How do I know where to find the best quotes for car insurance?

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The best answer for this question is to spend time comparison shopping and investigating all the insurance providers who are licensed to do business in your area. It may also help to check out various companies that you may be unfamiliar with before making a final decision.

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Comparison shopping websites are plentiful on the World Wide Web. Most websites allow for side-by-side comparisons of several insurance providers’ programs at one time. The Internet is the ultimate shopping and research tool, but care should be taken to use sites that are reliable and provide unbiased information about a wide variety of competing companies.

Find the Best Rates Online

While some consumers still insist on using the local yellow pages to find products and services that they want or need, most shoppers are happily converting over to online services. Shopping online can provide instant research about the business dealings of most any insurance concern.

There will be information about a company’s products and services, calculators and other useful tools to help shoppers determine their needs and compute costs. Online shoppers can also read testimonials from existing customers as well as find ratings by professional as well as community based organizations.

Not only does every auto insurance provider have their own website, but most are prominently featured on a myriad of comparison websites, all eager to attract new customers as well as keep their old customers happy.

The question becomes, not where do I find information and rate quotes, but how do I sort through the ton of information that’s available? In short, how do I find the best auto policy for my needs?

Consumer Reports and other Rating Organizations

Consumer Reports has been serving the American public for more than 75 years, giving Americans confidence in the thousands of products and services the organization has rated since 1936.

Consumer Reports thoroughly researches and tests manufactured goods, from automobiles to washing machines, on the street and its testing laboratories. Through the years, Consumer Reports has added services like insurance to its ever-growing list of product recommendations.

In this recent article, Consumer Reports tackles the complex auto insurance market.

The article notes a number of major players in the online insurance comparison website market such as Quicken Insurance and Insweb. Consumer Reports favors such online web-based comparison sites where shoppers can compare offerings from a number of companies at the same time and receive accurate, up-to-the-minute rate quotes by spending just a few minutes on line.

Shopping for auto insurance used to be a long and tedious process with providers rarely divulging exactly how rates were calculated, much less what a customer’s money was really buying.

Insurance policies have always been laden with fine print and legalese, making it difficult to tell one auto plan apart from the next.

Nowadays, shopping for auto insurance is quick and easy on line, and the mysteries of the average policy are explained in plain English for all to understand. In fact, insurance shopping on the Internet is so easy, that Consumer Reports recommends that consumers should compare prices once each year before their current policies renew.

However, Consumer Reports also recommends against switching insurance companies arbitrarily, or too often. Companies often offer loyalty discounts for several years of safe driving. Discounts are also offered for having multiple policies with the same company.

Safe driver discounts can lower insurance rates considerably. Many auto insurance providers now offer accident forgiveness provisions for long-term customers. A single reported accident over a period of years may be forgiven come renewal time. Other companies will often forgive smaller mishaps costing less than $1,000.

Information You’ll Need

To get accurate rate quotes online, you will need to provide some personal information including details about the car or cars you wish to insure. You’ll be asked to provide the model year and make of your vehicle as well as the specific equipment, or trim, on the car.

You will also need the VIN, vehicle identification number of the car. You should be familiar with your recent driving record, going back at least three years, and the safety records of other drivers who will be listed on the policy. Insurance providers also require the age and sex of each driver in order to complete a premium quotation.

Remember, the Internet works both ways, meaning that you can readily find information about an insurance company on line and the insurance provider in turn, can find out about your driving history by searching through public sources, police documents and published records of other insurance companies.

Reviews and More Reviews

Many websites stand out when it comes to providing informative company rankings and reviews. Websites such as the Tech Media Network site, Top Ten Reviews provide consumers with reviews and ratings as well as side-by-side comparisons, buying guides, informative articles, and more.

Sites like these research and then rate providers in five important categories. First, a company is rated on how quickly it responds at the time of a claim and how long it will take to complete repairs to the insured vehicle.

Next, the insurance policy is reviewed to see how flexible the terms of the contract may be. The discounts and other policy benefits a company offers are taken into account. Finally, the insurance company is rated on how it handles claims and the timeliness of its customer service. Companies are then assigned a rank according to their overall score.

In 2012, the most highly rated company according to online reviews is GEICO, followed by Progressive Insurance, Esurance, Nationwide, and USAA.

Rounding out the top ten are Farmers, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, Allstate, and AAA.

Number one GEICO was among the first of the country’s major insurance providers to establish a strong online presence. Without relying on a network of agents, the company is able to provide direct service to its clients at a discounted price. GEICO’s customers maintain that their service is fast, reliable and efficient.

J. D. Power and Associates

Perhaps the best known and respected of all consumer rating companies is the eminent J. D. Power and Associates. J. D. Power conducts extensive research and surveys of actual customers to produce their Power Circle Ratings. This J. D. Power site, contains the reviews and rankings of 33 leading auto insurance providers. Their 2011 national auto insurance study awarded top honors to the Amica Insurance group.

Amica was the only company reviewed that earned five stars in each of the four categories considered, policy offerings, pricing, billing and payment and contacting the insurer. Other standouts on the J. D. Power list include Ameriprise and Auto-Owners Insurance.

USAA equaled the ratings of Amica but was not included in the ranking, as it does not provide insurance services to the general public, only to members of the U. S. military and their families.

Erie Insurance stands out among regional providers for its affordable pricing. New Jersey Manufacture Insurance Company and Shelter Insurance rank highly among the smaller insurance concerns reviewed.

GEICO is the highest rated by J. D. Power, of the large national insurance groups. Progressive and State Farm, two more of the nation’s largest companies are also rated well by consumers in the Power survey.

Forbes Magazine, also ranks and lists auto insurance providers that have the most satisfied customers. This study is based on the just released 2012 J. D. Power and Associates surveys.

Among all U.S. carriers, the Hartford is cited as providing the best overall shopping experience. The Hartford also earned high marks for its call center representatives, pricing and policy offerings. Progressive, Esurance, and Nationwide were praised for their online shopping sites.

The Largest Auto Insurance Companies in the U.S.

As demonstrated above in the J. D. Power surveys, the biggest companies may not always be the best. The largest auto insurance providers spend tremendous amounts of money in television, radio, print, and online media advertising.

While names like GEICO, Progressive, State Farm, and Allstate are indelibly etched on our public consciousness, the Internet has helped get the word out about smaller, lesser-known companies that also provide good service and write auto policies at affordable rates.

The website for Insurance Article News, provides detailed information on the nation’s largest auto insurers by market size. At the top of the list is the State Farm Insurance organization, which insures almost 19% of America’s drivers.

The “Good Hands” company, Allstate Insurance, is the second largest provider in the U.S. with a 10.5% market share. Third on the list is GEICO, a relative newcomer in the American market, with an 8.2% share of the automobile insurance pie.

Progressive is close behind with a 7.5% share, followed by Farmers Insurance at 6.4%. The rest of the nation’s top ten providers are Nationwide, 4.5%; Liberty Mutual, 4.4%; USAA, 4.1%, and Travelers, with a 2.1% market share. American Family Mutual takes the number ten spot with 2% of the nation’s auto insurance business.

A. M. Best Ratings

Another thing to consider when shopping for auto insurance is the financial stability of the company itself. Will the company be around in a few years to pay out your claim should the need arise? Financial rating company A. M. Best, rates companies each year based on their financial viability and strength. Among the top insurance providers, most have earned superior ratings.

Amica Mutual, GEICO, and State Farm have all earned A++ ratings from the Best organization.

Their most recent review gives Allstate an A+. Among the top five, AAA earned an A-, which is still an excellent rating according to A. M. Best Company.

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