Auto insurance Picking an insurer


Here's how to find broad coverage without burning a hole in your pocket.

Cast a wide net.

First, check what's out there. Get quotes from at least four carriers.

Try a free database such as InsWeb, which offers quotes from up to 8 insurers. The larger the database, the better off you are.

Try these options.

Companies that deal directly with consumers without using independent agents are called "direct writers". In theory, they can pass on their savings by eliminating the middleman.

Read your junk mail. Direct marketers save on overhead -- and pass on the savings -- by marketing by phone, mail, or the Internet.

Let your state be your guide. Insurance departments in 33 states and the District of Columbia offer on-line shopping guides for auto insurance. Your state's guide may identify little-known companies with competitive rates.

Look at service.

No discount in the world will make up for slow claims processing or shoddy repairs, so find out as much as you can about a company's service before you sign on. Consumer Reports periodically publishes service ratings for large insurers. You can also ask a representative about a company's claims turn-around time; a shorter turn-around is an indication of better service.

Focus on financials.

It's wise to look at the financial ratings of your auto insurer. Ask the company for that information, or check out one of the financial ratings services on the Web. An A rating or higher from Standard & Poor's or an AA ranking or better from Moody's Investor Service is a good indicator of financial strength. Weiss Ratings, the most independent of the ratings services, and arguably the most stringent, posts a list of the currently weakest companies.

As a last resort, there's your state.

If your driving record is bad, you may initially have only one option other than taking public transportation. That's your state-sponsored high-risk pool and it's expensive. But try shopping again a year from now. Private insurers are always looking for new ways to serve more customers, and one company's black mark is another's business opportunity.

© 2003 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.

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