From national carriers to regional boutique insurers, hundreds of insurance companies compete for your business -- from billboards advertisements and television commercials, to online ads and mass mailings. With so many choices to select from, how do you weigh your options and decide which company is right for you? That's what we're here to answer.
Finding the best car insurance company, policy and price hinge on a variety of factors -- and the vehicle you drive and the state you live in also play a role in how much you'll pay for car insurance coverage. The average annual premium for full coverage is $1,771, according to Bankrate, but most of our top car insurance picks have average premiums that are hundreds of dollars less.
If you want to make sure you have the best car insurance coverage and rates possible, here are our recommendations for the best auto insurance companies.
Quick look: Best car insurance providers compared
|Company||Best for||Avg. annual premium for full coverage*||J.D. Power Claims Satisfaction**||A.M. Best Financial Strength Rating***|
|Allstate||High-risk drivers||$2,438||889||A+ (Excellent)|
|Amica||Customer satisfaction||$1,495||895||A+ (Excellent)|
|The Hartford||AARP rates and rewards||$2,002||905||A++ (Superior)|
|Nationwide||Tech-savvy drivers||$1,383||868||A+ (Excellent)|
|State Farm||Most drivers||$1,397||892||A++ (Superior)|
|USAA||Military perks||$1,209||909||A++ (Superior)|
*Overall average annual premiums for full coverage are $1,771.
**Industry average is 880.
***A.M. Best financial strength rating scale runs from D (lowest) to A++ (highest).
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Best car insurance companies
The top-scoring auto insurance provider overall was Geico, reporting high customer satisfaction levels in all regions of the country. This insurance carrier is also ranked among the cheapest car insurance coverage providers (and a premium can be a huge expense). Its customers give it superior ratings for great service and support, along with some of the most reasonable insurance prices.
Geico's clever commercials have made it one of the best-known car insurance companies in the country, and it ranks high in overall customer satisfaction and auto claims satisfaction, according to J.D. Power surveys. It receives fewer consumer complaints than other major insurers, and has the highest financial strength rating from A.M. Best. That is, if you need something besides the gecko to convince you.
Check out our full review on Geico Auto Insurance.
Travelers offers car insurance policies that you can customize based on your needs. Rather than upselling users, Travelers offers a host of resources (in the form of blog posts) designed to educate motorists prior to purchasing coverage. An informed customer is a happy customer.
Like most of the companies on this list, Travelers offers savings on insurance bundles, giving you up to 13% off home and car policies under the same roof. So, if you're able to bundle your auto and homeowners or renters insurance, you can save a pretty penny. Travelers also offers discounts for safe driving, multicar policies, becoming a loyalty member, having hybrid and electric vehicles, paying on time, completing driver training programs and being a good student.
If we were judging solely on satisfaction, the United Services Automobile Association would take the top spot among our best list here. What affects the USAA's ranking is that its scope is narrower than those of most other auto insurers, as the company only offers coverage to service members, veterans and their families.
That said, USAA is one of the most cost-effective insurers out there, offering prices that even beat Geico's. Customers who switch save an average of $725 a year. Also, if you bundle home and auto insurance (or renters and auto insurance), you can save up to 10%.
The Hartford is an insurance carrier offering superb coverage and excellent customer care, but it isn't for all drivers. The Hartford's car insurance plan is exclusively for drivers who are members of the American Association of Retired Persons.
AARP members get a plethora of benefits, including insurance discounts (up to 10% off your premium), lifetime car repair assurance, car replacement if you total your car, as well as "recover care," which will pay up to $2,500 for transportation, cooking and cleaning if you're injured in a car accident and can't perform such tasks.
Founded in 1907 in Rhode Island, Amica is the oldest mutual car insurer in the US and completely owned by its policyholders. An excellent choice for New England residents, Amica has outstanding financial strength and high customer satisfaction scores, particularly when it comes to auto claims.
This insurer does it all, from flood, condo and life insurance to auto, home, retirement and small business coverage. It offers full coverage for an average premium of $1,495 per year, coming out below the $1,700-plus industry average for full coverage, according to Bankrate. This carrier doesn't operate in Hawaii.
Though its premiums are in line with the industry average, State Farm tops the field in customer service and claims satisfaction, earning consistently high scores from J.D. Power's regional auto insurance customer satisfaction study.
Progressive's Snapshot telematics program tracks driver habits in real time, and awards discounts for good driving. The company offers a wide range of coverage options and add-ons including loan/lease payoff coverage and roadside assistance. Progressive's average annual full coverage premium ranks in the middle of the pack, however, and its J.D. Power claims satisfaction score falls below the industry average.
Nationwide's mobile app has high ratings on Apple's App Store and Google Play, reflecting solid customer satisfaction with the digital experience. Though the company's average annual full coverage premium is lower than the industry average, it's more expensive than other companies on this list. And its claims service score is below the industry average, though just slightly.
Allstate's average full coverage premium is significantly higher than the other companies on our list. That's due, at least partially, to the company's accommodation of high-risk drivers. It offers an SR-22 -- a document that some high-risk drivers must file with the DMV, certifying that they carry the minimum required insurance. Allstate received a high J.D. Power score for claims satisfaction and an A.M. Best score of A+ (Excellent) for financial strength. The company also offers a telematics program that allows policyholders to earn discounts for safe driving.
In addition to low premiums and solid claims satisfaction scores, Erie is known for offering a wide array of coverage options. That includes new car replacement, motorcycle coverage, roadside assistance and rental car insurance bundles as well as some interesting packages and features; the Erie Auto Plus program includes a diminishing deductible and coverage for transportation if your vehicle gets totaled.
Note that Erie only offers auto insurance to residents of 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia.
How to choose an auto insurance provider
If you're looking for an insurance provider, follow these steps:
- Determine your needs and preferences. Different providers have different strengths and weaknesses. If you're looking for the least expensive policy, you may have to sacrifice on customer service support.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations. Check with friends and family in your area to get testimonials about pricing and satisfaction.
- Compare prices. As with any product or service, it's worth your while to shop around. An independent insurance agent can help you get quotes from multiple providers, or you can use each company's online quote tool.
How does auto insurance work?
Auto insurance is a financial product that helps you pay for damages to your vehicle and medical expenses in the event of an accident. As a policyholder, you pay a premium (monthly or annually) for coverage. Your premium is priced according to specific factors including your driving history, where you live and what kind of vehicle you drive. Auto insurance typically features a deductible, which is the amount you'll have to pay out of pocket for repairs and medical expenses before your insurance kicks in.
What does auto insurance cover?
It depends on the type of policy. You can buy a comprehensive policy or a basic one and add options such as roadside assistance.
Different types of auto insurance coverage
Mandatory minimum coverage
A minimum amount of liability car insurance is required in most states. It's usually called minimum coverage car insurance, and it consists of the following provisions:
- Bodily injury liability protection: This covers injuries to others caused by the policyholder and other drivers listed on the policy.
- Property damage liability protection: This covers damage that policyholders cause to someone else's property -- most often a car damaged in an accident, but also other personal property like a fence or mailbox.
The amount of bodily injury liability and property damage liability protection needed varies by state.
Some states also require two other types of coverage:
- Personal injury protection: This covers medical costs and lost wages for the driver and passengers in the policyholder's car if injury occurs, up to the policy's limits, regardless of fault.
- Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage: This covers you up to the policy's limits when an underinsured or uninsured motorist causes an accident.
Optional full coverage
If you want to drive, you'll need state-mandated insurance coverage. But that typically doesn't cover any damage to your car in an accident. Coverage for that will require an additional policy or add-on. And if your car is financed, your lender may require you to carry full coverage car insurance, which includes comprehensive coverage and collision coverage.
- Collision coverage: This covers damage to your vehicle in an accident resulting from a collision between your car and another car or an object.
- Comprehensive coverage: This covers damage to your car caused by an event other than a collision with another vehicle, such as theft, fire, flood, hail, hitting an animal and vandalism.
Many insurers also offer additional coverage for specific situations. If you buy a new vehicle, for example, you may want new car replacement coverage, which will pay for a new vehicle of the same make and model if yours is totaled in a covered loss. Here are a few other examples of add-on coverage:
- Roadside assistance: A tow will be sent to you if you're stranded on the side of the road for any reason.
- Gap coverage: Pays the difference between what your vehicle is worth and what you owe on it.
- Custom parts and equipment coverage: Helps pay for replacement items in your car such as custom wheels or a stereo.
- Rental car reimbursement: Helps pay for rental cars when your vehicle is in the shop after a loss.
Discounted rates and bundling
Auto insurance rates are determined by specific and personal factors such as where you live, your driving record and the type of vehicle you drive. If you're looking for the best auto insurance rates, however, many companies offer discounts. You may qualify for a lower premium if you maintain a safe driving record or improve your credit score. Young drivers may qualify for a discount by getting good grades. You may also be eligible for a discount if you bundle multiple policies -- that is, if you use the same provider for car insurance, life insurance and homeowners insurance.
How much coverage do you need?
Most car insurance companies offer different policies for different types of drivers. For a baseline, you want a policy that includes bodily injury liability protection and property damage protection. But you may add other coverage types such as personal injury protection, uninsured motorist coverage or collision coverage. Some auto insurance carriers offer comprehensive coverage, which insures your vehicle from theft or damage caused by non-driving incidents such as a fire.
"Having adequate auto insurance coverage is both smart and prudent to ensure you and your family are financially protected from a catastrophic loss," said Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at the Insurance Information Institute. "Comparison shopping when seeking insurance coverage is time well spent as premiums could vary by hundreds of dollars between carriers depending on numerous factors."
In addition to choosing certain coverage types, you may be able to adjust your deductible -- the amount you pay for a loss before insurance kicks in. If you want a lower monthly premium, you can elect to have a higher deductible. Before you go that route, however, make sure you can cover a significant loss.
How to sign up for auto insurance
Signing up for car insurance is simple. Here are the major steps:
- Gather your personal information. You'll may have to provide a lot of personal information including your name, driver's license number, date of birth, Social Security number, type of vehicle, VIN and bank account number.
- Determine your coverage needs. You'll be asked to select what coverage types and how much coverage you'd like. You may want to work with an insurance agent on this portion.
- Apply online, in person or over the phone. Applying online may be the easiest option, but an insurance agent can walk you through the process in person or over the phone.
- Submit your application and pay your premium. Once you've provided all the required information, you can pay your premium each month or via automatic withdrawal.
Does the US state you live in matter when picking auto insurance?
Yes. When shopping for car insurance, you'll notice that rates vary by region and that state laws dictate which coverage is required on your policy and what the minimum limits are, as well. There are plenty of good insurance companies that operate regionally or only in a select amount of states.
For example, Erie Insurance and Auto-Owners Insurance are top-rated carriers with excellent rates, a low number of complaints and superb customer satisfaction, but they operate in fewer states than other major insurers. Auto-Owners offers coverage in only 26 states, while Erie offers it in just 12.
What kind of car insurance coverage does your state legally require you to have?
In most states, bodily injury liability coverage and property damage liability are necessary to drive, but you'll want to check the specifics of insurance premiums with auto insurance providers where you live. An insurance agent can help guide you through this process so that you know exactly what coverage you may need.
What factors influence car insurance rates? Can you get discounts?
Auto insurance rates may ultimately be determined by personal factors, such as where you live, your driving record, your credit score and the type and age of vehicle you drive. However, insurance companies offer numerous discount options that you can take advantage of if you qualify.
For example, you may lower your insurance coverage costs if you maintain a safe driving record or work on your credit score. Bundling your car insurance policy with life, homeowners or renters insurance is another great way to save money. Young drivers might save money on their higher premium costs by demonstrating good grades.
Are your children covered under your car insurance?
If your child lives under your roof and is driving one of your vehicles, you'll need to add them to your car insurance policy.
Which company offers the cheapest car insurance?
USAA offers the least expensive full coverage auto insurance policy, with an average annual premium of $1,209 -- but it's available only to military service members, veterans and their families. The runner-up is Geico, which offers full coverage for $1,297 per year.
CNET reviews insurance carriers and products by exhaustively comparing them across set criteria developed for each category. For auto insurance, we examine average annual premium rates for full coverage, consumer complaints, collision repair scores, the carrier's financial strength, auto claims satisfaction and overall customer satisfaction. Our data comes from a multitude of sources.
Auto insurance rates come from Bankrate, which gathers data using Quadrant Information Services. We also use both J.D. Power annual surveys that collect data on customer auto claims satisfaction and overall customer satisfaction.
Consumer complaints are taken from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), which collects consumer complaints across states, indexing complaints on a scale that takes into account the industry average. We collect the financial strength rating of each carrier from the A.M. Best Rating. Lastly, we collected collision repair scores from the Crash Network Insurer Report Card, which collects data from collision repair professionals, including mechanics, to gauge the quality of collision claims service from insurance carriers.
More car insurance recommendations
- Best Cheap Car Insurance Companies
- Best Car Insurance for Teens and Young Drivers
- Best Car Insurance for Military and Veterans
- Best Gap Insurance Companies
- Geico Car Insurance Review
- Progressive Car Insurance Review
- USAA Auto Insurance Review
- Allstate Auto Insurance Review
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