Sometimes, it pays to be a loyal customer. Airline miles, loyalty rewards points, free birthday gifts, the coveted platinum membership tier — all these incentives are designed to keep you committed to your favorite brands. But loyalty is usually a one-way street when it comes to auto insurance.
“Insurance companies exist to make money,” said Michael DeLong, research fellow and advocacy for the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America. “They’re not your friends, even though they have cute mascots.” DeLong advises not to hesitate to seek a better deal because, in many cases, your insurance company is not loyal to you.
However, only 26% of vehicle owners in the United States say they shop for auto insurance at least once a year, according to a 2023 NerdWallet survey.
Here are three signs it’s time to swipe left on your current auto insurance company.
1. When your rates go up
It’s normal to overpay for things over time — taxes, rent, a box of eggs — and insurance is no exception.
Sometimes, the price increase is justified by your driving history (eg you cause an accident or get a ticket). But other times, they’re based on things unrelated to driving, like getting married or changing jobs.
Additionally, many auto insurance companies practice something called “price optimization.” DeLong describes it as “imposing people higher rates and premiums based on the likelihood that they will accept it and not looking around for a better deal.”
Price optimization tends to punish loyal customers, says DeLong. But, apart from that, it is also detrimental to many people who are less educated about insurance, he added.
It should be noted that price optimization is currently prohibited in some states, and not all companies practice it. However, insurance companies adjust rates for a variety of reasons. So while the low price policy may initially entice you, the sweet deal may have soured by the time you renew (usually 6 or 12 months later).
Read: These are the most expensive and cheapest cars to insure
2. When life happens
Insurance companies use all kinds of driving- and non-driving-related signals for pricing policies, and pricing formulas differ from one company to the next. For example, some insurance companies charge higher rates than others for having a recent ticket or simply for being a young driver.
That’s why it’s often a good idea to try other auto insurance companies when you:
Buy or rent a new car.
Add the driver to your policy.
Get into a car accident.
Get a DUI/DWI or traffic violation.
Experience significant changes in credit history (in most states).
Need to drive less.
See also: 9 things that are most likely to affect your car insurance rates
3. When you were treated badly
There’s a lot more to insurance than finding the lowest price. “You have insurance so that if a bad day happens, it doesn’t get any worse,” said Stephen Crewdson, senior director at JD Power.
That’s why paying attention to how your insurance company treats customers is so important. This is a tricky sign because, aside from the initial account setup, most people don’t routinely deal with insurance companies or agents until one of those “bad days” happens.
As a result of that experience, you may feel dissatisfied because the claim process is taking too long or you are unable to reach a customer service representative when needed, for example. If the insurance company treats you badly, that’s a big red flag, says DeLong. Other companies may value your business more.
See also: The safest new car of 2023
Keep the relationship open
Shopping for insurance, like dating, can be a daunting experience for some. Finding and switching to a more suitable auto insurer, on the other hand, can be a relatively painless process and most insurers won’t penalize you for doing so – even if you’re only one week into a 6-month policy.
Here are some considerations for maintaining a casual relationship with your insurance company:
Make shopping a habit
“Shop for insurance like you shop for gas,” says Marty Ellingsworth, executive managing director at JD Power. In other words, you should always watch your prices because the market is constantly changing. You can count on regular price hikes, but it’s your right to ask why and seek transparency.
NerdWallet recommends shopping for auto insurance from at least three different companies once a year. And don’t forget the smaller regional insurers, who sometimes offer more competitive rates and better service. Working with an independent insurance agent is a great place to start. These experts work with many insurance companies and can find the best policy tailored to your needs.
Also on MarketWatch: Signing up for a subscription might be easy — but canceling it can be a nightmare. The FTC wants to change that.
Shop for what you need
Start by figuring out what you need to insure and how much auto insurance you’ll need, advises Ellingsworth.
With auto insurance, it’s often easy to go over or under insurance. Some companies only offer certain features in a plan, so you may be paying for coverage you don’t want or need. On the other hand, many states allow residents to drive with shallow coverage limits, which may leave them short on insurance.
Most insurance companies or independent agents can help you with this part. But as a rough estimate, NerdWallet recommends getting at least enough liability insurance to cover your net worth. That’s the value of all your cash, investments, and belongings, minus your debts.
Shop for quality
You can use the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website to see how customer complaints stack up against the various auto insurance companies in your area or check out NerdWallet’s roundup of the best auto insurance companies.
Also, read company reviews online and ask your family or friends about their experiences. “You might also want to look at companies and see if they’ve been in the news lately. And is it for good or bad reasons,” DeLong suggested.
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Ryan Brady writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @reallyryanbrady.