10 most important features of car insurance

Chris Kissell

Like snowflakes, no two car insurance shoppers are alike. Some people would not think of buying a policy that does not offer roadside assistance, while others will insist on an insurer with a well-established reputation.

The comScore 2012 Online Auto Insurance Shopping Report asked drivers which features are most important in a car insurance policy. Following are the top 10, with the percentage of respondents who cited that particular feature as being “important.”

1. Safe driver discount (54 percent)

Careful drivers not only avoid accidents, but also may fatten their wallets thanks to car insurance companies’ safe driver discount programs.

For example, if you’ve been accident-free for five years, you can save up to 35 percent at Allstate. At State Farm, drivers can save up to 10 percent after three years of driving without moving violations or at-fault crashes.

“If you’re a good driver with a clean driving record, most companies would want your business,” says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Network of California.  

2. Low deductible (47 percent)

The comScore survey shows drivers are in love with low deductibles. A deductible  is the amount of money you must pay out of pocket on a claim before your insurer foots the rest of the bill.

A low deductible makes sense if you don’t have a lot of money in savings and can’t afford to pay for repairs. However, opting for a lower deductible can cost you money. 

“By taking a lower deductible, consumers will receive less of a discount on their premiums,” says Lori Conarton, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute of Michigan. 

If you remain claim-free for many years but keep a low deductible, those higher premium costs add up. That’s why many people choose a higher deductible.

Keep in mind that this makes sense only if you have the money to cover the deductible when you make a claim, Conarton says.

3. Roadside assistance (41 percent)

If your car breaks down on a lonely back road, it’s good to know that help is just a phone call away. For that reason, many people value the roadside assistance that their car insurance company provides.

However, beware that roadside assistance claims are just that – insurance claims. That means they may appear in your CLUE report, says Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a nonprofit that educates consumers about insurance issues.

A CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) report contains information about claims you have made in the past. Such reports go into a database that insurers use when determining whether to insure you and how much to charge you.

“For a driver who’s already got a few claims on their record, they’re likely to be better off buying separate roadside assistance from AAA or a comparable service,” Bach says.

However, for other drivers, a car insurer’s roadside assistance may be the way to go.

“If your insurer is offering the coverage free of charge and you have a good driving record, you should be fine with the roadside assistance your insurer offers,” she says. “And use it if you need it.”

4. A well-known, trustworthy brand (40 percent)

Small insurance companies can offer comprehensive coverage at a great price, but many drivers still gravitate toward the security of doing business with companies that are household names. However, Moraga says you’ll benefit from being open to all options when shopping for insurance.

“What you want to do is to try to get a good sampling of companies – from small ones to large established companies – and compare them on the same set of criteria,” he says.

5. Rental car coverage (38 percent)

With most car insurance policies, the coverage you carry on your personal car automatically is extended to any car you rent. But check with your insurer to be sure.

Remember, if you don’t carry certain types of coverage on your own car, they won’t apply to the rental car either.

So, if you drop collision and comprehensive coverage – which reimburses you for any damage to your own car – on your aging vehicle, that also means your auto policy won’t cover damage to that gleaming sedan you just rented.

Also, your insurance policy may or may not cover other fees associated with rental car accidents, including administrative fees and towing costs.

Most importantly, check with your agent to make sure your policy protects you from having to pay loss-of-use charges. If you smash a rental car, the vehicle will have to be taken out of the company’s fleet while it’s being repaired. The rental car company then will charge you – possibly as much as the daily rental rate, plus fees – to compensate for the lost income on that car.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming “loss of use” is automatically included in your car insurance policy, Moraga says. Although some states require loss-of-use coverage in a standard policy, most don’t, he says.

Other features that made comScore’s top 10 include:

6. Free repairs of windshield cracks (37 percent)

7. Full replacement value for new car that gets totaled (37 percent)

8. Guaranteed rate for 12 months (33 percent)

9. Accident forgiveness (32 percent)

10. Personalized service (28 percent)

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