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Ten ways to lower your car insurance

Forget the talking ducks and geckos. Improving your credit rating and avoiding cars with a high theft rate are among the best ways to help lower auto-insurance costs.
/ Source: Forbes Autos

Forget the talking ducks and geckos. Improving your credit rating and avoiding cars with a high theft rate are among the best ways to help lower auto-insurance costs.

Those catchy commercials featuring cavemen with identity issues and talking geckos have an impact on what consumers buy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the companies who dreamt them up truly save you money. “What we can say is the gecko works, for reasons we don’t understand,” says William Wilt, a Morgan Stanley insurance analyst.

Television advertising is what insurance companies spend the most on to lure customers, as opposed to funds spent on product development, consumer education, or agent incentives, Wilt says. The $500 million Geico spent on television advertising last year outstripped even Coca-Cola.

Rather than base your decision on the most memorable commercial, shop around. Insurance companies charge different rates for the same coverage: In National Underwriter’s annual online quest for the best six-month auto-insurance premium, rates varied by as much as $450 for the same coverage on the same vehicle, up $150 from last year’s spread.

If you’re in the market not only for insurance, but also for a new car, you can significantly sway insurance premiums up or down depending on what type of vehicle you buy and what kind of equipment it has. Mike Barry, vice president for the Insurance Information Institute, says that buying vehicles with anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights, and anti-theft devices can help reduce insurance premiums. “Some states require insurers to give discounts for cars equipped with airbags or anti-lock brakes,” he says.

Dave Snyder, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association, recommends checking out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Web site for vehicles with high crash-test ratings as a way to mitigate insurance costs. He also points to the Highway Loss Data Institute Web site to find out which vehicles have the highest claims for Personal Injury Protection when involved in a collision. This can be an indication of vehicles in which occupants sustained severe injuries in a collision.

With regard to the amount of liability coverage to carry, opinions are divided. Jack Hungelmann, author of "Insurance for Dummies," estimates that raising liability coverage from $300,000 to $500,000 would only cost about $60 per year for two cars, or the same amount for one car driven by a young person. Given that critical care for serious injuries can easily run up to six figures, Hungelmann considers this a worthwhile investment. “Nobody should carry less than $500,000 per person,” he says.

But before you pay for this coverage, consider that medical payment coverage through an auto-insurance carrier might duplicate health or disability benefits you buy individually or receive through your job.

Even how you buy consumer goods and pay your bills can have an impact on what you shell out for car insurance. About 10 years ago, insurance carriers started using credit history and insurance scores, which are essentially credit scores with other factors thrown in, to determine premium rates. The practice has survived many court challenges and complaints from consumer advocates who do not believe credit history is any indication of insurance loss. Many states have adopted enabling legislation that allows for discounts when a credit score suffers because of a job loss or unusual medical expenses. But in general, the practice is here to stay. So finding out your credit score and taking measures to improve it may help lower your auto-insurance premium.

For more tips on ways to save money on car insurance, click on the “slide show” link above.