When it comes to your car insurance premiums, you might feel like you’re at the mercy of a myriad of factors that you’re powerless to control.
But in reality, you actually have more control over the price you pay than you might think.
Think of your insurance premium as a personalized puzzle, with pieces that include your driving record, vehicle choice, and even your location. This guide will walk you through each of these pieces, explaining how they fit together to create a picture that is as unique as your driving habits.
You’ll learn why young drivers often face steeper costs, the financial perks of driving a car with top-notch safety features, and how your credit score can paint a picture of reliability.
We’ll also share 15 things you can do right now to reduce the cost of your car insurance.
Personal demographic factors
Personal demographic factors are like the little bits of information that tell a story about who you are – like how old you are, whether you’re married or single, and even where you call home.
In the world of car insurance, these tidbits help companies get to know you better. They use this info to figure out how likely you are to have a mishap on the road. It’s a bit like how a weather forecast uses data to predict if you’ll need an umbrella tomorrow.
These details don’t define you, but they do help insurers predict certain trends and risks.
Driver Age: Younger Drivers Pay More
Driver age significantly impacts car insurance rates due to varying risk levels associated with different life stages.
Young drivers face the highest premiums because they pose a greater risk, lacking experience and showing a higher incidence of risky behavior.
Rates generally decrease as drivers gain experience and mature, with middle-aged drivers enjoying lower premiums thanks to their lower risk of filing claims.
However, premiums may rise again for senior drivers, reflecting insurers’ risk assessments that take into account potential age-related declines in driving ability.
Example: How driver age impacts insurance cost
Let’s say you’re buying a new Toyota Camry off the dealer lot. Let’s also assume that you’re 20 years old, male, have a clean driving record, and need full coverage with $500 deductibles.
You can expect the annual insurance premium for this model to be about $3,418.
Now let’s change one assumption and make you 40 years old.
The expected premium on the same Camry is now $1,720 per year.
That’s a difference of $1,698 per year just by making the rated driver older.
Married vs. Single: Getting Hitched May Save Money
Marital status can affect car insurance rates, with married individuals often receiving lower premiums than their single counterparts.
Insurance companies base this on extensive data that suggests married drivers are involved in fewer accidents and file less claims.
The statistical evidence implies that married individuals tend to exhibit safer driving behaviors, possibly due to the increased responsibilities often associated with marriage. Consequently, insurers view married drivers as lower-risk customers.
It’s important to note that the influence of marital status on insurance rates can vary between companies and regions, with some areas considering it a less significant factor.
Where You Live: Urban vs. Rural vs. Mother Nature
The place you call home does more than just determine your local coffee shop. It can also significantly affect your car insurance premiums.
If you’re living in a bustling city center with heavy traffic, the odds of navigating through a sea of cars without a scratch are slimmer than if you’re cruising on open rural roads. More cars mean more potential fender benders, or worse.
Insurers look at urban areas and see a higher risk for accidents, thefts, and vandalism simply because there are more opportunities for these incidents.
On the flip side, in a quiet countryside or a small town, risks decrease, and typically, so do your insurance rates.
But it’s not just about the number of cars on the road. Insurers also consider things like crime rates. A neighborhood with higher instances of car theft could see higher premiums.
Even natural disaster likelihood, such as hailstorms or flooding, comes into play because they increase the chance of damage to your vehicle.
Vehicle-related factors that affect premium
Vehicle-related factors are a big part of the equation when insurance companies determine your car insurance premium. Here’s the different factors how they come into play:
Make and Model of Your Vehicle
The make and model of a vehicle significantly influence car insurance rates due to varying price tags, costs of repair or replacement, safety features, and theft rates.
Conversely, vehicles with a reputation for durability and those equipped with advanced safety features may be cheaper to insure.
Actuaries also consider the vehicle’s crash-test ratings, as cars that perform well in safety tests could lead to fewer or less severe insurance claims, often resulting in lower insurance rates for their owners.
Example: How vehicle make and model impacts insurance cost
One is built for speed and performance, while the other is a small 4-cylinder compact SUV intended to be capable both on-road and off.
In this example, we will make all the same assumptions coverage-wise as the first example which are: 40-year-old male driver, clean driving record, and full coverage insurance with $500 deductibles.
For a 2023 Chevy Corvette, the annual premium expected is around $2,234.
For a 2023 Subaru Crosstrek, the annual cost is closer to $1,380.
So by choosing a higher-performance model, in this example, you can expect to pay an additional $854 per year for car insurance.
Age of Your Vehicle
The age of a vehicle influences its car insurance premium, largely due to depreciation and the potential cost of repairs or replacement after an incident.
Brand-new vehicles have the latest in automotive technology and safety features, and insurers recognize that these vehicles would incur substantial costs in replacing parts or the entire vehicle in the event of a significant claim.
Consequently, the premiums for such cars are generally higher to account for the potential financial risk to the insurer.
As vehicles age, they depreciate in value. From an insurance standpoint, an older vehicle, which has a lower market value, would not cost as much to replace after an accident. This depreciation typically results in reduced premiums.
However, vehicles that have aged significantly may actually see higher rates. Classic cars or older models with discontinued parts may require specialized repairs and hard-to-find components, leading to higher insurance costs due to the increased expense of sourcing and repair.
Vehicle Safety Features
A vehicle’s safety features are a significant determinant in the calculation of its car insurance premiums, as they directly correlate to the likelihood of accidents and the severity of their outcomes.
These features are designed to protect occupants, prevent crashes, and minimize damage, which aligns with the insurance company’s interest in reducing claims.
When a vehicle is equipped with advanced safety technologies, it is statistically less likely to be involved in an accident, and if an accident does occur, the severity and cost of damages are often reduced.
Insurers may offer lower premiums for vehicles with these features because the risk of a high-cost claim is diminished.
Vehicle safety features that can favorably impact insurance costs:
- Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) – This system activates the car’s brakes when it detects an impending collision and the driver hasn’t yet responded.
- Forward Collision Warning (FCW) – Sensors alert drivers to obstacles in their path, giving them more time to react.
- Electronic Stability Control (ESC) – ESC helps prevent skidding and loss of control in slippery conditions or during abrupt maneuvers.
- Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) – These systems warn drivers when they drift out of their lane and can gently steer the car back into the correct lane.
- Blind Spot Detection (BSD) – Monitors areas that the driver can’t easily see and alerts them if a vehicle is in their blind spot during a lane change.
- Rearview Cameras and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert – These provide drivers with a view of the area behind the vehicle and warn of approaching traffic when backing up.
- Adaptive Headlights – These headlights pivot in the direction of travel to improve visibility on curves.
- Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Brake Assist – ABS prevents wheel lockup during emergency braking, while Brake Assist detects emergency braking by the driver and increases braking force.
Insurers often factor in these features during the underwriting process. The discount for safety features can be direct, through lower premiums, or indirect, through fewer and less costly claims over time.
Consequently, car owners benefit from investing in a vehicle with robust safety systems not only for the safety benefits but also for the potential insurance savings. However, the overall impact on insurance premiums can vary depending on the insurer’s policies and the specific safety features of the vehicle.
Vehicle Crash Test Ratings
Vehicle crash test ratings are a significant indicator of how well a vehicle can protect its occupants in the event of a collision, and they play a key role in determining car insurance costs.
Insurance companies scrutinize these ratings, as they provide a data-driven estimate of the vehicle’s safety in various crash scenarios. Cars that receive high ratings from crash tests are deemed safer, potentially leading to fewer and less severe injury claims, which insurance companies favor.
Organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct these evaluations.
The IIHS uses a range of assessments, including high-speed front and side crash tests, a roof strength test, head restraint tests, and an evaluation of collision avoidance technologies. Their rating system includes grades such as Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor.
NHTSA uses a star rating system, with more stars indicating higher safety in frontal, side, and rollover tests.
Vehicles that achieve top marks from these organizations – such as the “Top Safety Pick” from IIHS or a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA – often benefit from lower insurance premiums. This is because they are statistically less likely to result in costly medical expenses following an accident.
For detailed information on vehicle safety ratings, you can visit the IIHS website at www.iihs.org and the NHTSA website at www.nhtsa.gov. These resources provide valuable insights into the safety profiles of various vehicle makes and models, which can impact insurance costs significantly.
The size of your vehicle can have a significant impact on your car insurance costs, with insurers often considering both the physical dimensions and the weight of the car.
Larger vehicles, such as SUVs and trucks, are generally perceived to offer better protection in the event of a collision. Their sheer size and weight mean they can absorb the impact more effectively, potentially reducing the severity of injuries to occupants.
This can lead to a lower risk of high medical claim costs for insurers, which might translate into lower premiums for these larger vehicles.
However, this is not a universal rule. Larger vehicles can also be more expensive to repair due to their size and the cost of their parts.
Additionally, some large vehicles may be more prone to rollovers, which is a risk factor that insurers take into account.
Conversely, smaller cars, which often fare worse in collisions with larger vehicles, might incur higher insurance costs due to the increased risk of total loss and injury. But their lower repair costs and the vehicle’s lower initial price can balance this out in some cases.
Risk of Theft
If a particular vehicle model has a history of being targeted by thieves, insurers consider it high-risk because there’s a greater chance they will need to replace it. To cover this increased risk, insurance companies typically charge higher premiums for these vehicles.
Insurance providers rely on crime statistics and theft reports to determine which cars are more likely to be stolen.
Some models might be popular with thieves because they have valuable parts that can be sold on the black market, or they might be easier to break into or lack advanced anti-theft technology.
High-performance vehicles can also be at higher risk due to their desirability.
On the other hand, cars equipped with effective anti-theft features, such as alarm systems, engine immobilizers, and tracking devices, pose a lower risk and can often benefit from lower insurance rates.
These technologies deter theft or increase the chances of recovering the vehicle if it is stolen, reducing the potential loss for the insurance company.
Cost of Parts and Repairs
Insurance companies must consider the potential costs they’ll incur when a vehicle is damaged.
If a particular car model is expensive to repair, due to either the high cost of its parts or the specialized labor required for its maintenance, insurers will typically charge higher premiums for that vehicle to offset these potential expenses.
Luxury cars and imported models often come with a steeper price tag for repairs. They may need parts shipped from overseas or specialized expertise that can only be provided by certified technicians or dealerships, all of which contribute to higher repair costs.
Similarly, vehicles with high-tech features or custom modifications can be more expensive to fix due to the complexity and the price of the components involved.
Even for more common vehicles, the availability of parts plays a role. Older models that are out of production might require harder-to-find parts, increasing repair costs and, effectively, your car insurance premium.
Driving history and behavior factors that affect premium
Your driving history and behavior are like a report card for insurers, summarizing how you’ve handled the responsibility of driving over time.
This history is one of the primary indicators insurance companies use to gauge the likelihood of future claims.
Essentially, it boils down to risk assessment: safer drivers typically cost less to insure because they’re less likely to be involved in accidents that result in expensive claims.
Driving record: Accidents and violations
Your driving record acts as a historical snapshot of your driving behavior, chronicling past incidents that can significantly influence your perceived risk level.
A pattern of accidents and violations suggests a higher likelihood of future claims, prompting insurers to hedge this risk with increased premiums.
Driving record incidents that typically impact car insurance premiums include:
- Speeding Tickets – Minor infractions can raise your premiums slightly, but repeated offenses or extreme cases of speeding can cause a more substantial hike.
- DUI/DWI – Driving under the influence or while intoxicated is one of the most severe offenses, often resulting in a significant premium increase due to the high risk of accidents associated with impaired driving.
- At-Fault Accidents – If you’ve been deemed responsible for a collision, your insurer may increase your rates due to the greater risk you represent.
- Reckless Driving – This serious violation indicates a disregard for road safety and can cause a sharp increase in insurance costs.
- Running Red Lights and Stop Signs – These moving violations are considered risky behaviors that can lead to accidents, thus potentially increasing premiums.
- Illegal Turns – Making improper turns can reflect negatively on your driving record and result in higher insurance rates.
- Driving Without Insurance – Being caught driving without valid insurance can lead to fines and will likely cause insurers to view you as a high-risk driver.
Each of these violations can stay on your driving record for varying lengths of time, depending on the laws where you live.
Insurance companies typically look at the past three to five years of your driving history to assess your rates.
Minor infractions may have a modest impact compared to serious violations like DUIs, which can double or even triple your insurance costs.
Credit History: An Indicator of Financial Responsibility
A driver’s credit score might seem unrelated to driving at first glance, but insurance companies have statistical evidence that correlates credit scores with the likelihood of filing claims.
Generally, individuals with higher credit scores are perceived to be more financially responsible, which insurers associate with being more responsible in other areas of life, including driving.
The rationale is that if you manage your financial obligations well, you’re also likely to be diligent about maintaining your vehicle, driving safely, and adhering to road regulations, all of which minimize the risk of accidents and, consequently, claims.
Insurance companies view a good credit score as an indicator of a lower-risk client, and thus, often offer lower premiums to those with better credit.
Conversely, a lower credit score could indicate to insurers that an individual has difficulty managing their finances, which could indicate a higher potential for risky driving behavior or a greater likelihood of filing claims. This could lead to higher premiums to account for the perceived increased risk.
However, it’s important to note that some states have recognized the potential for potential discrimination with this practice and have outlawed the use of credit scores in determining car insurance rates.
At the publication date of this article, California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii do not allow insurers to use credit as a rate-producing factor.
In these places, your credit score won’t affect your car insurance premiums. But in states where it’s allowed, maintaining a good credit score can be another tool in keeping your insurance costs down.
Claims History: How likely you are to file a claim
A driver’s claim history includes any past claims a driver has made, whether they were at fault or not. The frequency and severity of these claims are strong indicators of how likely a driver is to make a future claim, which is a serious concern for insurers.
Drivers with numerous past claims are often seen as high-risk, leading to higher insurance premiums. This is because a pattern of claims suggests a greater chance that the driver will file additional claims in the future.
For instance, if a driver has made multiple at-fault accident claims, insurance companies will view this as a trend that is likely to continue, and they will price their premiums accordingly to mitigate this risk.
Conversely, drivers with few or no previous claims are typically rewarded with lower premiums. They are perceived as safer drivers with a lower risk profile.
Insurers often offer no-claim bonuses or discounts as incentives for maintaining a claim-free record, which underscores the value placed on a clean claim history.
Policy coverage factors that affect premium
When it comes to the cost of your car insurance, the coverages you choose play a substantial role.
Insurance isn’t just a one-size-fits-all product, but rather is a customizable selection of financial protections. The choices you make for things like liability limits, deductibles, and optional coverages all play a part in determine the cost of your policy.
Liability coverage: Protection for You
The amount of liability coverage you choose is a large factor in the cost of your premium.
Opting for the state-mandated minimum liability limits can lead to lower premiums in the short term, but it also exposes you to significant financial risk if damages exceed those limits.
Conversely, selecting higher liability limits offers greater financial protection and peace of mind but generally increases your premium.
For instance, if you choose a liability coverage limit of 50/100/50, which translates to $50,000 for bodily injury per person, $100,000 for bodily injury per accident, and $50,000 for property damage per accident, your premium will be less than if you select 100/300/100 coverage. The latter provides a broader safety net but at a higher cost.
Your decision might be influenced by personal factors, such as assets that could be at risk in a lawsuit following a severe accident.
Ultimately, while higher liability coverage can mean higher upfront costs, it’s also a critical investment in protecting your financial future against the potentially immense costs of an at-fault accident.
For a more detailed look into how liability insurance works and why you need it, see our Car Insurance 101 article titled Crash Course in Liability Insurance: Hit the Road with Confidence.
Physical Damage Coverage: Protection for Your Vehicle
Adding physical damage coverage to your car insurance policy, which includes collision and comprehensive coverages, typically results in a higher premium.
Collision coverage helps pay for damage to your vehicle if you hit another car or object, while comprehensive coverage pays for non-collision-related damage, such as theft, vandalism, or natural disasters.
These coverages are generally optional unless required by a lender or leasing company for a financed or leased vehicle.
When you add them to your policy, you’re opting for a greater level of protection. This additional protection comes at a cost because it transfers more risk from you to the insurer.
For instance, with collision coverage, you’re covered for damages from accidents irrespective of fault, ensuring your vehicle can be repaired or replaced. Comprehensive coverage safeguards you against unpredictable and uncontrollable events like extreme weather or theft.
Physical Damage Deductibles: How Much You’ll Pay Out-of-Pocket
If you choose to include physical damage coverage (collision and comprehensive) on your policy, the cost of these coverages is influenced by the deductible you choose – the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance kicks in.
A higher deductible usually means a lower premium because you’re assuming more financial responsibility.
Despite the increased premium, many drivers find the extra expense for physical damage coverage worthwhile for the extensive protection and peace of mind it offers, especially for newer or more valuable vehicles.
Uninsured/Underinsured and Medical Expense Coverage
UM/UIM coverage safeguards you if you’re involved in an accident with a driver who either has no insurance (uninsured) or insufficient insurance (underinsured) to cover the damages they’ve caused.
It is not optional in some states, where it’s mandated by law to ensure that all drivers have some form of protection against such scenarios.
In states where it’s optional, choosing to include it will increase your premium but provides valuable protection against the risk of costly expenses from accidents with uninsured drivers.
Medical payments expensive coverage (MedPay) is optional and offers a safety net for medical expenses incurred by you or your passengers, regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
It’s a relatively low-cost addition that can significantly impact your out-of-pocket expenses after an accident. While it does increase your premium, it also expands your coverage, often without a deductible, making it a beneficial choice for immediate medical cost coverage.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is available in place of MedPay in some states and it covers medical expenses, lost wages, and other incidental costs resulting from an auto accident, regardless of who is at fault.
PIP is often mandatory in “no-fault” states, providing broader benefits compared to MedPay.
While both cover medical expenses, PIP’s coverage is more comprehensive, potentially including rehabilitation costs, funeral expenses, and loss of income. MedPay, on the other hand, is strictly limited to covering immediate medical and funeral expenses and is usually optional.
Optional Coverages: Endorsements for Additional Protection
Adding optional coverages can provide enhanced protection and convenience to your policy, but it also affects your car insurance premium.
Optional coverages, such as roadside assistance, gap insurance, rental reimbursement, and glass coverage, are designed to cater to specific needs and circumstances, offering layers of security that standard policies don’t cover.
Each additional coverage comes with its own cost, reflecting the extra risks that insurers agree to undertake.
Insurance companies each have their own selection of optional coverages they offer, so the list below may include coverages that are not offered by your company.
Examples of car insurance optional coverages:
- Roadside Assistance – Covers services like towing, jump-starts, tire changes, lockout service, and emergency fuel delivery.
- Rental Reimbursement – Pays for a rental car while your vehicle is being repaired under a covered claim.
- Gap Insurance – Covers the difference between the actual cash value of a vehicle and the balance still owed on financing if the car is totaled or stolen.
- New Car Replacement – Provides the cost of a new car if your recently purchased vehicle is totaled.
- Accident Forgiveness – Prevents your insurance rates from increasing after your first at-fault accident.
- Custom Equipment – Covers aftermarket additions such as custom wheels, navigation systems, and enhanced audio.
- OEM Endorsement – Guarantees the use of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts for repairs.
- Rideshare Coverage – Extends personal car insurance to cover periods when driving for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft.
- Pet Injury Coverage – Pays for veterinary expenses if your pet is injured in a car accident.
- Glass Coverage – Often a zero-deductible coverage for windshield and other glass repair or replacement.
- Diminishing Deductible – Reduces your deductible amount over time if you remain claim-free.
- Full Glass Coverage – Eliminates the deductible for glass repairs, often including windshield chips or cracks.
- Personal Umbrella Policy (PUP) – Provides additional liability coverage beyond the limits of your auto policy.
- Personal Property Coverage – Reimburses for personal items in your vehicle that are damaged or stolen.
- Loan/Lease Payoff – Similar to gap insurance, this covers the difference between the vehicle’s actual cash value and the remaining loan or lease balance if it’s totaled.
- Towing and Labor Cost Coverage – Covers a specified amount for towing and labor charges for your vehicle.
- Full Replacement Cost Coverage – Pays the full cost to replace your car with a similar new model without considering depreciation.
- Electronic Key and Lock Replacement – Covers the cost of replacing electronic car keys and locks if they are lost or stolen.
- Non-Owner Car Insurance – Provides liability coverage for individuals who drive but do not own a vehicle.
- Accidental Death and Dismemberment – Pays a benefit if an accident results in death or a specific serious injury.
- Extended Transportation Expense – Provides a higher daily limit for rental car costs than standard rental reimbursement.
- Vanishing Deductible – Reduces your deductible for each year of safe driving.
External factors that affect car insurance premium
External factors are things that you really have no control over, but insurance companies have to include them in rate calculations to help ensure they remain profitable and can pay policyholder claims.
We won’t go into much detail on these factors, but rather just give a brief explanation of how each one can impact premium.
- Inflation – As the cost of goods and services increases, insurance companies may raise premiums to cover the increased costs of claims payouts.
- Interest Rates – Insurance companies invest premiums to earn a return. Lower interest rates can lead to higher premiums to make up for lower investment earnings.
- Unemployment Rates – High unemployment can lead to a decrease in the number of insured drivers, which may result in higher premiums for those who maintain coverage.
- Medical Costs – Higher medical expenses related to auto accidents result in higher costs for insurers, which can be passed on to policyholders through increased premiums.
- Fraud – Insurance fraud leads to higher costs for insurance companies, which may be offset by raising premiums for all policyholders.
- Economic Recession or Boom – During a recession, people may drive less or choose cheaper vehicles, potentially lowering premiums. Conversely, economic growth can lead to more driving and higher-priced vehicles, increasing the risk and cost of claims.
- Regulatory Changes – New laws and regulations can affect operational costs for insurance companies and may result in premium adjustments.
- Market Competition – Intense competition among insurance providers can lead to lower premiums, whereas less competition can allow for higher rates.
- Claims Frequency – An increase in the number of claims filed will typically result in higher premiums, as insurers seek to cover their losses.
- Natural Disasters – An increase in natural disasters in certain areas can result in higher premiums due to the increased risk of comprehensive claims.
- Technology in Vehicles – The integration of expensive technology in modern vehicles can increase repair costs, influencing premiums to rise.
Steps you can take to help offset higher car insurance rates
By this point, you’re probably overwhelmed with the amount of factors that go into calculating a car insurance premium.
But don’t get too concerned with what you cannot control. There are lots of things that you can control that in the end will result in cheaper rates.
15 Actionable steps you can take to lower your car insurance rates
- Shop Around – Regularly compare quotes from different insurers to find the best rates and coverage.
- Increase Deductibles – Opt for higher deductibles to reduce premiums, but ensure you can afford the deductible if you need to make a claim.
- Maintain a Good Credit Score – Many insurers use credit scores to help determine premiums and a higher score can lead to lower rates.
- Bundle Policies – Purchase multiple insurance policies, such as home and auto, from the same company to receive a discount.
- Drive Safely – Maintain a clean driving record; traffic violations and accidents can increase rates.
- Take a Defensive Driving Course – Some insurers offer discounts for drivers who complete an approved defensive driving course.
- Drive Less – Lower your mileage. The less you drive, the less risk of an accident, and some companies offer low-mileage discounts.
- Choose Your Car Wisely – Drive cars that are cheaper to insure. Typically, those are vehicles with good safety records and low repair costs.
- Utilize Discounts – Look for discounts like good driver, student, military, or retirement discounts.
- Update Your Policy – Regularly review and update your coverage to reflect current needs. Don’t pay for unnecessary coverage.
- Improve Vehicle Security – Install anti-theft devices or park in a garage.
- Use Telematics – Consider usage-based insurance programs that track driving habits and reward safe driving with lower premiums.
- Manage Teen Driving Factors – Adding a teen driver can be costly so consider higher deductibles or a less expensive car to insure.
- Pay Premiums Annually or Semi-Annually – Paying your premium in full rather than monthly can avoid installment fees.
- Avoid Lapses in Coverage – Keep your insurance active without a break to avoid higher rates associated with lapses.
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