collision insurance is an excellent way to make sure your car is protected if it is damaged, totaled, or stolen. 

→ Learn more about what is recommended for car insurance coverage

What does car insurance not cover?

Car insurance is great for covering repair costs after an accident, but it won’t cover the costs of general wear and tear. That means when you take your car in to get the oil changed or the tires rotated, you’re footing that bill yourself.

There are a number of other things that aren’t covered by car insurance, including personal belongings that are stolen from your car and any damage that exceeds the limits of your coverage.

→ Learn more about what isn’t covered by your car insurance

Does my car insurance cover other drivers?

It depends on the situation and the specifics of your policy. Your policy may have an “omnibus clause” that covers any driver who has permission to use your vehicle (known as permissive drivers). If an insured driver who isn’t listed on your policy drives your vehicle, yours will be the primary insurance and theirs will offer secondary coverage.

→ Learn more about how your insurance covers other drivers

What is liability insurance?

Liability insurance is the portion of your insurance policy that pays for damage you cause to another driver or their property in an at-fault accident. Liability insurance is typically broken down into two parts: bodily injury liability coverage and property damage liability coverage.

→ Learn more about liability insurance

What is gap insurance?

When your leased or financed car is totaled, gap insurance fills the gap between what your insurance company pays for an accident or theft and what you still owe on an existing car loan or lease.

Car insurance pays out depending on your car’s current value. Because many cars lose value quickly, you may find yourself in a situation where you owe more on a loan than what the car is actually worth after it has been totaled in an accident — for instance, you buy a $30,000 car and in one year it is valued at $22,000, but you still have $25,000 left on your loan. Gap insurance covers that $3,000 difference so you aren’t stuck owing money on a totaled car.

→ Learn more about gap insurance

What is personal injury protection (PIP)?

Also referred to as no-fault insurance, PIP covers the costs if you or your passengers are injured in an accident, regardless of who was at fault. PIP insurance provides coverage for medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, and other essential services after an accident. PIP is a required coverage in no-fault states.

→ Learn more about PIP insurance

What is comprehensive coverage?

Comprehensive insurance covers the cost of damage to your car caused by something other than a collision, like theft, vandalism, fire, natural disasters, falling objects, and animal damage. Comprehensive coverage is typically sold with liability insurance and collision coverage as part of a full coverage insurance policy.

→ Learn more about comprehensive car insurance

What is collision coverage?

Collision coverage pays for damage to your car in the event of an accident, no matter who is at fault, including accidents with other cars and accidents where you hit a stationary object, like a tree or a telephone pole. Collision coverage is typically sold with liability insurance and comprehensive coverage as part of a full coverage insurance policy. 

→ Learn more about collision coverage

Do I need rideshare insurance?

Personal auto insurance doesn’t cover you while you are using your car for work, so people who drive for rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft should have a rideshare policy or endorsement. Many rideshare companies offer at least some coverage for their drivers, but not all of them offer insurance and some only offer partial coverage, so rideshare drivers should purchase supplemental coverage.

→ Learn more about rideshare insurance

Can I get car insurance if I don’t own a car?

Yes, people who don’t own a car but who frequently use other people’s vehicles can get a non-owner policy that provides basic liability coverage to make sure they are protected in an accident. A non-owner policy could also include other coverages like uninsured motorist coverage or MedPay.

→ Learn more about non-owner car insurance

Do I need different insurance for other types of vehicles?

While your standard auto insurance policy will cover your car, you may need different types of insurance if you have different types of vehicles. Commercial trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, and RVs all require their own kind of insurance, which can be purchased from most insurance companies.

→ Learn more about RV insurance

Does car insurance cover rental cars?

Your personal auto policy likely covers you in a rental car, but you are covered at the same limits as your auto policy. If you carry liability-only insurance, you can either reach out to your insurance agent and have your policy changed to include full coverage while you are renting a car or you can purchase additional insurance from the car rental agency.

→ Learn more about rental car insurance

Do I need motorcycle insurance?

Motorcycle insurance requirements vary from state-to-state, but anyone who rides a motorcycle should have motorcycle insurance to protect themselves financially in case of an accident.

→ Learn more about motorcycle insurance

Auto insurance laws

Every state has laws regarding car insurance, both about how much you need and what happens if you don’t buy it. Below are some of the most common questions about car insurance laws.

Is car insurance mandatory?

Car insurance is required in all but two states. New Hampshire and Virginia do not require that drivers buy auto insurance, but they do have minimums in place for drivers who do choose to buy insurance. In Virginia, if you choose to drive uninsured, you must pay a $500 fee to the state’s DMV.

→ Learn more about whether or not you need car insurance

Do I need car insurance if I don’t have a driver’s license?

No, unlicensed drivers likely don’t need any kind of car insurance. There are some situations where it is warranted, however, like if you are getting car insurance for an underage driver or if you own vehicles and need to insure them even though you have a personal driver and will never get behind the wheel of a car.

→ Learn more about getting car insurance without a license

What is an SR-22?

An SR-22 is a certificate your car insurance company sends to your local DMV to prove that you have car insurance. SR-22 forms are usually required when your driver’s license has been suspended and you are trying to get it reinstated, like if you’ve had a DUI or DWI. An SR-22 is not a type of car insurance, it is simply a certificate of financial responsibility for drivers who are required to provide one to the state.

→ Learn more about SR-22 forms

What happens if I lie about my driving history?

Lying about your driving history when buying an insurance policy can cause an insurance company to charge you higher rates or deny you coverage altogether once they figure out you misrepresented yourself. Legally speaking, lying to your insurance company is fraud and could lead to fines, community service, or even a prison sentence if your insurance company files charges against you. 

→ Learn more about the consequences of lying to your car insurance company

What insurance is required by law?

Insurance requirements vary from one state to the next, sometimes significantly. Where one state may require nothing more than PIP insurance and a paltry amount of property damage liability, another state could require substantial levels of liability coverage along with uninsured motorist coverage, PIP, or MedPay. 

→ Learn more about how much car insurance is required in all 50 states

What happens if I don’t get auto insurance?

If you choose to drive without car insurance, you will likely face legal consequences. You could be ticketed, have your license suspended, or even go to jail. If you get into an at-fault accident without liability insurance you will be held responsible for all the damage you cause, which means you will be expected to pay those costs out-of-pocket.

→ Learn more about driving without car insurance

Methodology

Policygenius has analyzed car insurance rates provided by Quadrant Information Services for every ZIP code in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. 

For full coverage policies, the following coverage limits were used:

  • Bodily injury liability: 50/100

  • Property damage liability: $50,000

  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist: 50/100

  • Comprehensive: $500 deductible

  • Collision: $500 deductible

In some cases, additional coverages were added where required by the state or insurer.

Rates for overall average rate, rates by ZIP code, and cheapest companies determined using averages for single drivers age 30, 35, and 45. Our sample vehicle was a 2017 Toyota Camry LE driven 10,000 miles per year.

Rates for driving violations and “poor” credit were determined using average rates for a single male 30-year-old driver with a credit score under 578.

Some carriers may be represented by affiliates or subsidiaries. Rates provided are a sample of insurance costs. Your actual quotes may differ.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

Expert reviewer

Certified Financial Planner

Ian Bloom, CFP®, RLP®

Certified Financial Planner

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Ian Bloom, CFP®, RLP®, is a certified financial planner and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius. Previously, he was a financial advisor at MetLife and MassMutual.

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