When I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, it seemed that every morning I’d see another car with the window smashed, the interior ransacked and the stereo gone. After I relocated to sunny San Diego, CA to enjoy a slower-paced, beachy lifestyle, I expected certain costs of living to go down. Surprisingly, my auto insurance premiums went up. Turns out that San Diego has a high theft rate, and due to our proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, recovery of stolen cars can be challenging. Hence the higher auto insurance rates for everyone.
Zip code is one factor in determining auto insurance rates. But many other variables come into play, too. Here are some of the most common culprits and what you can do to overcome them.
10. You aren’t bundling your policies
Some insurance companies will give you a multi-line discount if you have homeowner’s, life or other car policies with the same carrier. The more you have, the cheaper the total price tag can be.
What you can do: Consider taking out other policies or transferring preexisting ones from other companies.
9. You’ve cancelled more than a few times
Non-payment of your bills or failure to provide the insurer with requested information can result in cancellation. And, in addition to fines from your local Motor Vehicles, your premium may rise, as you’re seen as unreliable and a future risk.
What you can do: Open all mail from your insurance agency. If you can’t decipher any of the notices, call to get an explanation. And if you’re one of those people who always forgets when bills are due, set up automatic payments through the insurer or your bank.
8. You have full coverage when you should have liability only
As a rule of thumb, newer cars should have full coverage that covers both you and the other party if in an accident. “Liability only” makes sure the other party is covered but pays nothing toward your own repairs. Your repairs will always be covered by the other driver’s insurance when it’s determined that the other driver is at fault. In the case of a one-car accident though (you hit a pole, for example), you’re on your own.
What you can do: That 1992 Mazda, while it’s seen you through good and bad times, probably isn’t worth fixing, so why have full coverage on it if you’ll just junk it? Furthermore, if you are an excellent driver, you’re not likely to incur damage that you’re responsible to fix. Carefully consider the value of the vehicle, the likelihood of repair and whether it’s worthwhile to pay for the coverage.
7. Your insurer thinks you drive more than you actually do
When you first insure a car, your mileage is used to calculate how much you drive annually. People who commute long distances each year are in a different rate class than drivers who use their car infrequently.
What you can do: Figure out how much you actually use your car each year and provide that figure to the auto insurance representative. Be as accurate as you can, and check the odometer again in one year to prove or adjust your prediction.
6. You have no legacy
This means you have no history with the insurer. Some insurers allow parents to pass on their policy history to children, allowing the younger generation to take advantage of significant discounts.
What you can do: If you were listed on your mom’s policy 15 years ago, let the agent know that before you get the quote.
5. Someone on your policy is considered a youthful operator
Depending on the type of car and its safety rating, the cost of letting your teen drive a car in your household may be what it takes to finally force them to get that summer job.
What you can do: Rather than list your son or daughter on the policy as the principal driver of one of your cars, ask to have them listed as an occasional operator. Also inquire with your agent about any discounts or programs that can be applied for youthful drivers, such as a good student discount for teens who maintain excellent grades.
4. You’ve made claims that resulted in large payouts
With some insurers, a large payout for an accident or theft, whether it’s your fault or not, can lead to an increased premium.
What you can do: File claims for only what was stolen/damaged. Do not use a legitimate claim as an opportunity to upgrade or lie about what was lost. And to cover your bets, if an accident was not your fault, make sure it’s in your records as a “no-fault.”
3. Your address has a track record of loss-related incidents
Companies divide cities up into certain zones and use accident, vandalism, and theft rates to put a price on your premium. Living a block from a busy intersection where crashes are frequent or in a neighborhood that had a rash of break-ins can affect your price greatly. What you pay every six months in rural Illinois may be what you pay monthly in urban New Jersey.
What you can do: Nothing, unless you want to do some intense research and relocate to a zone you know has less accidents. Densely populated places will always be higher.
2. Your vehicle safety discount has been removed
This has nothing to do with the actual driver, but rather the cost to repair your specific make and model vehicle across the board. If the company finds that there are more claims being made related to your type of vehicle and/or the cost to repair your type of vehicle rises, your premium will go up. This helps to explain the mystery of why some cars are more expensive to insure in red or black than in white.
What you can do: Absolutely nothing.
1. You have a bad driving record
This is why an insurance company needs your address and driver’s license number—so they can assess your potential risk. However, some providers, when first giving you a quote, do not search your history until after you sign on with them. This means if you have a few accidents and tickets out there and they weren’t detected at the start, your premium will increase when it’s time to renew.
What you can do: Always ask the person quoting you if they’re using your record to determine your price. Improve your record. And if you have an accident that is NOT your fault, make sure it gets filed as a “no-fault” accident.
Kimberly Rotter is a writer, businesswoman and mother in San Diego, CA. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and a Graduate Certificate in Distance Education. Kim and her husband own two homes, a couple of vehicles and a few investments, and they live with minimal debt. Both are successfully self-employed, each in their own field.