Shopping for auto insurance means different things to different people, but the heart of your search is likely to focus on finding an insurer that charges affordable premiums.
Premiums can vary widely from state to state and even within your metropolitan area. A reason for varying premiums across states is that auto insurance is regulated by state insurance commissions and some states pass laws to make auto insurance more affordable.
Large metropolitan areas have varying accident and theft statistics, both of which affect your premiums. Your zip code is often used as a determinant of your premiums. For more on thefts, claims history and safety statistics, visit the Web site of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS/HLDI).
You can buy auto insurance from an insurance agent or on the Web. You may want to start a comparison-shopping of premiums by contacting the major insurers first, or using an aggregation service such as Progressive, Insure.com or InsWeb. You may be surprised to find out how widely premium quotes can vary.
Of course, shopping for auto insurance isn't only about finding the lowest premiums. You will also want to consider:
Financial stability of the insurer. Visit the Web sites of credit-rating agencies to check on your insurer's financial strength and ability to pay its claims. Cheap premiums won't mean a great deal if the insurer isn't able to pay its claims or stretches out its claims-processing time because of financial problems. Aim for an insurer that has at least a single-A rating.
History of consumer complaints. This information is available with your state insurance commission. The NAIC also maintains a database of consumer-complaint indexes.