Six ways to save money on auto insurance

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State leaders and insurers are pushing for changes aimed at lowering automobile premiums by fighting inflated or fraudulent personal injury protection claims, but there are other ways you can save.

Consider this advice from industry experts.

Shop around. Too many consumers don't take advantage of the competition among insurers for policies, said Alex Hageli, director of personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

"Once they get a policy, it's almost like it's on auto pilot, and they're really missing out because there are a lot of good companies out there," he said.

Some insurers offer quotes online or over the phone. Or, you can find an independent agent near you who can give you quotes for about 10 companies, including large reputable insurers, according to Kyle Ulrich, a senior vice president at the Florida Association of Insurance Agents.

Look for the best coverage and service at the best price. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has tallies of complaints against insurers on its website and customer satisfaction ratings are available from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates.

Check for discounts. Discounts can lower rates for good students, senior citizens, people who haven't had tickets in the past few years, and people who work for certain companies or are members of professional or alumni associations.

The logic is that "responsible students are typically responsible drivers," said Lynne McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute an insurance group. She said discounts may not renew automatically, so remind your insurer when your policy is up for renewal.

Factors that determine your price may also change — such as the safety of the neighborhood if you move or the distance you drive to work — so updating that may help, said Rick Bogani, with Connect-Bogani Insurance agency in Royal Palm Beach.

"If there is a student who may have an auto away at college, alternate ZIP codes may be more competitive so those should be checked as well," he said.

Some insurers give discounts to drivers who spend less time on the road.

Progressive, Florida's fourth largest auto insurer, rolled out a program this year to provide discounts to eligible customers who allow the insurance company to track how much they drive. The insurer reports that customers in 40 states that have the program saved $20 as of this fall, an average of about $150 per driver per year.

There are discounts for safety features such as air bags, anti-lock brakes, lights that automatically turn on during the day, and car alarms or other anti-theft devices.

Some companies also have discounts for customers who renew their policies or buy multiple policies from them.

Drivers over age 55 can take a safe driving course online for $15 to save 10 percent on their auto insurance for three years, McChristian said.

"Check with your insurer first to see if there are online courses that they offer discounts for, and make sure you select a program approved by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles she said. "Some insurers may allow drivers as young as 50 to get a discount after taking an online course, so it pays to ask."

Consider dropping some coverage. "A general rule of thumb is that if the car is worth less than 10 times what you pay for insurance coverage, it may not be cost effective to continue collision and comprehensive coverage," McChristian wrote in an email.

Hageli said one option is to get the minimum amount of coverage required under state law — $10,000 personal injury protection and $10,000 property damage liability. "It's not ideal," he said, but it may be the only option for people struggling to make ends meet.

Avoid extra fees. Don't pay for rental car coverage if you don't plan to use one or for towing coverage if you're a member of an automobile club that provides roadside assistance. If you can pay your premium upfront, you could save on administrative fees that are typically charged for monthly or quarterly payments.

Increase your deductible. This is a particularly good option for people who don't drive a lot and are good, defensive drivers.

"Increasing your deductible from $500 to $1,000 can save you 40 percent or more. But never choose a higher deductible than you think you can afford if you were to be involved in a car crash," McChristian said.

Check your credit score. You can check it online for free once a year, Hageli said. Dispute inaccurate information in the report. In the meantime, if you suspect the score is unfairly affecting your insurance premium, ask your insurance company whether it's a factor in determining the premium and if it can be removed.

You can also work to improve the score.

Other life decisions that seem independent of insurance can also have an impact on your rates, such as the frequency of accidents near your home and the type of car you own.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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