How to Shop For Automobile Insurance

A primer on how to shop for car insurance without causing a headache.
By Zach Bowman
You've done your homework and found the automotive insurance policy that's right for you and your vehicles. You think you may be done but shopping for insurance can be trickier than navigating a gridlocked highway. Being aware of some common policy issues can save you time and, most of all, money.

While most basic policies will cover bodily injury and property damage, there are a slew of smaller levels of coverage that might be worth considering. In the event of an accident, there's no guarantee that you'll be provided with a rental car by the offending party's insurance company when fenders meet. Fortunately, replacement rental coverage will get you back behind the wheel while your ride gets straightened out. At about $2 a month, it's worth skipping a few pizza nights to know you can get to work after a wreck.

Not everyone out there is driving insured, so it might be worth considering uninsured motorist coverage as well. In the event that you get bonked by someone who isn't covered, your insurance company will foot the bill for any medical or property damage expenses that occur as a result. It may even cover hit-and-run accidents as well, helping you be prepared for someone else's negligence.

Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, a consumer education organization, said that, aside from extra coverage, there are other issues insurance customers should be aware of. Chief among those is whether or not you're covered in the event you have to rent a vehicle.

"It used to be that it was a given you were covered when driving a rental car," Gorman said. "That's not always the case today. If you know you're going to be renting a car, make sure you call your insurance provider in advance."

Gorman's organization also warns of the dangers of allowing your insurance to lapse. Having your policy cancelled by the provider is different from terminating service yourself. Think of it like ending a relationship - you never want to be on the 'dumped' end of things. It can make it harder for you to obtain coverage in the future and may lead to having your license revoked if you don't notify your local department of motor vehicles in a timely manner.

One of the biggest dangers you can face as an insurance customer is not having sufficient coverage. Maybe local laws have low liability requirements or you were bargain hunting when buying a policy. Either way, not having sufficient bodily injury or property damage coverage is a good way to wind up in the middle of a civil suit, Gorman warns.

Of course, the best way to protect yourself against unforeseen insurance issues is to really read your policy. Yes, it's less entertaining than reading the PBS entries in last year's TV Guide, but being aware of what you can and cannot expect from your insurance provider will keep you from suffering policy shock when you need it least-right after an accident.

Below is a list of links to help you on your insurance shopping needs.

Insurance Information Institute
Lists all 50 state liability requirements as well as other important auto insurance regulations.

National Association of Insurance Commissioners
Links to each state's insurance oversight agency with options to research an agent or company or file a complaint.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Information on important safety and insurance legislation.

Insurance Gripe
Files an insurance complaint for you, essentially.

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