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How to get car insurance

From choosing the right insurance company to setting your coverage limits, there’s lots of decisions to be made when it comes to buying car insurance — and we can help. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the process.

Anna Swartz 1600Stephanie Nieves author photo


Anna Swartz

Anna Swartz

Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz is a Managing Editor at Policygenius, specializing in auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Mic, The Dodo, AOL, MSN, HuffPost, Salon and Heeb.


Stephanie Nieves

Stephanie Nieves

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Stephanie Nieves is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in home and auto insurance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, PayScale, Fairygodboss, and The Muse.

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Expert reviewed

This article has been reviewed by a licensed Policygenius expert to ensure that sources, statistics, and claims meet our standard for accurate and unbiased advice.

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Fabio Faschi, PLCS, SBCS, CLCS

Fabio Faschi, PLCS, SBCS, CLCS

Property & Casualty Insurance Expert

Fabio Faschi is a former property and casualty team lead at Policygenius. His expertise on home & auto insurance has been featured on Forbes, Consumer Affairs,, Apartment Therapy, The Simple Dollar, SFGATE, Bankrate, and Lifehacker.

Updated October 7, 2021|3 min read

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If you have a car, you need car insurance. Most U.S. states require drivers to have a minimum amount of car insurance, and it’s a good idea to have, anyway, because it can protect you financially if you get into an accident.

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You can buy car insurance in one of two ways: directly from an insurance company or through an independent insurance marketplace like Policygenius. When you shop with Policygenius, you can get quotes from multiple companies at once. You’ll also save time and money in the insurance buying process, because someone will be there to answer your questions and help you find the best coverage at the lowest price.

The five simple steps to buying car insurance:

  1. Figure out how much coverage you need

  2. Fill out an application

  3. Compare quotes

  4. Pick a car insurance company and get insured

  5. Cancel your old policy

1. Figure out how much coverage you need

Figuring out how much of each type of car insurance coverage you need is one of the most important parts of buying auto insurance. A typical policy includes:

  • Liability coverage: Covers the costs if you cause an accident, including when you damage someone else’s property with your car. Liability insurance is required in most states, and it’s divided into two parts: Bodily injury liability (BIL) and property damage liability (PDL)

  • Personal injury protection: Covers medical and rehabilitation expenses if you or your passengers are injured in a car accident. Also covers other related expenses, like lost wages

  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Covers the costs if you’re in an accident caused by a driver who either doesn’t have insurance or whose insurance can’t pay for the full extent of the damage

  • Collision coverage: Covers damage to your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of who was at fault

  • Comprehensive coverage: Covers any damage to your car that can happen when it isn’t being driven, including damage from extreme weather, falling objects, flood, fire, vandalism, and theft

  • Gap insurance: If your car is totaled, this pays out the difference between the car’s actual cash value (ACV), which includes depreciation, and the amount you still owe on a car loan or lease so you aren’t stuck making payments on a car you no longer have

Then there are additional coverage options, like roadside assistance or new car replacement coverage that can be added for an additional cost.

Each state has minimum car insurance coverage requirements. Your state’s minimums are a starting point for determining coverage but often they’re too low to sufficiently cover you in the event of a major accident.

Genius tip

We recommend drivers have at least $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident in bodily injury liability and $100,000 in property damage liability coverage in order to be fully protected. Comprehensive and collision coverage are optional, but they can be valuable protection for your car.

2. Fill out an application

Whether you’re buying car insurance for the first or tenth time, you’ll need the following information on hand:

  • Names, birthdays and driver’s license numbers for all drivers in the household

  • Social Security numbers for all drivers in the household

  • VINs (Vehicle Information Numbers) or make and model years for all vehicles

  • An address for the insured (where you live and where the car is garaged, which is usually the same place)

  • Your declarations page from your most recent prior car insurance policy, if you have it

As you go through the process, you’ll answer questions that can help earn you discounts on your coverage, like whether you have any accidents or violations on your record, whether you’re a full time student, and if your car is equipped with certain features like an anti-theft device.

You’ll also set your coverage amounts — called limits — when you apply. It’s generally a good idea to have high coverage limits for the necessary coverage types, but the higher your limits are the more you’ll pay. You’ll also have to choose deductible amounts for your comprehensive and collision coverage.

When you get a quote, some optional types of coverage may automatically be included that you don’t actually want or need, so look carefully at your options. If you have third-party roadside assistance, like AAA for example, you don’t need roadside assistance on your car insurance policy too.

3. Compare quotes

You may be tempted to choose the car insurance company that offers you the best price, but be sure to do your research on the different carriers. Carrier A may have quoted you slightly higher rates than Carrier B, but if it has significantly higher claims satisfaction ratings, that extra cost could be worth it. 

Not sure which company to go with? Check out our list of the best car insurance companies and our reviews of individual carriers to learn more about your options before you sign a policy.

Genius tip

Setting a higher comprehensive or collision deductible leads to lower premiums, because you’re agreeing to pay more out of pocket in the event that you file a claim on your comp or collision insurance.

4. Choose a policy and get insured

Once you’ve compared your quotes and picked a company that you feel good about, it’s time to get insured. 

When you buy a car insurance policy, you’ll set a start date for when your policy will start, and you’ll pay your first premium. 

You’ll typically receive proof of coverage and some sort of welcome package from your insurer, with information about how to access your account and where to see your ID cards or declarations page.

5. Cancel your old policy (if applicable)

If you’ve been shopping for car insurance to replace a current policy, wait until after your new coverage is in place before you cancel your old policy. You want to make sure you don’t leave any gaps in your coverage.

To do this, set the cancellation date of your old policy and the effective date of your new policy on the same day. Insurance policies begin and end at 12:01 AM on a given date, so you don’t have to worry about having a full day of overlapping insurance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I buy car insurance for the first time?

If this is your first time buying car insurance, an expert can help you determine your coverage needs and set a budget. An independent agent, like the ones at Policygenius, can take your information once and use it to get quotes from multiple companies at a time, saving you time. They can also help you compare your options and choose the best policy for you.

How do I renew my car insurance policy?

Many car insurance policies automatically renew at the end of the policy term. You’ll be notified by mail or email if your policy is set to renew, and you may be prompted to confirm that your information is all the same before renewing your policy. If you decide to switch companies, you must have a new car insurance policy in place before your current policy expires so you can avoid a lapse in coverage.

Should I buy car insurance through a broker or a company?

An independent broker isn’t tied to any one company, their job is to help you shop for insurance and advise you through the process. They do all the legwork for you, from plugging in your information to customizing your quotes so you can see how much you’d be paying for coverage from different carriers. We recommend buying car insurance through an independent broker, like our experts at Policygenius, so you can compare quotes from multiple companies in one go.

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