Why you can trust The Zebra

The Zebra partners with some of the companies we write about. However, our content is written and reviewed by an independent team of editors and licensed agents. Reference our data methodology and learn more about how we make money.

Author profile picture

Renata Balasco

Senior Content Strategist

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Renata joined The Zebra in 2020 as a Customer Experience Agent. Since 2021, she has worked as licensed insurance professional and content strategist.…

Author profile picture

Jean Lucey, CPCU

Faculty, IIAA Virtual University

  • CPCU, Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter

Jean Lucey has researched and written about insurance matters for well over 30 years. A current member of The Zebra's Insurance Expert Review Bo…

Author profile picture

Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

Car insurance buyer's guide

Whether you've just purchased a new car, or are on the hunt for the cheapest car insurance policy, the process of getting insured is typically the same. While the car insurance industry has made a lot of technological progress in recent years, getting auto insurance can be a taxing process.

J.D. Power's 2019 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study shows a notable trend: a 35% increase in existing customers switching their insurance policies, signaling a growing readiness to seek better options[1]. Our guide shows you the best way to buy auto coverage, with a few handy tricks to ensure you find the best possible insurance rate for your vehicle. Let’s get started.

How to shop for car insurance in 5 easy steps

Shopping around for a new auto insurance policy doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, you can buy car insurance in five quick steps.

Read our in-depth guide to understand exactly what you need to buy a car insurance policy and find the best value.

Step 1: Gather necessary information

In order to receive an accurate auto insurance quote, insurance agents or tools like The Zebra’s quote funnel require a few pieces of information to get started. Begin the shopping process by gathering the following information: 

  • Basic information — This includes the address the policy should reflect, the policyholder’s full name and birthdate.
  • Vehicle information — Vehicle identification number (VIN), manufacture year, make, model, safety features and mileage information can be found in the vehicle or on your registration.
  • Drivers’ information —  You will need drivers license numbers from all drivers that will be covered on the policy you’re shopping for, as well as their birthdates. This will provide the insurance agent with each driver’s basic details that will determine rating factors such as driving history.
  • Previous policy information — Your insurance documents will show your current policy limits. This information allows you to match your previous coverage if preferred.  

Step 2: Determine your coverage needs

It’s important to compare apples to apples when shopping for auto insurance. When comparing quotes from several auto insurance companies, make sure your quotes reflect the same limits and you can get the best value. The best place to start is by matching your previous insurance coverages.

If you’re starting from scratch, Use this guide to determine which additional coverage options you should consider.

If you have a car that is less than four years old or that still holds a high resale value, the following types of coverage are recommended along with your state-minimum liability insurance coverage:

Together with higher liability limits, these are commonly referred to as full coverage.

Those financing an older vehicle may still be required by their bank or lender to carry physical damage coverage. Have a look at the following recommended coverages:

  • Comprehensive coverage (other-than-collision)
  • Collision coverage
  • Gap insurance
  • Roadside assistance

In most states, the mandatory minimum coverage is not enough to keep you properly protected. As such, it's recommended that you consider adding the following:

Everyone's situation is different. The level of insurance coverage that you choose depends on a number of factors, including what you drive and how much you drive. In general, it's recommended that everyone increase their liability limits to the highest amount they can reasonably afford. In addition to state-required auto insurance coverages, there may be other coverage types that suit your driving needs and financial situation.

Step 3: Choose your shopping method 

There are a few ways to acquire car insurance coverage for your new vehicle. Your personal preferences may determine which car insurance shopping method works best for you. You can get an auto insurance policy through a variety of methods: 


Option A: From an insurer’s agent

These agents are known as “captive,” meaning they work for one insurance company exclusively, selling only that company’s policies.

Pros: Cons:
Exceptional familiarity with the insurer's coverage options Unable to compare quotes with other providers
Can guide you through your options if you don’t know what you need Captive agents work on commission, meaning they may offer you pricier policies.

Option B: From an independent agent

Unlike a captive agent who only sells products from their insurer, an independent agent can sell other companies' insurance products (as long as they have a relationship/partnership with them).

Pros: Cons:
Compare premiums from different insurance companies Potential additional car insurance broker fees
Agents understand state regulations and contract details from various insurance companies These agents also work on commission and may also try to upsell you a policy
More price and coverage flexibility than captive agents are able to provide

Option C: Directly from an insurer’s website

A common way to buy car insurance is to purchase a policy directly through an insurance company's website.

Pros: Cons:
If you know the coverage you need, you can handle this without assistance Online user experience may vary, as some companies invest more in their online experience than others
You can avoid pressure from agents You see only one company’s insurance rates
It's a convenient way to consider your options
Many companies offer additional online discounts for shopping online

Option D: Use an online comparison platform

The best way to shop — regardless of the product — is to find the cheapest price. Comparison tools (like The Zebra) show auto insurance premiums from different companies to help you find the best rate. 

Pros: Cons:
See rates from a variety of insurance companies and get the best value for your coverage If you don't know your coverage needs, this option could be more challenging
Comparing online offers a pressure-free shopping experience It may not be necessary to speak to an agent directly. However, The Zebra’s team of independent licensed insurance professionals can help
The Zebra’s quote comparison tool takes less than 5 minutes to fill out, saving you valuable time in your search

Compare auto insurance options and get the best value from your next policy.

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

Step 4: Compare insurers and ask about car insurance discounts

Once you’ve chosen your method for shopping, gather quotes from at least three carriers that you’re interested in. Each insurance company will have its own customer satisfaction ratings and available discounts, though most insurers offer the same basic options.

In addition to qualifying for discounts, there are a few methods to lowering your car insurance costs:

  • Raise your deductible — The math on this one is pretty simple: a higher deductible means lower payments. The reasoning for this is that you are assuming more of the risk (i.e. paying more out of pocket) in the event of a claim.
  • Install an anti-theft device — A car security system is a great way to put your car insurance company at ease and to lower your chances of your vehicle being stolen
  • Keep your credit score high — Car insurance companies see a strong credit history as a sign of responsibility, which can lead to savings.
  • Bundle your insurance policies — Many companies allow you to bundle your auto policy with your renters or homeowners insurance. 
  • Take a defensive driving course — Insurers love drivers who can keep a clean driving record. Taking a safe driving course could get you an instant discount and help you become a better driver, which saves you more money in the long run.
  • Drive less — By driving fewer miles, you reduce your chances of getting into an accident. Those who only need a car for short drives may look into usage-based insurance programs, also known as telematics, which determine your premium by measuring your driving habits.
  • Pay your premium at one time — You can save money by paying your full premium upfront.
  • Compare quotes — Because each company has a slightly different method of determining rates, you can save money by regularly shopping for insurance quotes. 
  • Don't let your coverage lapse — Aside from the high costs associated with restarting coverage after a lapse, some companies may offer discounts for "continuous coverage."

Step 5: Purchase your new insurance policy

Upon choosing a new insurance provider and policy, it’s time to buy! You may secure your new policy by paying the down payment and setting up a monthly payment plan or paying the premium in full. Don’t forget to cancel your old policy after you’ve signed the documents for your new policy. Make sure to set the cancelation date of your old policy for after the start date of your new one to avoid a lapse in coverage. Your old insurer should issue your refund for any unused premium if you paid in advance for months you will not use.

Find an affordable policy or bundle today by comparing quotes.

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

In summary

Now that you have a step by step guide for buying car insurance online, you will be able to repeat the process regularly. We recommend shopping for a new policy at the end of each policy term to see if you qualify for any new discounts or if another provider might offer a lower rate for the same coverage.


Other people are also asking...

Why does Allstate count hail damage against you?

Insurance companies are in business to make money, so when a customer files multiple claims within a certain time frame (usually 3 years), this begins to cost the insurance company more money than they are receiving from that customer. While not every company will non-renew your policy for multiple…
Feb 28, 2017 Amsterdam, NY

Is there a grace period for buying car insurance in GA from private seller?

While all cars need to be registered and insured by law in Georgia, the amount of time you are allowed to drive a new vehicle before adding it to your car insurance policy depends heavily on who you are insured by: some companies give you 30 days, some don't even offer a grace period. Therefor…
Apr 5, 2018 Snellville, GA

What's the difference between an insurance carrier and an insurance agency?

Great question! The word "carrier" in terms of insurance is just a synonym for company. An insurance carrier is the insurance company that covers your vehicle and is listed on your policy (e.g. Allstate, State Farm, etc.). An insurance "agency" is a business that sells insurance…
Apr 15, 2016 Boise, ID

Is there a way to get car insurance quotes without having a car first?

You don't have to physically own or possess a vehicle to get a car insurance quote, but you will at least need a year, make, and model of a vehicle you're interested in purchasing to get a quote.The great thing about The Zebra is that it's easy to compare quotes for any vehicle you m…
Oct 24, 2016 Southfield, MI

About The Zebra

The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.

  • The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.
  • The Zebra’s insurance editorial content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.
  • The Zebra’s editorial team operates independently of the company’s partnerships and commercialization interests, publishing unbiased information for consumer benefit.
  • The auto insurance rates published on The Zebra’s pages are based on a comprehensive analysis of car insurance pricing data, evaluating more than 83 million insurance rates from across the United States.