13 Factors That Will Drive Up Your Car Insurance Rates

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If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why is my car insurance so high?” you’re definitely not alone.

Like most costs, auto insurance rates tend to rise over time, and certain specific factors are pushing premiums up even higher than the overall rate of inflation: today’s cars are more expensive to repair, the cost of medical bills is also going up, and these costs get passed on to you in the form of higher premiums.

The good news is that there are things you can do to lower your car insurance premiums. While some of the factors that insurance companies used to set your premiums are beyond your control (such as your age), others you can definitely improve with a little effort. And the more factors you improve, the lower your premiums will drop, allowing you to do some really effective, DIY car insurance quotes comparison

So, why is car insurance so expensive? Here are the major factors that auto insurance companies consider, ranked by how impactful those variables might be on your premium.

1. Where you live.

Where you live can have a surprisingly large impact on your insurance premiums. Different areas have different rates of vehicle theft, vandalism, hailstorms, traffic congestion, and other factors that tend to generate more insurance claims. For example, if you live in a major city, your rates will likely be higher than if you live in a quiet rural area because cities are more prone to traffic accidents than small towns are. If you commute, the risk level of the area you drive through every day may also be taken into consideration. For example, if you live in a small town but commute into a big city, your rates will likely be somewhat higher than if you both lived and worked in a small town.

Insurance companies generally use your ZIP Code to determine the risk level of your location. It’s probably not worth moving just to reduce your auto insurance, but if you’re moving anyway, you might want to prioritize areas with a lower incidence of vehicle-related problems.

To contextualize this, let’s consider the following driver profile: a 60-year-old single female who owns and drives a 2009 Nissan Altima with a 2.5-liter/4-cylinder engine. She primarily uses her car to get to work, driving about 10 miles per day. She is a homeowner, has been currently and continuously insured for the past seven years, and has two accidents on her record, both from about 3 to 5 years ago. For her car insurance coverage, she elects for state minimum protection (which varies by state!), with $1,000 deductibles for both comprehensive and collision coverage.

Here’s what this driver’s Insurify quote list would display across five American cities (dollar amounts refer to estimated monthly policy premium):

 Norfolk, VirginiaSan Antonio, TexasPhoenix, ArizonaChicago, IllinoisMacon, Georgia
Bristol West$87$100$85$100$138
Metromile$99 $112$96
National General$103
AssuranceAmerica$165 $172$203
GAINSCO$172 $201
The General$196$197$181$217$265
Alinsco $165
Hallmark $215$123
Aggressive $231
Homesite $144$138$214
Commonwealth $157
Safeway $166
Freedom National $203$182
USH&C $68
First Chicago $81
Mile Auto $89
Nationwide $179
Direct General $136
Everest National $292
Arrowhead $369

Location matters. Here’s how the cost breakdown looks for the 10 insurance companies that would cover this driver in most or all of the above cities:

That’s right. All of these quotes apply to the same driver with the same profile.

2. The year of your birth.

If you’re under the age of 25, you’re likely paying a hair-raising premium. That’s because young drivers are far more likely to be in an accident, and your premiums reflect that higher risk. On the other hand, senior drivers will also face higher premiums because after the age of 69, the risk of accidents starts to go up again.

While there’s not much you can do to change your age, you do have one option. Three states (California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts) don’t permit insurers to use driver age to set premiums.

Let’s revisit our sample driver profile. Suppose we set Norfolk, Virginia as the default location—but change the driver’s age from 60 to 23. Here are the monthly quotes for each insurance company that would insure both the 60-year-old and the 23-year-old, side by side.

Insurance Company60 years old23 years old
Bristol West$87$114
National General$103$159
The General$196$316

The rates sometimes dramatically increase for the younger driver, all other factors in the driver profile remaining constant. The range of rates expands, while the average estimated quote jumps about $80 higher.

3. Your driving record.

The safer your driving habits are, the less likely you are to end up in an accident. Insurance companies know this, so they weigh your driving history heavily when calculating your rates. Accidents, speeding tickets, DUI convictions, and the like will definitely raise your rates. If you have numerous driving misadventures, you may have trouble finding an insurer who will cover you.

Like credit history, a driving record can improve over time. For example, most insurance companies will check for accidents on your record going back three years, but not further than that.

4. Your previous insurance history.

A lapse in insurance coverage can result in a significant hike to your premiums. Switching from one insurance company to another doesn’t hurt this factor, but going without any coverage at all for even one day can have a major impact on your auto insurance rates.

If you plan to go without a car for a while, consider getting a non-owner car insurance policy to avoid a lapse in coverage. Having such a policy will also allow you to keep your driver’s license active during this period.

5. Your coverage limits.

Just about everybody has to get some level of auto insurance coverage to meet state minimum requirements (residents of New Hampshire have no minimum coverage requirement). The higher your coverage limits go above those minimums, the more expensive your insurance will get. After all, if you have $300,000 worth of liability coverage and you get in a major accident, you’d cost your insurance company a lot more than if you’d just had $25,000 worth of coverage.

If you stick to your state minimum coverage requirements, you’ll be getting the best possible deal on this particular factor. However, for many drivers, it makes sense to buy a somewhat higher level of coverage. For example, if you have property damage coverage of $5,000 and total someone’s $50,000 luxury car, you’ll be required to pay $45,000 to the owner of the other car. This could force you to sell some of your assets, like your house, to pay those bills. Higher coverage levels do mean higher premiums, but they may be worth the cost for someone with assets to protect.

6. Your deductible.

The deductible on your auto insurance policy is how much you have to pay towards a covered expense before the insurance company takes over. For example, if you have a $500 collision deductible, you’d have to pay $500 worth of repairs and then the insurance company would pay for the rest (up to your coverage limit).

The lower your deductible is, the more likely it is that your insurance company will need to shell out some money if you get in an accident. As a result, lower deductibles mean higher insurance premiums.

On the other hand, setting a very high deductible could mean that you won’t be able to pay the repair bills if an accident occurs. The smart move is usually to figure out how much you could comfortably afford to pay for repair bills and other fees, then set your deductible to that level. For example, if you have $2,000 set aside in an emergency savings account, you might set your car insurance deductible to $2,000 because you know you can easily pay that much in repairs.

7. Your gender.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that accidents involving male drivers are typically more severe than accidents involving female drivers, and men are more likely to die in an accident than women are. As a result, insurance companies often charge men (especially young men) higher premiums than they do women.

The gender factor does tend to improve with age: from their thirties through their fifties, men and women typically get roughly equivalent insurance premiums, all else being equal. Also, the following states don’t allow insurers to consider gender when setting premiums: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

8. Your marital status.

Studies show that married drivers have fewer auto insurance claims than single, divorced, or widowed drivers. For that reason, insurance premiums tend to be somewhat lower for married couples. The exception applies to residents of Massachusetts—that state doesn’t permit insurance companies to factor in marital status when setting auto insurance premiums.

As with location, you probably won’t want to change your marital status just to lower your insurance premiums. However, if you do get married, let your insurer know right away—you may be able to get an immediate reduction in your insurance rates, and you’ll certainly be able to factor this in when your insurance is up for renewal.

9. The amount you drive your car…

The more you drive, the more wear and tear your vehicle may suffer—and the more likely you are to crash it into something. High mileage is a sure way to increase your auto insurance premiums.

Most insurers will ask you for your annual mileage when you sign up for a policy. However, they won’t necessarily confirm that your mileage hasn’t changed when you renew. So if your mileage goes down for some reason—say, you moved to a home much closer to your office—definitely let your insurance company know.

10. …and where you drive it.

When you apply for an insurance policy, you’ll likely be asked what you use the vehicle for—be it personal use, business use, or for-hire use such as ridesharing. Getting your car covered for business or ridesharing use will be more expensive than getting a personal-use-only policy. But don’t lie to your insurer and tell them you drive your vehicle only for personal use if you’re actually an Uber driver because if the insurance company finds out, they’ll likely void your policy. Worse, if you get in an accident while ridesharing and you haven’t told the insurance company about your side business, they’ll likely refuse to fill the claim—leaving you stuck with all the costs.

11. Your driving experience.

People tend to become better drivers over time, which makes them less risky to insure. The longer your driving history, the better—especially if you’ve been accident-free for quite a while. This factor is another reason why teenagers and drivers in their early twenties have such stratospherically high insurance premiums.

Your driving experience is another factor that will automatically get better over time. If you stop driving for a while, keep your license active so that this time counts towards your driving experience in the eyes of your insurer.

12. The type of car you drive.

Certain car and truck models have much higher claims rates than others, either because statistics show they end up in more accidents or because they’re more likely to be stolen. If you drive one of these vehicles, your insurance rates are likely to be higher. Similarly, the more expensive your vehicle is, the more insurance companies would need to pay to replace it and therefore the higher they’ll set your rates.

Vehicle safety can also affect your insurance rates. Models that do well on IIHS safety tests are generally cheaper to insure, all else being equal. And if your car has extra safety features such as an antitheft system, you may be able to get a safety discount on your premiums.

13. In some cases…your credit history.

Drivers with a credit score under 600 are considered riskier by insurance companies, and so they’ll often be charged an inflated premium. Certain insurance companies won’t check your credit, but since they generally charge higher premiums than standard companies, finding one of these insurers may not help much. The same three states that don’t let insurers consider age (California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts) also bar them from using credit scores, so if you happen to live in one of those states, you’re in luck.

Your best option in the long-term is simply to increase your credit score. Building a history of making payments on time is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your credit score.

How to pay less for car insurance

In addition to doing what you can to tip the above-listed factors in your favor, there are a few steps you can take to cut your car insurance rates.

1. Always shop around for auto insurance. Whenever your policy comes up for renewal, get quotes from other insurers before you sign on with your current provider. Don’t just assume that because your insurer was the cheapest option last year, they still will be this year—many factors may have changed in the past six or 12 months.

Insurify can help you with car insurance quotes comparison from top-rated regional and national insurance companies. No matter your insurance history or point in your policy period, you can compare quotes, unlock discounts, and save up to hundreds of dollars per year on your car insurance premium.

Real-time quotes comparison with Insurify will give you the peace of mind that you’re getting the best coverage out there for you—your driving history, your risk profile, your insurance needs.

2. Look into car insurance discounts aggressively both with your current insurer and with other insurance companies. While certain discounts tend to be universal—for example, multi-policy discounts for having more than one type of insurance policy with a company—others are fairly idiosyncratic. Ask your insurance agent or call your insurer’s customer service department and find out which discounts they offer. Individual discounts tend to be fairly small, but if you can grab five or six of them, the savings can really add up.

3. Assess your payment options: most insurers will charge you less if you prepay your policy instead of making monthly payments. Paying your insurance premiums annually can save you hundreds of dollars per year, though it can be a challenge to scrape together that much money all at once. One trick to make this easier is to divide your annual policy by six or 12, depending on the policy period, and put that much money into a savings account each month. By the time your policy is up for renewal and another payment is due, you’ll have enough saved up to pay the whole thing.

Wendy Connick is the founder and owner of Connick Financial Solutions, a provider of tax and bookkeeping services and a QuickBooks Online Certified ProAdvisor. A long-time freelance writer, she specializes in business and finance articles on subjects including taxes, investing, and retirement. Wendy is an Enrolled Agent (EA), the only federally-licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxation and have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS. She is a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents and a certified volunteer for VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), an IRS-sponsored program to provide free tax help for low-income individuals and families.