You might be familiar with a few scenarios that could make your auto insurance rates change: You bought a new car, moved, got in a car accident, or even got married or graduated from school. In all these cases, it’s important to shop around for car insurance to ensure you’re getting adequate coverage — at the right rate — to meet your needs.
Even if you are happy with your car insurance company, simply checking out the competition on a regular basis (we recommend every six months) can help keep your current rate low. This behavior indicates to your insurance company that you’re on the lookout for better deals, and your insurer will therefore be motivated to keep you.
Insurance rates and policy details vary widely by insurer and by person. If you get a quote from a dozen insurance companies, many of the quotes might look quite similar, while others of them might show your premium varying by hundreds of dollars.
Even if your rates and coverage were equal among a handful of insurance companies, we remind you: It’s not all about price.
Insurance is intended to protect you when you need it — legally, medically, financially. You want to make sure you choose the company and service that meets your needs and has your back. If you’re not getting that support, you might consider changing insurance companies.
The Zebra’s licensed insurance agent and adviser Neil Richardson offers his expert advice on when it’s time to leave your insurance company:
1. Your rates increase (and it’s not your fault)
As we’ve discussed, countless factors impact your auto insurance rates, including where you live, what kind of car you drive, your driving record and insurance history, and your personal information such as age, gender, marital status, credit score and more in many states.
When any of these factors change, your rates may change, too. Sometimes it’s for the better (the older you get, the lower your rates drop — until about age 60, that is), and sometimes for the worse (if you cause a collision, your rates could rise nearly 50%!). Long story short: it shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
Because auto insurance companies are businesses which have to make money to stay afloat, they may raise premiums for their customers, likely following a high claims payout period in which they incurred hefty losses. You may or may not be able to find lower rates elsewhere (for example, if a violent storm caused damage in a certain geographical area, many insurance companies could be suffering the same losses from hefty claims payouts), but it’s worth shopping around to see.
2. Your insurance agent is inflexible about your policy
A big part of the insurance company choice comes down to customer service, and if you aren’t getting the results you expect, within reason, you might consider other options. You should expect a certain degree of flexibility from your insurance company, and if you speak with someone who isn’t flexible with your insurance requests, keep in mind that there are plenty of companies that would like to try to keep your business.
“Changes like updating coverage or adding or removing a vehicle are simple requests, so if you hit a roadblock with an agent, it can be a sign that you need a new insurer,” explains Richardson.
You should have full access to your policy and the ability to make adjustments, even mid-cycle, so if you’re told it’s not an option, begin shopping around.
It’s also important to note that you should be realistic about rates. Every time you make an adjustment to your policy, whether you’re adding or removing drivers or vehicles, your rate will change. So, if your rate goes up a little in one of these instances, it likely doesn’t mean you’re being treated unfairly.
(And/or a member of the company is rude to you)
It goes without saying that if any member of the customer service team or an agent is rude to you, you should consider taking your business elsewhere.
“There are just too many insurance options out there for you to stick with a company that doesn’t value your business,” Richardson says.
There are certain issues outside of a representative’s control, but you can always ask to speak with a supervisor to voice your concerns. And if you do end up switching companies because of a customer-service issue that isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, mention the incident to your new insurer to avoid having to go through the same headache.
3. You notice changes to your monthly bill that you weren’t informed about
If you’re billed monthly for your policy, the price should be consistent each billing cycle.
If you notice a change in your bill for which you were not contacted, it can be a big red flag that something’s amiss with your insurer.
“Sometimes policy updates get sent to your email spam, and sometimes phone calls or mailings are missed, but if you notice a change in your rate, you should look into it immediately,” explains Richardson.
If you don’t feel you were adequately informed, shop around for a new company that meets your customer-service needs.
4. You want to work with a real insurance agent
Many local insurance agencies aren’t available to customers at night or on the weekends, and while often this works just fine, if you’re the type of person who needs more access, you might consider a switch.
For instance: If you buy or lease a new car on a weekend and your insurer doesn’t have weekend availability, you might not be able to take your car home right away. Many dealers require proof of insurance (especially if you’re leasing or financing) before they allow customers to drive off the lot.
Plenty of big national insurance companies have 24/7 agent access, which can be a plus if you’re the type of person (or family) who regularly changes vehicles. Do keep in mind that your local agent might be willing to make an off-hours exception for your insurance needs if you give them advance notice.
5. You want to be able to conduct insurance business online
Some of us are just more comfortable conducting business online, and that’s OK. If you want to be able to add or remove drivers or vehicles without speaking to someone on the phone, you’ll need an insurer who can meet your needs.
Insurers offering online access tend to be larger national brands, but every company is different, so check out all the options in your area. Most insurers spend a lot of money to allow customers online access, so if you want to know about an insurer’s online policies, just ask, and they’ll usually be happy to help you navigate.
If online access is important to you, remember that it’s just one piece of the insurance puzzle. You should always consider the importance of adequate coverage, as well as service and rates.
6. You want to add drivers to your policy
When you have a new spouse, a newly licensed teen driver, or a new roommate, you might consider adding them to your own auto insurance policy. Adding extra coverage or drivers to your policy often shifts both your needs and the discounts you qualify for enough that you might find you fit better — and save money — with another company.
“Life changes — big or small — could put you in a new risk category, which might mean you’re a better fit with a different insurance company,” Richardson says. “There’s not an advertised rate for life-event changes, so you’ll need to shop around to see if you can get better coverage prices and discounts from other companies.”
If you’ve been with a company for a while, particularly a local one you know, the idea of changing companies might feel uncomfortable and make you feel a little guilty. But when it comes to insurance, you need to do what’s best for your needs.