Car Insurance Agent vs. Online

When it comes to buying coverage from a car insurance agent vs. online, there are pros and cons on either side. The benefit of buying car insurance online is the ability to compare quotes from multiple companies before you buy, while captive insurance agents are limited to only offering quotes from the one provider they work for. Read our guide to learn more about buying a policy from an auto insurance agent vs. online.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Oct 27, 2020

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Things to know...

  • When shopping for auto insurance, you can either purchase a policy from an independent agent, a captive agent, or online
  • If you’re looking to build a lasting relationship with a single insurer, a captive agent will be your best option
  • Independent agents provide policies from a wide range of providers making it possible to compare many options and pick the best possible policy

Should you purchase auto insurance directly from insurance companies or through agents? The truth is, whichever way you go, there are pros and cons to it.

To help you understand which option will work best for your individual needs, you should be ready to explore the main differences between the two options.

You can also shop for car insurance by yourself by comparing free quotes online.

Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s a good idea to compare both and explore all your options before shopping around.

Compare car insurance quotes online today. Just enter your zip code into our free rate tool above.

Types of Auto Insurance Agents


The auto insurance agent system is still intact across the US for people who prefer to go old school. You can get their contacts from online guides or via the telephone directory. There are two types of insurance agents:

  • Captive agents
  • Independent agents

Captive agents are assigned to sell auto insurance coverages on behalf of a specific auto insurance provider.

Independent agents, on the other hand, work for themselves, and sometimes as part of a mini firm. They can sell auto insurance policies from a number of different insurers.

Many independent agents offer the following, as well:

  • auto insurance
  • health insurance
  • life insurance
  • business liability insurance

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Buying Auto Insurance from a Captive Agent

Captive agents used to be the traditional means of obtaining auto insurance coverage.

They sell coverage exclusively on behalf of one auto insurance provider. They have offices in different states. Upon purchasing coverage via a captive agent, they become your point of contact.

Any grievances or complaints will be reported to the agent who will, in turn, communicate to the insurer.

Dozens of reputable auto insurance providers still sell coverage through captive agents.

Because they deal with one insurer, captive agents aren’t your best choice if you want to compare quotes from multiple carriers.

When should you buy a policy from a captive agent?


The following are some situations in which you should consider buying from a captive insurance agent.

  • If your goal is to build a lasting relationship with a particular insurer.
  • You have a busy schedule, and you want someone to manage your insurance policies collectively. Captive agents offer the best deals on multiple policies.
  • You don’t know much about auto insurance and, therefore, need personalized assistance.

Buying Auto Insurance Coverage from an Independent Agent

Independent agents also spread locally across the United States. Independent agents sell coverage from a group of auto insurers. Independent agents are motivated to provide a good service to keep you with the company since they are paid in commission.

However, they may also try to make you purchase unnecessary additional coverage or upsell the policy for the same reason. Several established insurance providers sell auto insurance products through independent agents.

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When should you buy from an independent agent?


The following are some scenarios where it would make sense to purchase insurance from an independent agent.

  • When you want to deal with someone with a better understanding of the complex parts of your policy. Owing to the fact that independent agents deal with multiple insurers, they tend to have a greater understanding of the workings of the insurance world.
  • You know exactly how much coverage you need, so you can turn down unnecessary add-ons independent agents will try to sell to you.
  • You prefer to deal with agents, but you also want to be able to choose the best quotes from a pool of insurers.

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Benefits of Purchasing Coverage from an Agent

Buying coverage via an agent has its advantages over purchasing a policy online directly from the provider. Some of these advantages include:

Multi-Policy Discount

One of the biggest advantages of buying coverage from a captive agent is the multi-line discounts they offer on multiple policies.

Whether you want to bundle your homeowner’s and auto insurance policy or get a superior multi-policy discount on the vehicles in your household, a captive agent is your best bet.

Knowledge of the Local Market

Insurance agents operate from local offices. Their knowledge of the local insurance market will help them secure better coverage for you. Their familiarity with the area in terms of security level, population, and theft rates can be used to your advantage.

Personalized Service

It is always better to deal with an actual person instead of automated voices when buying coverage. You won’t hold back; you will ask all the questions in your mind when you have a smiling face in front of you.

Better Deals

Chances of you getting a better deal are higher when dealing with an independent agent.

Once you explain your personal auto insurance needs to them, they know exactly where to look and get you the best deal. They can even get you better quotes than you can get if choose to buy online.

Simple Language

Insurance agents, over time, have learned how to simplify auto insurance policy jargon. Therefore, they can explain the terms of your policy in layman’s terms which will help you understand your manuscript policy form better.

Typically, these forms are drawn in standard industry wording which if you don’t understand, could affect you in one way or another.

Disadvantages of Buying from a Car Insurance Agent


Purchasing auto insurance coverage from an agent can be time-consuming. If you are in a hurry, you are better off buying coverage directly online. There have been cases of unscrupulous agents who will take your money in exchange for a bogus coverage.

If you choose to deal with an agency, make sure that you go for a reputable one.

Whether you’re purchasing your first auto insurance policy or you already have a running policy and are looking to compare new auto insurance quotes, there are numerous reputable sites that allow you to compare, side by side, quotes from different insurance companies.

However, you should be sure you’re comparing similar coverage, deductible amount, and limits.

Some sites even allow you to customize your coverage to meet special needs.

You can also opt to compare quotes from individual insurance companies, but you can be sure to spend much more time navigating their various online portals, which is why many consumers opt for online comparison sites like ours.

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Buying Car Insurance Online

It’s now simpler to purchase auto insurance policies directly from the insurance companies online. Within a few minutes, you can have quotes on different policies and be well on your way to acquire the auto insurance policy you desire.

Compare quotes from different carriers and buy from them directly from the comfort of your smartphone or computer.

Pros of Buying Insurance Online

The process of finding a quote and choosing an auto insurance policy can be made lightning-fast. Since there’s no go-between involved, your rates are likely to be lower as compared to purchasing from an agent or insurance broker.

Before the emergence of online comparison sites, you could spend several hours, if not days, calling different insurance agents to get insurance rates that you could compare and make a decision.

This time has been reduced to minutes since you can utilize a single site to compare several quotes side to side and make a quick decision.

The online portals are user-friendly, making it simple to make inquiries, file a claim, pay premiums, change policy coverage, and much more. You can also view policy document and print out proof of insurance wherever you are, 24/7.

Sometimes you may want to change your payment method or means. You can do it by the click of a mouse.

Additionally, the hyped competition online makes insurance companies lower rates to stay ahead of the competition. So, it’s possible to get the best rates by comparing quotes online.

Cons of Buying Insurance Online

The nature of the auto insurance policies and quotes that companies give online can be easily misunderstood. Users may not take time to read the fine print or could be confused with the policy terms.

The disconnect in the communication process could keep the policyholder in the dark concerning the coverage they have or what the overall cost will be.

Some agencies advertising quote comparison can “cherry pick” the figures to make their rates look more attractive than the competitors. It will, therefore, take a lot of effort and time to compare real quotes and pick the best possible policy.

Additionally, direct customers don’t have the luxury to an insurance agent working their claims. Even insurance providers that sell insurance policies to direct clients still employ agents to handle various claims, these agents are rarely assigned to handle individual client’s needs.

In the end, purchasing insurance from an insurance company directly may save you some extra bucks every month, but generally, you’ll receive what you pay for.

Using an agent can provide more insight into the policy options, not to mention that you can enjoy better customer service.

Comparison Shopping is the Key


Even with these helpful guidelines, every insurance carrier is going to offer different rates. Some providers may have better terms and services. More often, your geographical location will determine the branch office or department you’ll be working with.

Since there are many variables, it’s not wise to make a sweeping judgment about the insurers and whether or not an agent will offer better terms than online service.

On the other hand, a bad experience with a single captive agent doesn’t mean that all agents are not worth working with. Just like in any industry, quality of service will boil down to individual service providers.

Remember to shop around and compare as many quotes as you can and weigh your options before you settle on a policy.

Depending on your priorities, you can receive best options from an independent agent, a captive agent, or by purchasing directly online.

Compare car insurance rates right here by using our free quote comparison tool. Just enter your zip code below to get started!

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