Car ownership comes with unseen costs. Everyone’s least favorite: the dreaded insurance.
Car insurance companies often get a bad rap, partially thanks to reviews from disgruntled customers. That makes it hard to determine the best auto insurance for you.
What does “best” car insurance company even mean?
The answer differs widely from consumer to consumer. If saving money is your biggest concern, you’ll probably value cheaper premiums over all else. If you’ve had bad experiences with customer service, you’ll want a company known for its superior service and reliability.
You may also want to consider other factors, like whether an insurer covers drivers with poor records or offers discounts for teen drivers with good grades.
Best Car Insurance on a Budget
Auto insurance rates depend on a variety of factors, including your age, location, and driving track record. Therefore, the cheapest car insurance varies from driver to driver.
Here’s a list of companies offering budget-friendly car insurance.
Erie Insurance Group
You might not have heard of Erie Insurance Group. That’s because, as of February 2019, it’s only available in 12 states plus the District of Columbia. But compared to other insurers, Erie’s rates tend to be lower, particularly in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In addition to offering competitive rates, Erie Insurance Group came at the top of the J.D. Power U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction Study.
If you live in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, DC or New York, check out Erie to see if you could save money.
Average Rate: $1,052 per year
You probably know Geico from those commercials with the annoying British gecko. But that gecko’s claim about saving you 15% or more on car insurance could be true for you.
Geico is the second-largest insurer in the U.S. and is available in all 50 states. Of those states, drivers in New York and Utah could save the most with Geico.
In the J.D. Power U.S. Claims Satisfaction Study, Geico ranked about average in most categories and scored five out of five in the Rental Experience category, which focuses on customers’ experiences with getting rental cars while their own vehicle undergoes repairs.
Average Rate: $1,067 per year
Coming in at the third most affordable insurance company, American Family is also available nationwide. It ranks average in the J.D. Power U.S. Claims Satisfaction Study in all categories.
If your biggest concern is cost, it’s definitely worth getting a quote to see how it compares in your area.
Average Rate: $1,099 per year
Best Car Insurance Customer Service
Customer satisfaction is measured by many factors. To determine the most reliable car insurance company, we turned to the aforementioned J.D. Power U.S. Claims Satisfaction Study.
The study rates insurance companies based on seven categories: repair process, overall satisfaction, the initial claims reporting process, the process of getting an estimate, rental experience, claims servicing and settlement.
Here are the top three, in order:
As well as being the most affordable car insurance company, Erie scored top marks in the J.D. Power study, beating out many of its better-known competitors. It received five out of five in all categories except repair process, where it scored four out of five.
Overall Satisfaction: 5/5
USAA offers insurance for active duty military, veterans and family members of those people. It came in second place in the J.D. Power study with top marks in all categories, except estimation process, where it received four out of five.
Overall Satisfaction: 5/5
Amica Mutual came in third place in the J.D. Power study, receiving dings in a few categories. For first notice of loss and estimation process, it scored four out of five. The repair process scored three out of five, and rental experience was two out of five.
Overall Satisfaction: 5/5
State Farm offers a variety of discounts for young drivers. The Good Student Discount offers discounts of up to 25% for drivers under 25 who maintain good grades in school. You can also get a driver training discount for taking driver’s ed classes.
The Steer Clear safe driver discount uses an app to record your trips, and you can also watch safe driving videos and take quizzes.
Erie Insurance is good for teen drivers as well as more experienced drivers. The Youthful Driver Discount is for unmarried drivers under 21 who live at home.
The Youthful Longevity Discount is designed for drivers who spend multiple years in a row under an Erie policy, whether their own or their parents’.
Finally, the Driver Training Discount gives cheaper rates — discounts range from 5% to 20% — to drivers under 21 who complete an accredited driver training course.
American Family offers a Teen Safe Driver program that can net you a nice discount on your premiums. The program uses an app to track driving behavior and suggest ways you can become safer behind the wheel.
After 3,000 miles or one year in the program, you’ll get a 10% discount on your insurance premium.
If you have a bad driving record, chances are you find it hard to get affordable car insurance. But don’t despair: Some auto insurance providers do offer affordable policies even to bad drivers.
If you have a history of reckless driving, Geico could be your best bet. For drivers with a history of speeding, reckless/careless driving or running a stop sign, Geico could save you around 20%.
For drivers with a DUI on their record, finding an auto insurance company that will take a chance on you can be tough. Progressive may be your refuge. This insurance company is also a good option if you have an accident for which you were at fault on your driving record. You could save 30-40%, depending on your exact situation.
Consumer Reports recommends shopping around to get the best deal, even if you already have insurance. Doing so will show you the variety of available options so you can make the best decision based on your needs and budget.
A digital marketplace called SmartFinancial will do the comparing for you. You could be getting rates as low as $22 a month — and saving yourself more than $700 a year.
It takes one minute to get quotes from multiple insurers, so you can see all the best rates side-by-side. Yep — in just one minute you could save yourself $715 this year. That’s some major cash back in your pocket.
So if you haven’t checked car insurance rates in a while, see how much you can save with a new policy.
The minimum mandatory coverage varies depending on where you live. The first place to check is your state insurance commissioner’s website to see those minimum requirements. For example, in Ohio, where I live, only liability insurance is required by law.
But you might choose to buy more than the minimum requirement in order to more fully protect yourself and your assets.
Ask your insurance agent what they cover. If you stick with basic liability insurance, make sure you read the fine print to see the types of claims it covers. Ditto if you add things like physical damage coverage or anything above and beyond the minimum.
Just as you need to know what’s covered, you should know what’s excluded. For example, some policies may not cover you if you’re in a collision with an uninsured driver, if you’re a victim of vehicle theft, if you collide with an animal or if your car is damaged in a natural disaster.
Ask for a list of what’s not covered so you can determine the likelihood that these exclusions will affect you. For example, if you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you’ll want to make sure your car is covered for natural disasters. If you often drive on country roads, you’ll probably want to be covered if you hit a deer.
When your car sustains damage, some insurance companies will choose the auto repair shop that will fix your car. This is usually due to an agreement between the repair shop and the insurance company, where the shop cuts the insurance company a deal for sending customers their way.
Usually this works out fine, but if you have a preferred mechanic you might not appreciate being told where to get your car fixed. Or, if you have a high deductible, you might want to get a second opinion on price before committing to a repair order.
With any insurance plan, the most notable costs are the monthly premiums. But your deductible could cause you some serious financial issues in case of an accident.
A high deductible means you’ll need to pay more out of pocket for a repair before your insurance policy kicks in and covers the rest. If you have enough in savings, you could get away with a higher deductible and lower monthly premium. But if your safety net is lacking, opting for a lower deductible and higher premiums could be a smarter choice.
Liability insurance typically only covers damage to other people or property when you’re at fault. Under liability insurance, repairing your own car could be on you. For that reason, you might consider additional coverage to help cover you in a variety of different scenarios.
Comprehensive coverage protects you in cases where your car is damaged by an event other than an accident, like an act of Mother Nature.
Collision coverage pays to repair your car after an accident, typically whether or not the accident was your fault.
Uninsured motorist protection covers you when you’re in an accident with a driver who doesn’t have insurance. Without this type of protection, you would be liable for any damage to your vehicle, which could end up costing you big.
Personal injury protection, also called “no-fault” coverage, helps pay for medical and other costs no matter whose fault the accident was. It can also cover things like lost wages and transportation to medical appointments. Some states mandate this type of coverage, while in others it’s an optional add-on.
You have multiple ways to make sure you’re getting the best rate on your car insurance, no matter which company you choose.
It pays to go with the same company for all your insurance needs. Most insurance companies offer discounted rates when you bundle things like home, auto and personal property insurance.
It can pay to be a responsible driver. Most insurance companies lower your rates the longer you go without an accident. Others use technology like apps to measure your driving behavior and offer a discount for using the app to become a better driver.
You might be able to get a discount by paying your annual car insurance premium in full. It’s worth considering if you have enough in savings and want to spend less overall on car insurance. If you can’t afford to pay in full, ask if you can get a discount for enrolling in an auto-pay program.
Many insurance companies will offer a discount if you complete driver training courses, regardless of your age.
Things like anti-theft devices, airbags and safety technology found in new cars could get you a discount. Make sure you mention these when getting a quote.
Choosing the right car insurance policy can be a stressful experience, but it pays to shop around and consider all your options before signing on the dotted line.
Catherine Hiles lives in Ohio with her husband and their two children. By day she manages a team of writers and graphic designers, and catches up on her own writing in her spare time.