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What Everyone Should Know About Selecting An Auto Insurance Provider
By Jerry Pickett
Now that most states require a certain level of car coverage for you to drive legally, buying auto insurance is no longer something that you can put off or refuse to do. There are a number of important considerations, the first of which is that you should shop first for an insurance company, and then for the policy.

In other words, do not make a decision based primarily on price or coverage, because a great deal by those measures means nothing if the company goes out of business or mismanages your claim. Before your worry about what kind of policy you need, find the right company first, because picking the wrong one can cost you plenty in dollars as well as in frustration.

First things first
If you do not have a copy of your driving record, usually obtainable for a small fee at the state motor vehicle agency, then you will not be privy to some of the most important information affecting your eventual coverage and its cost. One lady driver in Los Angeles wondered why her rate had skyrocketed and couldn’t seem to get a straight answer from the insurer. What she learned later should encourage you to “know thyself” in this regard, as well.

Forgetting for a time about her premium’s rising cost, the lady got a copy of her driving record as part of a job application, and noticed that a minor fender-bender had been recorded as an injury accident requiring hospitalization. Bingo! When this error was corrected, her policy premium fell to a third of its previous cost, and she even received a check to refund the overcharges. Don’t assume anything about your driving record if you haven’t seen a recent printout of it.

“Know thyself,” indeed. And you need to know about your car as well as your driving habits. Before shopping for a company get a firm idea of what you need in coverage, which is a function of the value of your auto, its condition, the distance you regularly travel, any installed anti-theft devices, your age and those of any other drivers, previous insurance details and other factors. Things will go a lot faster, and a lot smoother, if you have all your “ducks in a row” and keep the information at your fingertips during the company and policy “comparison shopping” process.

Fact-finding tips
There are various companies and government agencies that monitor and rate the insurance industry. Standard & Poor is a well-known rating service, and your own state’s insurance commissioner is also a good a source of information. As you start shopping companies, choose ones that have high ratings, sufficient cash reserves and a good business reputation.

Now, reputation can be difficult to assess

at times. A company that has been in business for many years, one that is apparently trusted by millions of other people, can still be a poor fit for you for other reasons mentioned here. And a smaller, newer firm may be an excellent choice, but how do you find out? After checking with Standard & Poor and your state insurance office, you should also canvass your friends, neighbors and co-workers for their own experiences. Referrals are still one of the leading ways that insurance companies obtain customers.

When you have several companies selected, then it’s time to rate them on a number of additional factors. The most important is probably the method of contact, that is, whether you deal with the insurance company through an agent or directly. If you are not wise to the ways of insurance coverage, you may need a helping hand through the process, and that’s how agents make their living – by taking care of you.

Service with a smile?
If you don’t need taking care of, you can buy your policy wherever you want, even online (after doing some more investigating, of course). The next thing you want to know is about the company’s customer service. You want to be treated respectfully and cordially when you buy your policy, and you certainly will expect the same in the event of an accident. Check the Better Business Bureau and the online insurance forums to find out about the service quality of the various companies.

The amount of service, and where it can be obtained, may also be important to you. That is, if you are a busy professional who travels a lot, it may be important to have an insurer with a national office network, its own claims centers and people who will make your claims process a fast, efficient one. Again, if you don’t mind handling all the details yourself, in exchange for a lower policy premium, then that will affect your decision.

When you need roadside assistance, have to file a claim, or have any other problem, you want to know that you can reach someone day or night, weekend or holiday. Larger companies normally have call centers staffed around the clock. You want to know that your claim or other service request will be handled swiftly, effectively and, of course, professionally. Statistics for claims processing are often available on a company's website, and you can always request this information directly.

Comparing auto insurance companies can be a bit complicated at times. There are a lot of them out there, and many varied facets of coverage to be compared. Everyone wants to save money, of course, but your safety, and that of your family, has to be the overriding consideration.
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