How to Get Car Insurance in 5 Easy Steps

Find Cheap Auto Insurance Quotes in Your Area

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You can get car insurance in a few easy steps. You'll need to gather your personal information and figure out how much coverage you need. Then, you can compare quotes by shopping online, calling an insurance company or working with an independent agent.

How to get car insurance

Step 1: What do you need to get car insurance?

The first step to buying car insurance is gathering all of the information you'll need to compare quotes.

Insurance companies will typically ask you for personal information, details about your car and your insurance and driving history.

Personal information

Car insurance companies will ask you to provide information for everyone living in your household. That includes your spouse or partner, roommates and children that have a driver's license or permit.

  • Full name
  • Home address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Whether you own or rent your home
  • Birthday
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Driver's license

Car information

  • Year, make, model and body style
  • Whether you use your car for personal use or business
  • How many miles you drive per year
  • The address where the car is typically parked overnight
  • Registered owners of the car
  • When you bought the car
  • Whether you have a car loan or lease
  • Who drives the car

Some companies will ask for your car's vehicle identification number, or VIN. They'll use your VIN to determine your car's year, make, model and body style. Companies can also find out if your car has been in an accident by using your VIN.

Driving history

  • Dates and details of any tickets or accidents in the last three years
  • Dates and details of any major violations or license suspensions in the last five years
  • Whether you need an SR-22 financial responsibility filing

Insurance history

  • Name of your current insurance company
  • How long you've been insured with your current company
  • The expiration date of your current policy
  • Your bodily injury liability limits

Discount availability

  • If you've taken a driver education course, you could get a defensive driving discount
  • If you belong to a professional organization or alumni association, you could get a discount
  • If you're a military member or veteran, you may be eligible for a discount
  • If any student drivers on your policy have a GPA of B or better, they may get a good student discount

You may need to provide proof that you qualify for these discounts, like a school transcript or military ID card.

Step 2: Decide how much insurance you need

It's important to know how much protection you need when you're shopping for insurance.

That way you can make sure you're comparing quotes with the right coverage limits.

A basic car insurance policy will typically include liability coverage. The amount of liability insurance you're required to have is different in every state. Depending on where you live, you may also need to have a few other basic coverages.

  • Bodily injury liability coverage helps pay for injuries you're responsible for while driving.

    Most states require a minimum amount of coverage. But the amount you're required to buy is typically not enough to cover the cost of a major accident. You should get as much bodily injury coverage as you can afford, so you have enough to pay for an expensive crash.

  • Property damage liability helps pay for damage you cause to other cars or property while driving.

    Many states require you to have property damage liability coverage. But the limits might not be high enough to pay for major damage, especially if you hit a building or an expensive car. For that reason, you should get higher limits than your state requires, if you can afford it.

  • Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage will protect you if you're hit by a driver that doesn't have insurance, or whose limits aren't high enough to pay for your medical bills or car repairs.

    Only a few states require this coverage, and your limits can't be higher than your liability limits. But having this coverage means you'll get money from your insurance company quickly after an accident with an uninsured driver. Without it, you may have to take the other driver to court, which can be expensive and time consuming.

  • Medical payments coverage helps pay your medical bills and those of your passengers if you're hurt in an accident, regardless of whose fault it is. Limits typically range from $5,000 to $25,000.

  • Personal injury protection, or PIP, helps pay your medical bills and lost income if you or your passengers are hurt in an accident. PIP coverage is required in 16 states.

You may also need, or want, to purchase extra coverage. Some of the most common coverage add-ons are:

  • Collision coverage, which pays to repair damage to your own car if you hit another car or building, regardless of whose fault it is.
  • Comprehensive coverage, which pays to replace your car if it's stolen or repair it if it's damaged by an "act of God." This includes things like hail damage or a broken window.
  • Roadside assistance, which can help you out if your car breaks down on the side of the road. Your insurance company will coordinate and pay for things like a tire change or fuel delivery if you run out of gas.
  • Rental car reimbursement, which pays for a rental car while your car is being repaired after an accident.

Whether you need any of these extras is usually a matter of personal preference. For example, you may not want to pay for rental car reimbursement if you could easily get around using public transportation.

However, some people need more coverage than a basic policy provides.

If you're buying a new car and have a loan or lease, you may be required to have more coverage. And people who drive for Uber or Lyft need special rideshare insurance.

Getting insurance for a new car

When you buy a new car, you'll need to show proof of insurance before you can drive off the lot. The amount and type of insurance you need will depend on how you're paying for the car and how much protection you want.

  • If you're paying for your new car in cash, you'll just need to show that you have enough insurance to meet your state's legal requirements.
  • If you have a car loan or lease, the financing company will usually require you to have collision and comprehensive coverage. That's because they own a portion of your car and want to make sure it's protected if you're in an accident.

In addition, there are a few coverage add-ons that you may want to consider if you have a brand new car.

  • New car replacement coverage will pay to replace your car with a brand new model if it's totaled within the first year or two after you buy it.

    This coverage typically costs around $300 per year. But it could be worth it if driving a brand new car is important to you.

  • Gap insurance can be helpful if you have a loan or lease on your car.

    This coverage will pay the difference between your car's value and the amount you owe if it's totaled in an accident. It usually costs between $50 and $250 per year.

Step 3: Shop for car insurance quotes

Once you know how much coverage you need, you can start comparing quotes. You can shop for car insurance online, call the insurance company or work with an independent agent. It's important to ask for discounts to make sure you're getting the best rate.

Before you make a decision, you should compare rates and customer service reviews to make sure you choose a company you can count on if you get in an accident.

Best place to shop for car insurance

There are a few different ways to compare auto insurance rates.

How to get car insurance with an online comparison tool

Pros and cons

  • You can see quotes from multiple companies at once
  • It usually takes less than five minutes
  • You only need to enter your information one time
  • It's not the best option if you have questions about coverage

The quickest way to compare multiple car insurance quotes is by using an online comparison tool.

You'll enter some basic information about yourself and your car. Then, you'll get quotes from a handful of insurance companies.

Even if you prefer to buy car insurance from an agent, using an online quote tool is a great place to start. That's because it will give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for car insurance.

Find Cheap Auto Insurance Quotes in Your Area

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Shop for car insurance rates on an insurance company's website

Pros and cons

  • You'll only see quotes from companies you're interested in
  • Some companies offer discounts for shopping online
  • To compare quotes from multiple companies, you'll have to enter the same information for each quote
  • Some companies don't offer quotes online

You can also compare quotes by visiting each car insurance company's website and filling out their quote form. This process takes more time than using a quote comparison tool. But it's a good idea if you already know which company you want to work with, or want to get a quote from a company that didn't offer you coverage through a quote tool.

Speak with an agent at the insurance company

Pros and cons

  • You can get help choosing the right coverage
  • Agents who work at an insurance company are very familiar with its policies
  • You'll have some guidance going through the quote process
  • You can only get one quote at a time, so comparing rates will take much longer

You can get auto insurance over the phone by looking up a branch near you and contacting a local agent. If the company doesn't have an office near you, you can call the main customer service line.

Getting quotes over the phone typically takes a lot more time than comparing rates online. It could be a good option for you if you're not sure how much coverage you need or have questions about the policy.

Shop for car insurance quotes with an independent agent

Pros and cons

  • You can compare quotes from multiple companies at the same time
  • Independent agents can help match you with the company that offers the coverage you need
  • You can get rates from smaller companies that don't offer quotes online
  • If you're in an accident, you can call your agent instead of contacting a call center
  • Independent agents usually don't work with larger companies, like State Farm or Geico
  • Agents are paid a commission, so they may try to sell you more protection than you need

Independent insurance agents can help you compare quotes from multiple companies at the same time, just like an online quote tool.

That's because they don't work for one specific car insurance company.

Independent agents can typically help you compare quotes from smaller companies that don't offer online quotes or that you might not have heard of, like Auto-Owners. They can also help you decide which coverage options are right for you, and how much protection you need.

However, independent agents don't usually work with large national insurance companies like State Farm and Geico.

So it's a good idea to make sure you can't find cheaper coverage elsewhere. In addition, independent agents are paid by insurance companies based on the amount you pay for car insurance. So be wary of agents that are recommending coverage that you may not need.


Ask about discounts

Don't forget to ask about discounts when you're comparing car insurance rates. Most companies offer common options like a discount for bundling your auto and home insurance. But there are lots of other discounts you may miss out on if you don't know what's available.

  • Driver safety discounts, like discounts for taking a defensive driver course or being accident-free for a period of time. Many companies also offer a discount for safe driving if you allow them to track your driving habits with an app or plug-in device.
  • Policy discounts, like discounts for signing up for a new policy before your old one expires, paying your bill in full or signing up for electronic payments.
  • Vehicle discounts, like discounts for installing an anti-theft device or having anti-lock brakes.

Many companies also offer discounts for good students, military members, seniors and people who belong to certain professional organizations.


Step 4: Compare car insurance companies

Choosing a company with cheap rates is important, but you should also consider customer service reviews.

You'll usually find the best combination of affordable rates and reliable service from smaller companies, like NJM, Erie and Farm Bureau.

The best national insurance company for most people is State Farm. It offers a good mix of cheap rates and useful coverage, and customers are typically happy with the customer service.

Best cheap car insurance companies

Company
Monthly rate
NJM logo
NJM
$145
State Farm logo
State Farm
$110
Erie logo
Erie
$115
Farm Bureau logo
Farm Bureau
$131
Auto-Owners logo
Auto-Owners
$132
Show All Rows

*USAA is only available to military members, veterans and their families.

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car accident icon

You want to pick a company that you can count on to get you back on the road quickly after an accident.

That may mean you have to pay a little more for car insurance. But it will be worth it knowing your car insurance company will take good care of you in an emergency.


Step 5: Purchase car insurance and cancel your old policy

After you find the best car insurance company for you, it's time to purchase a policy. Most companies give you the option to pay in full or make monthly payments. You can usually get a discount for paying your entire bill up front or making automatic payments.

Once you've signed up for your new policy and paid your bill, you can cancel your old policy.

To avoid a lapse in coverage, make sure that you choose a cancellation date that's after the start date of your new policy.

Your old insurance company should send you a refund if you paid in advance for months you won't use. But some companies charge a cancellation fee if you switch in the middle of your policy term. Make sure to ask about any fees when you call to cancel your policy so you're prepared.

If you have a loan or lease on your car, you'll need to tell your lender that you changed car insurance companies. That way they can make sure you're still meeting any insurance requirements included in your contract.


Frequently asked questions

Is it OK to shop around for car insurance?

Yes, you should always shop around for car insurance before choosing a policy. It's important to compare quotes, coverage options and customer reviews so you can find the best car insurance company for you.

Should you call or shop online for car insurance?

If you already know how much coverage you need, it's a good idea to start by shopping for car insurance online. Comparing quotes online is much faster, and some companies will give you a discount for shopping online.

But if you aren't sure what you need, have questions about your coverage or want to compare quotes from smaller companies, it's better to contact a local, independent insurance agent.

What should you consider when choosing a car insurance company?

When you're shopping for insurance, customer service reviews and coverage options are just as important as finding the cheapest price. If you're in an accident, you'll have peace of mind knowing that your insurance company will work hard to get you back on the road quickly.


Methodology

To find the best cheap car insurance companies, ValuePenguin gathered car insurance quotes across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Rates are for a 30-year-old single man with a clean driving record and good credit score who owns a 2015 Honda Civic EX.

Full coverage rates include comprehensive and collision coverage, along with higher liability limits than required in each state.

  • Bodily injury liability: $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident
  • Property damage liability: $25,000 per accident
  • Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage: $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident
  • Comprehensive and collision deductible: $500

ValuePenguin's analysis used insurance rate data from Quadrant Information Services. These rates were publicly sourced from insurer filings and should be used for comparative purposes only. Your own quotes may be different.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author's opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.