Car insurance buyer's guide

After you’ve decided on a new car, the next step is finding a car insurance policy. And while the car insurance industry has made a lot of technological progress in recent years, getting auto insurance can be a taxing process.

The below guide describes the best ways to get car insurance in 2021, 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 get car insurance in five quick steps. 

  1. Gather documentation
  2. Choose coverage
  3. Decide on a shopping method
  4. Compare quotes and discounts
  5. Purchase your policy

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 — VIN numbers, 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.
  • Previous policy information—Your insurance documents will show your current coverage 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 insurance companies, make sure you are searching within the proper parameters of coverage so that each quote reflects 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.

Is your car new?

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

Are you financing an older vehicle? 

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:

Does your state have low liability coverage limits? 

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 you 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. 

  • The benefit of working with a captive agent is their exceptional familiarity with the insurer's coverage options.
  • A captive agent can guide you through your options if you don’t know what you need. 
  • Since they only work for one insurance company, they are not able to compare quotes with other providers — you will have to do that on your own.
  • These agents work on commission, meaning they may offer pricier policies to you.


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).

  • The ability to compare premiums from different insurance companies while developing a trusting relationship with an agent.
  • Independent agents are knowledgeable about many state regulations and contract details from various insurance companies. 
  • You are able to deal with an agent while getting more price and coverage flexibility than captive agents are able to provide. 
  • Potential additional car insurance broker fees
  • These agents also work on commission, so they may also try to upsell you a policy. 


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. 

  • If you already understand the coverage you need, you are able to handle this yourself without assistance.
  • You are able to avoid pressure from agents.
  • It's a convenient way to consider your options.
  • Online user experience may vary, as some companies invest more in their online user experience than others
  • You see only one company’s insurance rates


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) showauto insurance premiums from different companiesto help you find the best rate. 

  • You can see prices from a variety of insurance companies and get the best value for your coverage needs.
  • Comparing online offers a pressure-free shopping experience
  • The Zebra’s quote comparison tool takes less than 5 minutes to fill out, saving you valuable time in your search.
  • If you’re not sure of your coverage needs, this option could be more challenging.
  • Online tools mean it is not necessary to speak to an agent directly. However, The Zebra’s team of licensed insurance professionals are here to help (these are independent agents similar to the ones listed in option 2).

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

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Step 4: Compare insurance providers and inquire about qualifying 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 set of available discounts, though most insurers offer the same basic options.

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

  • 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 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 up front.
  • Compare quotes — Because each company has a slightly different method of determining rates, you can save money by regularly shopping for insurance quotes. 

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 forafterthe 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.

Additional tips

Now that you have a step by step guide to shopping for insurance, 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. If you’re looking for more information on buying car insurance online, including how to save and how much car insurance coverage you might need, see our guides:

Renata Balasco LinkedIn

Renata is a licensed insurance professional and content strategist responsible for creating home and auto insurance content for The Zebra. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, and her background in technical content and insurance service informs her writing.