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Auto insurance experts frequently recommend shopping car insurance quotes, which means comparing them to make sure you’re getting a good deal on a policy. But what is a quote for car insurance?
A car insurance quote is a price estimate for a policy based on information you’ve provided about yourself, your car, its home location and any other drivers in your home. The more information you provide to a company — and the more accurate it is — the closer your insurance quote will be to the final price of a policy.
If you want free car insurance quotes, you’ll have to compare them yourself, whether you get them from an agent or online. An insurance broker often charges a fee but can do the quote comparison on your behalf.
What you need to get a car insurance quote
Basic personal information like your name, address and birthdate. Most car insurance quotes start with this information, but you’ll also provide your occupation and possibly a prior address.
Current car insurance company if you have a policy now. If you don’t, you might be considered a high-risk driver and need a quote from a nonstandard insurance company.
Vehicle information like the vehicle identification number and whether you own, finance or lease your car. You may also be asked if your car has certain safety features like anti-lock brakes or air bags.
Annual mileage and usage of the car, such as for pleasure or driving to work, and the current mileage on the odometer. If you drive for companies like Lyft, Uber or Instacart, you’ll need to add ridesharing coverage or get a quote for a business auto policy.
Driver information. This includes driver’s license numbers for you and any other drivers in your household, how long you’ve been licensed and your occupation. It also may include your estimated credit tier.
Driving history. This includes any tickets, accidents or other violations for up to five years, depending on the company you’re applying to, for all drivers on the policy. Be honest! If you fudge the details, your insurance quote won’t be accurate because the insurer will find out the truth.
Desired coverage limits. The declarations page of your current or most recent auto insurance policy can help you fill in coverage levels and compare prices for the same coverage.
Can you get an insurance quote without personal information?
You can’t get an accurate car insurance quote unless you provide detailed information about yourself, your car and your household. Each of those details affects your final price, and car insurance quotes online are generally non-binding, meaning you’re not guaranteed to get the quoted price.
When you apply for a policy, you’re authorizing the insurer to pull reports about you from claims and credit history databases, which can change your final rate. If you do receive a quote after providing very little information, it could be on the low side in order to entice you to apply for the policy — in which case you’ll get a big surprise.
When it comes time to buy the policy, insurance companies will find out your real accident and coverage history, as well as your credit history in most states. Many state motor vehicle departments share car registration data with insurance companies, so some quote tools can look up your car’s VIN when you provide your address.
Even if you deceive their quoting tools, insurance companies have more data than you’ll be able to fool, and they will find out the truth. Rather than trying to get the cheapest quote, seek several accurate car insurance quotes, all for the same coverage levels, and then choose the cheapest.
What factors affect a car insurance quote most?
Even though you give a company a lot of personal information to get a car insurance quote, some factors affect your final price more than others, and not always how you’d expect. For instance, you might think mileage is a big deal, but NerdWallet research indicates that driving less — 5,000 miles per year instead of 12,000 — saves far less money than having good credit or being accident-free.
The following factors have a relatively high impact on car insurance quotes, but insurers treat them all differently, so it’s hard to say by how much.
Coverage amounts. Minimum coverage costs less than higher liability limits that offer more financial protection if you cause a crash, so minimum coverage quotes will be the lowest. Full coverage insurance quotes are two to three times higher than minimum coverage quotes for the same driver profile, on average, according to NerdWallet research.
Driving history. Having no driving history will translate to higher auto insurance quotes. You can also expect high rates if you’ve had a DUI or caused a bad accident in the past three to five years. On the flip side, if your driving record is clean, you’re likely eligible for good-driving discounts.
Location. Population density, vandalism, crash rate and theft in your ZIP code all affect your car insurance quote. State laws and coverage requirements can also have a big impact: The same policy can cost three or four times more from one state to the next.
Credit history, unless you live in California, Hawaii or Massachusetts. Insurance companies in other states can charge policyholders with poorer credit more because some data indicates they are more likely to file claims.
Previous insurer, or lapse in coverage. You might be considered high-risk (and pay more) if you haven’t had car insurance recently, even if you haven’t had a car or have been out of the country. You may also pay more if your most recent insurance company is “nonstandard,” serving mostly high-risk drivers.
Next steps: Getting and comparing insurance quotes
Now that you know what it takes to get a car insurance quote, you can gather your existing policy and driver’s license and compare car insurance rates online.
Or if you’d like a professional to help you sort out the details, you can contact a local agent or broker. Agents are far more common and don’t charge a fee, but they can’t get car insurance quotes from every company. Captive agents, such as Allstate or State Farm agents, can only get quotes from one company. Brokers typically charge fees for their services but can solicit car insurance quotes on your behalf from many companies. Both agents and brokers will be able to assist you, should you file a claim in the future.