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Never before in history have consumers had access to so many national car insurance companies. In the bygone days of brick and mortar insurance agencies, customers seeking auto policies or other types of insurance services were limited to the companies willing to open offices in their neighborhoods or towns.
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Few companies could afford to open a number of offices in any given area so there weren’t as many auto insurance choices in smaller cities, and especially in rural areas. By the law of supply and demand, more heavily populated areas like major cities were usually better served.
Online National Car Insurance Comes of Age
Now all an insurance carrier has to do is to set up a website and begin advertising online, and a whole world of opportunity opens up for consumers; excited with the prospect of more insurance choices and anxious to bring down the high cost of their auto insurance policies through more competitive pricing.
Of course, the above statement while true is somewhat of an oversimplification of the car insurance industry. Car insurance companies, like other insurance carriers, must be licensed in each individual state in which they wish to do business.
Insurance concerns are heavily regulated by state commissioners and must conform to the existing laws regarding insurance services in each state. These laws control everything from the kinds of coverage a company may offer to the rates that a company may charge its policyholders.
There have always been large national insurance companies offering their wares in a number of different states. Only since the advent of the Internet and e-commerce has the playing field been leveled to allow car insurance providers, big and small, to compete together in one large open forum, the World Wide Web.
Advantages of National Companies
The first and greatest advantage of working with nationally based companies is competition. For the first time in decades, auto insurance premium rates have not only remained level but have actually started to decline.
It is certain that these reduced insurance rates can be traced back to the strong competition brought about through the Internet.
Claims Journal, an insurance industry website, reports that car insurance rates have been dropping steadily since 2005. Car insurance is now far more affordable for many more American drivers.
The rate of uninsured motorists has also dropped accordingly, down to 13.8% nationwide after reaching a high of more than 15% in the early 2000s.
Shopping online for national car insurance providers, as an alternative to traditional local insurance offices and agents, gives consumers many more benefits than just competitive pricing. National insurance companies can compete with local and regional providers on many different levels that include customer service.
National car insurance companies offer the ease and convenience of shopping online by providing user-friendly tools and calculators. Applications can be completed and submitted on line in just minutes. Some national companies can even take your premium payment and begin coverage the minute your application is approved!
Once approved, national car insurance companies offer customer portals, which provide instant services. Customers can log into their online accounts and submit a claim, manage their account information or even change their coverage with a few clicks of their computer mouse.
In May 2012, J.D. Power and Associates released its report evaluating auto insurance company websites. J.D. Power concluded that the majority of online shoppers, 55%, are likely not to shop with a particular insurer if they are disappointed with the insurer’s website.
As more than 34% of car insurance shoppers prefer buying their policies online, their online experiences with company websites can have a tremendous impact on whether they choose a particular company for their insurance needs or choose to recommend the insurer to family and friends.
Power’s survey team considered five important factors when they were evaluating national car insurance website. These include the:
- Ease of site navigation
- Site’s overall appearance
- Clarity and accuracy of the site’s information
- Variety of services available on the site
- How fast the site is to navigate
The sites that fared the best on the new J.D. Power survey were those of Esurance, Allstate, Travelers, and Geico.
Top Customer Service
All of the nation’s top car insurance carriers have a strong online presence. A recent article, published by Forbes Magazine, released the list of top U.S. auto insurance companies ranked by customer preference.
The national companies considered to offer the best customer service for 2012 are led by the Hartford, followed by Liberty Mutual, then American Family, the Auto Club Group and Nationwide Insurance.
Number six on the Forbes list is Amica Mutual, followed by State Farm, Erie Insurance, MetLife, and Auto-Owners Insurance. Auto-Owners, along with a number of other companies such as number 12, Ameriprise, and number 18, Esurance, are national companies that operate wholly online.
The above rankings are from customer satisfaction surveys conducted by J.D. Power and Associates and include more than 50,000 responses from insurance customers across the United States.
Disadvantages of Purchasing National Car Insurance
Cambridge Property and Casualty, a large commercial insurance provider in Michigan has put together a paper summarizing the disadvantages of purchasing national car coverage online.
At the top of the Cambridge list, is that national online providers have no offices. Without a brick and mortar infrastructure, online companies maintain operations at just one single national headquarters or at best a regional call center.
This system only permits policyholders to communicate by telephone or Internet. There are advantages to being able to meet in person with your very own insurance representative, says Cambridge. Agents provide a local touch to insurance services. They are able to get to know you as a client and are able to provide personalized service.
Agents from local offices can respond quickly in an emergency when claims service may be needed or they can be available to take a last minute payment and keep your policy from cancelling due to a late payment. Local agents are also on scene to make recommendations for coverage and help negotiate tricky paperwork among other services.
National, online carriers are more limited in the services that they can provide online and may even charge transaction fees just for taking payments through their websites. In addition, every time you call a national insurance company, you’ll speak with a different representative.
There’s never a way to tell whom you are dealing with nor how little or how much the faceless person on the other end of the phone or Internet connection may know, or how well they may be able to help in a pinch.
Auto insurance policies are state specific.
A national company that writes a policy while you live in one state, may not honor, nor be able to honor the exact terms of that policy should you move to a different state. This allows national insurance carriers to disallow auto claims from out of state; and the policyholder ends up out of luck.
Without agents to review your policy needs, and offices to visit, national insurance customers are often dumped in a call center, which serves up a ready-made script intended as a one size fits all approach to sales and service.
A customer of a giant online insurance agency might be made to feel as if he is but one of a million other customers with little opportunity for differentiation and personalized service. A local agent will take the time to personally review a client’s application information, match him or her to the policy best suited to their needs and even visit policyholders at their homes.
Automated telephone systems can be very difficult and frustrating to navigate for most consumers. Computerized prompts can be maddening and add many minutes to the task of calling your insurance provider for even the simplest concerns.
National call centers are notorious for long waits and poorly trained customer service representatives. It’s not unusual that once you finally get through the automated system, you are transferred two or three times, or even more before connecting with a real person who can actually assist you with the matter you are calling about.
It’s important to remember that online national customer service representatives may not be licensed insurance agents. They don’t have to be in order to answer insurance questions on the phone or take application information from new clients.
Online national insurance carriers won’t be able to advise you on the adequacy of your coverage as locally knowledgeable flesh and blood agents will.
No one will call you when it’s time to renew or provide you with details of new money-saving programs without being asked. The information will be available to you, but you’ll have to find it, along with everything else that’s jam packed together on the company’s website.
Purchasing car insurance through a national company, online, can be both a rewarding and a frustrating experience. Care should be taken to make sure that the company you’re dealing with will not only provide you with competitive rates, but with consistent and professional customer service after the sale.
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