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First Time Drivers Guide To Car Insurance

Now that you’re behind the wheel, you have to start thinking about car insurance—which can be a scary prospect for first-time drivers.

Don’t worry. We’ve outlined it all here for you.

State Car Insurance Requirements

Before you hit the road, understand that nearly every state requires some form of financial responsibility from drivers. Most states require a minimum amount of car insurance, though some states allow drivers to prove financial responsibility via other means, such as filing a surety bond of a certain amount.

Liability insurance is a two-fold type of coverage:

  1. Bodily injury coverage: This covers injuries suffered by another person during an auto accident.
  2. Property damage coverage: This covers damage to another person's property during an auto accident.

Note that liability insurance doesn’t cover you or your car—unless you’re the injured party (and even then, it’s the other person’s insurance that covers you). Thus, it’s important to consider other types of optional coverage (see “Optional Coverages” below).

Because your car insurance provider is licensed to sell insurance in your state, your agent is schooled on your state’s minimum liability insurance requirements; still, you can prepare yourself by choosing your state in our section on Car Insurance.

Optional Coverages

There are many different kinds of additional coverage you can add on to your car insurance policy, and you can discuss additional coverage types with your insurance agent, who will talk with you about your specific needs.

Below are three of the most common types of additional coverage that drivers request.

1) Collision and Comprehensive Coverage

Generally, collision and comprehensive coverages are optional―unless you leased or financed your vehicle and your lender requires these coverage types until you pay off your loan.

Where liability insurance covers damages to other people's property, collision and comprehensive is considered physical damage coverage and protects your property.

  • Collision insurance: This insurance covers damages to your own vehicle in the event of a collision.
  • Comprehensive insurance: This insurance covers damages to your vehicle in the event of theft, vandalism, natural disasters, animal collisions, and weather conditions.

Purchasing these two types of coverage is a good idea even if you're not required to do so. It can be especially useful if you live in a large metropolitan area, or you often commute in heavy traffic.

However, if your vehicle is older, collision and comprehensive insurance might not pay off; in the long run, you could end up paying more in premiums than you would to repair your vehicle.

If you are like many first-time drivers, your first car will probably be second-hand or low-value, so you might want to avoid these coverages. Also, remember that this may be just another reason to avoid that flashy new car. A cheaper car probably doesn’t need as much coverage, so you’ll save money on the purchase AND on your insurance!

2) Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects you in the case that you get hit by a driver who doesn’t have coverage to pay for your damages and/or injuries.

  • Underinsured motorist coverage: This insurance protects you if you're involved in an accident with a driver who doesn’t have high enough insurance limits to cover the damages sustained.
  • Uninsured motorist coverage: This insurance protects you if you're involved in an accident with a driver who has no coverage.

3) Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

Similar to underinsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection (PIP insurance) is a medical coverage that covers the cost of your own medical expenses related to an accident, whether or not you were at fault.

PIP insurance coverage allows you to get your medical bills paid without having to wait for the conclusion of a lengthy accident investigation.

PIP is also referred to as no-fault coverage, and is required in some states. Check our Car Insurance section to see what types of insurance you must buy in your state.

Other Coverages

There are multiple other types of coverages. These include:

  • Medical payments coverage.
  • Rental reimbursement coverage.
  • Towing and labor coverage.
  • Emergency roadside assistance coverage.

Visit our Auto Insurance Coverages section to learn all about the types of coverages available from most car insurance companies.

Car Insurance Rates and Premiums

Your car insurance rate, or premium, is the payment you make to have car insurance coverage.

Rates vary from provider to provider, but some of the most common factors car insurance companies use when determining your insurance rates include:

  • The amount and type(s) of coverage you want (and need).
  • Your driving record, also known as a motor vehicle record (MVR). Your MVR is a record of your driving history and helps car insurance companies determine the risk involved when insuring you. MVRs provide information including your:
    • Current driver license status.
    • Any traffic violations (including the associated driving record points).
    • Any at-fault accidents in which you’ve been involved.
  • Your vehicle. This includes factors such as:
    • The make and model.
    • How at risk the vehicle is for being stolen or vandalized.
    • How much it would cost to repair the vehicle.
    • How many (if any) safety features the vehicle has installed.
    • The vehicle’s overall safety rating.
    • Where you park your vehicle (specifically, how safe the location is).
  • Where you live. Vehicles in urban areas notoriously are more expensive to insure than those in rural areas.
  • How often you drive. Vehicle owners who don’t drive much tend to get lower rates than those who spend a lot of time behind the wheel.
  • Your credit score. Many auto insurance companies determine factors such as how likely you are to make payments on time or file a complaint based on your credit history.
  • Some personal information, such as your age and gender.
    • For example, females 25 years old and older tend to get lower premiums because they belong to two groups less likely to become involved in accidents: women and drivers over 25.

Again, because providers’ rates vary, it’s important to shop around for car insurance coverage. Get quotes from a variety of companies before choosing the best insurance policy and rates for you.

See “How to Shop for Insurance” below for more details.

Car Insurance Limits

Your car insurance limit is the highest amount of coverage your company provides on a specific coverage.

For example, if your collision limit is $10,000 and you incur $15,000 in damages to your vehicle, your car insurance company will pay $10,000 and you’ll be responsible for the remaining $5,000.

Sometimes, you’ll see policies written with two numbers, such as 50/100. For example, if your bodily injury liability coverage is written as such, it means that it will pay:

  • $50,000 maximum for bodily injury to a single driver in an accident you cause.
  • $100,000 maximum for bodily injury to multiple people in an accident you cause.

Increasing your limits means your car insurance company will cover more of the costs, but increasing your limits often means increasing your rates, too. Make such a decision based on how much you can reasonably afford to pay in premiums.

Car Insurance Deductibles

A car insurance deductible is the out-of-pocket amount of money a driver pays before his car insurance coverage will kick in to pay a claim.

For example, let’s say you have an accident and rack up $2,500 worth of damage to your car. If your deductible is $1,000:

  • You pay $1,000 toward the damage repair.
  • Your insurance company picks up the remaining $1,500.

Typically, the higher the premium, the lower the deductible, and vice versa.

Although choosing a higher deductible so you can get a lower premium seems like a good idea, it’s not always financially responsible. Why? You might have to pay that deductible some day, and if it’s too high (especially depending on where you are in life), you might no be able to afford it.

Always be mindful when choosing your deductible about whether you can reasonably afford to pay it if you get into an accident.

How to Shop for Insurance

You probably already know you can directly shop for car insurance online or in person, but did you know there are even more thorough ways to go about it?

For example, you might use an agent or a broker when shopping for auto coverage.

Generally, car insurance agents work with specific companies; on the flip-side, brokers (sometimes referred to as independent agents) work with several different insurance companies. As such, brokers tend to give you a more well-rounded view of your options. However, they might charge you a broker fee.

Additionally, agents might be more knowledgeable about the companies they work with, including discounts provided by those companies!

Research Car Insurance Companies

Whether you use an agent or broker or go it alone, it’s crucial to research car insurance companies before applying for quotes and choosing a provider.

Ways to dig a little deeper into companies include:

  • Check with your state’s Department of Insurance for consumer complaint ratios.
  • Learn about the provider’s financial standing.
  • Look up the company’s rating on the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
    • The BBB rates businesses from A+ to F and provides a wealth of specific information including customer complaints and how long the provider has been in operation.
  • Find the provider’s social media accounts (such as Facebook and Twitter).
    • Reach out and ask specific questions about coverage options and cost. Gauge responses and determine the quality of customer service.
  • Talk with family members and friends about their auto coverage providers.
    • What kinds of experiences have they had? Are they pleased? Why or why not?

Getting Car Insurance Quotes

Now that you have a handle on a few possible companies, it’s time to apply for car insurance quotes.

In addition to some of the tips and discount information listed below, it’s important to never limit yourself to one company. Always get at least three quotes from three different providers. This is easy to do in today’s market, as you can get multiple quotes online at one time.

You will need to have some information on hand, such as:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your VIN number.
  • Your car’s make and model.
  • Your daily mileage.

Giving yourself as many options as possible opens the door to better coverage, more affordable rates, and a multitude of discounts.

Tips to Find Cheap Car Insurance

You know that getting as many quotes as possible is one way to find more affordable coverage. Now try some of these tips for first time drivers on getting discounts and the best car insurance rates:

  • Ask about multi-line coverage.
    • Also known as “bundling,” insuring multiple properties (such as vehicles and houses) can get you a discount on both lines of insurance.
  • Look for good-driver rewards programs.
    • Some companies provide drivers with discounts after a certain period of accident- and violation-free time.
  • Complete driver’s education or driving training courses.
    • Even if they’re not required in your state, some insurance providers offer discounts for successfully completing these driver-training classes.
  • Keep a clean driving record.
    • Car insurance companies are notorious for hiking up rates if you have a history of license suspensions, traffic violations, and at-fault accidents.
  • Learn about discounts for teen drivers.
    • Teen drivers are among some of the most expensive to insure, but many companies provide discounts to those who’ve completed Driver’s Ed or bring home good grades each semester.
  • Choose a safe vehicle for your first car. Safety features get you discounts and keep you protected!

Understand, this isn’t an exhaustive list. You can—and should—always ask each car insurance provider about discounts for which you might be eligible.

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