As lawyers who have been helping people injured in car accidents and who have been handling automobile accident litigation for more than 50 years, we understand that choosing the right auto insurance policy to protect you and your family can feel daunting.
Insurance policy contracts are very confusing (and they are purposefully written that way by some very skilled lawyers). Insurance agents and insurance salespeople often speak in terms that are way over our heads. And far worse, they even leave out critical information as to what kind of auto insurance coverage is essential to have if the company they work for or the company paying the highest commission doesn’t offer it, such as uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Here are 5 tips when you’re shopping for auto insurance. This is written from the lawyer’s perspective, and will include some ideas you won’t find from your insurance company or the websites you will visit when shopping for auto insurance.
1. Shop with an independent insurance agent.
Independent insurance agents do not represent only one insurance company. So these agents don’t have a vested financial interest in selling you a policy from one only one insurer over others that may offer better rates and better protection. As an insurance attorney, I have seen “captive” agents go to extreme lengths to make a sale (and a commission). Independent insurance agents increase the likelihood that you will be guided toward an insurance policy based on your needs, not the agent’s needs. In Michigan, where I practice law, I often guide people to websites like findmichiganinsurance.org to find independent insurance agents. Most states have similar helpful resources to find an independent agent near you.
2. Visit the department of insurance website – and avoid the insurance companies with lots of complaints.
Most states, such as Michigan, have websites that list the number of complaints made or filed against various insurance companies. The State of Michigan has a department of insurance called the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG). Here, you can find “consumer complaint ratios” for all of the insurance companies that sell policies in Michigan. This information tells you how many complaints an insurance company received per 1,000 insurance claims filed.
Why is this important? These numbers represent how the insurance company has handled real people and real claims made against them. They can give you a better understanding for how your auto insurance company will treat you if you are ever injured in an automobile accident and need help too.
3. Do your research on auto insurance companies.
With so many people sharing reviews and testimonials in social circles by word of mouth and online, it’s easier than ever to get reviews from real people who have experienced insurance company claims. Make sure you focus on those who have had personal injury claims and who have been involved in automobile accidents.
The downside: These reviews of insurance companies do not have a normative sample size that is large enough to be statistically accurate.
The upside: These reviews are still a lot more relevant than the fuzzy, feel-good television commercials that the insurance company wants you to base your decision on.
4. Ask your auto repair mechanic, or better yet, an experienced car accident lawyer in your town who they like.
Want to talk to someone who deals with nearly every insurance company in town? One of the best and most unique ways to identify dependable auto insurance companies is to contact local car repair shops – as long as they are independent – and ask for your mechanic’s recommendations.
They have a unique perspective, since they have to bill for service and interact on a daily basis with insurance claims adjusters. For instance, collision shops know which insurance companies have the easiest claim processes for routine car damage claims, and which insurance companies are always looking for shortcuts and reasons to delay making payments at the expense of their own customers.
If there is only one source better than auto mechanics, it is personal injury lawyers who focus their practice on automobile accident cases. Yes, I realize this does sound self-serving since I am a lawyer and yes, all I do is represent people injured in car accidents and truck accidents. But seriously, who else sees what I see on a weekly basis? I have seen how these companies treat their own customers, and how they will defend your case if you are ever involved in an auto accident. I see which insurance companies pay legitimate claims promptly and fairly, and which will go to extreme lengths to avoid paying out on legitimate claims. Here’s my list of my favorite insurance companies for 2013.
5. Refer to important online resources.
There are many resources that can be extremely helpful, and free, to assist consumers in finding great auto insurance at a great price. Since I practice law in Michigan, I will use Michigan as my example, but every state has similar helpful online resources to assist drivers with evaluating No-Fault auto insurance companies and policies:
- Michigan.gov has a valuable “What to watch for” guide for purchasing insurance.
- The State of Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth also has a great website with information on purchasing auto insurance.
- The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Consumer Information Source (CIS) provides information about insurance companies, such as key information about complaints, licensing information and financial data.