Let’s get one thing out there: no one is especially psyched to get car insurance. You get it because it’s a financial safeguard against damage to your car or injury to you or others (and maybe because it also happens to be legally required in some form nearly everywhere in the US). Car insurance is complicated, and drivers often don’t know what to expect from the process.
Let us break down the basics so you’re better able to find the right coverage for you. Here are six things you need to know.
1. What Car Insurance Is
As a licensed insurance agent, I find that many people I talk to don’t quite understand what insurance is or why they need it. I get it. After all, insurance is rather abstract—it’s not a physical object you buy at a store. Further, if all goes well for you, you won’t ever have to use the coverage you paid for. So it’s often hard for people to see the value.
In the simplest terms, insurance is a promise from an insurance company to support you financially in the event that something unfortunate occurs and causes you financial loss or other damage. You pay an insurance company money (your premium) for a policy that details your coverage (who/what is protected and to what dollar amount), and the insurance company is responsible for paying if something happens and you incur a loss (damage to your car, a broken leg, etc.). Insurance companies do this by pooling risk among all the people they insure, collecting premiums from everyone and using those funds to pay claims for those who need it.
Of course, there are many other details that go into the whole system, but we’re keeping it simple.
2. What Different Insurance Types Cover
The type and amount of coverage each person needs varies, but these are the coverage basics you should know.
Liability coverage is legally required for drivers in almost every state. It covers the other driver in a crash you cause, and it includes injury and property damage. If you see numbers like 25/50/10 or 30/60/25, that shows the liability coverage limits for (1) bodily injury per person, (2) bodily injury per accident, and (3) property damage—each in thousands of dollars. For example, 25/50/10 means your coverage will extend up to $25,000 per individual injured in an accident, $50,000 for all persons injured in an accident, and $10,000 for property damage.
In no-fault states, you are required to carry coverage (normally personal injury protection or PIP) for your injuries regardless of who caused the accident.
Collision coverage, which covers damage caused in a crash, and comprehensive coverage, which covers damage from other events including weather (fire, flooding, etc.) as well as theft, are often collectively called full coverage.
Other coverages include uninsured motorist coverage, which protects you and your vehicle from damage caused by people who don’t have insurance, and medical payments coverage, which covers select costs for injuries you and your passengers sustain in a collision.
3. How to Get Car Insurance
You can easily go online, call a company or two, or even walk into a local insurance agent’s office to talk to them about getting coverage. But how do you know which company to contact?
Insurance companies spend billions of dollars every year on advertising, so you could probably rattle off a few big car insurance brands you’re familiar with. But it’s important for consumers to know that not all insurance companies are the same—in fact, they all have different ways of pricing policies, and many look for certain types of customers with certain risk profiles to do business with.
This is why it’s more important than ever to compare car insurance quotes from as many companies as possible. Getting multiple opinions and understanding the market will help you find the best rate around.