Car insurance basics

November 19, 2004

Here's some perspectives on auto insurance premiums and ways to whittle them down.

One of the ways to cut your insurance premium costs is to choose your car carefully. Obviously, your insurance rates reflect your driving record, where you live, and, most important, how many young drivers you're covering. But premiums also depend on the value of the car, its theft rate, and how much it costs to replace or repair it.

Some categories of vehicles cost more to insure than others. Sport utility vehicles, for example, have high theft rates, and accidents involving them tend to result in steep claims. So a $40,000 SUV costs more to insure than a $40,000 sedan. Even within categories, some models are more expensive than others, for those same reasons. Ask your insurance agent for quotes on models you're considering, to see how premiums might vary.

But don't try to save money by skimping on liability coverage. You should carry a minimum of $100,000 coverage for bodily damage per person, $300,000 for bodily damage per accident, and $100,000 for property damage.

Don't forget to protect yourself, as well, by carrying significant amounts of uninsured/underinsured-motorist insurance. It's foolish to pay premiums for coverage that will pay $100,000 or more to someone else, yet have nothing for yourself if you're injured by someone carrying $50,000 worth of liability insurance or-even worse-no insurance at all.

You can also save on premiums by raising your deductibles. A jump from $200 to $500 could cut your premium by about 15 percent. If you're using a clunker as an around-town car, consider dropping comprehensive and collision coverage.

Carrying more than one policy with the same company-for your car, your home, and an umbrella policy, for instance-can earn you a discount. You may also qualify for discounts for a clean record, antitheft devices, antilock brakes, or air bags. But you may have to ask to get the savings. If you have kids of driving age, ask about discounts for driver-education courses and good grades. And if your child goes off to college without her car, tell your agent, so your premiums can be reduced for part of the year.

Most important, shop around for a policy. You'll find insurance rates vary widely. You can get quotes online at InsWeb ( http://www.insweb.com) Insure.com ( http://www.insure.com) and many other sites. But consider reputation as well as price. It's no bargain to get cheap rates with a company that drags its feet about settling claims. Friends and colleagues are a good source for recommendations.