Many Americans are seeking affordable car insurance companies. Given the economic situation and the unemployment rate, it’s practically a cliché that everyone is looking for a way to save money on their auto insurance. Car insurance is a mandatory, and often unwelcome, expense, and people want to find the lowest possible rate. Many people see a commercial or get a quote online and just choose the lowest premium in their quest for savings. But often those same people find themselves at a disadvantage if they actually have a claim; there may be fine print in the policy that they weren’t aware of, or they may find that they haven’t chosen the most responsive company. Here are some things to consider when you are seeking out affordable car insurance companies.

Before you get a quote, take the time to evaluate your needs and identify your priorities. Review your state’s coverage requirements, so you know what you are legally obligated to purchase, and then identify any additional coverage that best suits your circumstances. You may also be currently paying for extra coverage that you don’t need, like medical insurance or roadside assistance. If you have good medical coverage through your employer, or roadside assistance from your car manufacturer or credit card company, you can trim a few premium dollars. Going through this evaluation process will inform your decision making later, and you’ll need to make all these decisions when you request a quote anyway, so it saves time in the long run.

It’s easy to request quotes online, and many companies offer to show you competitor’s rates as well as their own. Each insurance company has a unique formula for calculating their risk, so premium quotes can vary widely. But make sure you read the fine print; often the quotes aren’t actually for equivalent coverage, so they aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons. Check both policies for different coverage and exclusions, so that the low rate you’re being quoted also includes all the coverage you need.

Before you ultimately select an affordable car insurance company, do your homework. Every state has an insurance office, and often those offices keep public records of consumer complaints about insurance companies. Check with the Better Business Bureau and J.D. Power Associates as well. When you look at online reviews, keep in mind that most insured drivers never file a claim, and that people who are satisfied with their service don’t publish it as often or as loudly as people who are unhappy. A few negative reviews are to be expected from any company, but look for large numbers of complaints and try to identify trends over time. And finally, be suspicious of overly glowing positive reviews in the midst of a barrage of negative ones; some disreputable companies do hire people to write positive reviews for them.

While still in the research phase, a great place to seek additional insight is from a local body shop. They deal with affordable car insurance companies all the time, and have a lot of insight into the claims process. A local body shop will let you know how responsive and easy a company is during a claim, and they can also tell you if a company pushes aftermarket parts instead of OEMs.

Another important thing to research is the financial stability of an insurance company. Check the S&P rating, particularly if you’re considering a smaller insurer, to make sure they have the capital to cover their liability in claims. Only consider purchasing insurance from companies with an A rating or better.

Finally, repeat all these steps every couple years. Your insurance needs change over time, and your rates will as well. Take the time to check and make sure that you are making the most of your auto insurance dollars, and that your policy is still a good fit for you.

Following this process periodically will make sure that you’re not only dealing with affordable car insurance companies, but reliable ones as well, and that your insurance premium rates and your auto coverage are the best fit for your particular needs, both today and in the future. It’s time well spent to protect your security and your budget.

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