I got some car insurance quotes online, but when I submitted my information to the insurer, the price was very different. What can I do to get more-accurate quotes?
The more detailed information you provide up front, the more accurate the quotes will be. “A quote is only as good as the information you put in,” says Des Toups, managing editor of CarInsurance.com.
When you pursue a quote, the insurer will check your driving record, credit history and other information before finalizing the rate. Whether you’re working with a quote site or agent or dealing with the insurer directly, you should track down certain information ahead of time, says Toups, so there aren’t any surprises when the insurer pulls your record:
Driving record. A recent speeding ticket or moving violation -— especially within the past three or five years -- can make a big difference in your car insurance premiums, and the insurer is going to check your motor vehicle record before offering you its official rate. Check your files (canceled checks or payment receipts, for example) to find out how long ago you got a ticket. Most state departments of motor vehicles let you look up your motor vehicle record online – see this list of links to each state’s motor vehicle department (opens in new tab).
Credit history.Your credit score can make a big difference in your auto insurance rate. You don’t necessarily need to know your exact score when you apply for a quote, but most sites ask whether it’s poor, fair, good or excellent, and they’ll check it out. If you don’t know your score, get a free one at Credit Karma (opens in new tab); it’s not exactly the same as the one the insurer will see, but it will be close. Or you can get the FICO score most lenders use at MyFico (opens in new tab) for $19.95.
Claims history.The insurer will look up your claims history related to accidents with or damage to your vehicles. If you don’t remember your claims, you can find a list in your CLUE report (the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange is a database in which insurers share claims information with each other). It lists every claim and the amount paid out within the past seven years. Insurance companies usually rate you going back three years, says Toups, but some look back five or seven years. You can get a free copy of your CLUE insurance report (opens in new tab) every 12 months to review.
Your car’s VIN. You’ll usually need to provide your car’s year, make, model and number of doors to get an online quote. But you can provide even more-detailed information by listing the 17-digit VIN, which spells out all of those details plus body style, transmission and engine.
Submitting the detailed information when shopping around for insurance not only helps you get accurate quotes, but it can also help you find the best deal. “A company may have a cheaper base rate but bigger surcharges for certain penalties and claims,” says Toups. One company may boost your rate much more than another because of accidents or tickets, for example. CarInsurance.com’s Nosy Neighbor comparison tool (opens in new tab) shows the range of premiums six insurers would charge the same driver with the same car and zip code. The difference is always hundreds, and very often thousands, of dollars, says Toups.
It’s a good idea to reshop your auto insurance whenever you have a major change in circumstances -- if you move, get married or add a new car or driver (especially a teenage driver), for example. You should also shop around if you improve your credit significantly, if several years have passed since you had an accident or received a ticket for moving violations, or if your rate rises because of a major accident or DUI. The insurer that offered you the lowest rate in the past may no longer have the best deal.
For more information about unexpected things that can affect insurance rates for all kinds of coverage, see 10 Surprising Factors That Can Raise Your Insurance Premiums.
As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.