Adventures in automobile insurance.

May 22, 2007

Yesterday afternoon my automobile insurance bill from Progressive came in, after wondering when it was going to arrive and whether or not it was going to get there before my policy expired partway through June of 2007. After opening the envelope to see what the damage was, I promptly wished that they'd taken a bit more time before mailing it out.. they were demanding $1274us to renew my six-month car insurance policy, with a minimum down payment of $515 to renew the policy. Seeing as how I'd been paying between $600us and $700us for insurance prior to that (they'd never explained the reasons for the differences in premiums between one half of the year to the next), the words 'unacceptable' and 'hell, no' came immediately to mind.

Let's go to the hardcopy... On the back side of one of the sheets of my insurance bill was a terse list of reasons that they nearly doubled my insurance premiums. Among them were the presence of an automobile loan (I'm still paying off the TARDIS) and a pull of my credit history within the past two years (which was either me pulling my credit history a few months ago, which I do every year for tax purposes, or the background check done for work).

First of all, I tried to call my local Progressive office to talk to a live person to find out what, if anything, I'd done to deserve a doubled insurance policy premium, and to get an explanation for their cryptic reasons for the premium increase. I was hoping to reason with them, and perhaps get them to knock a couple of hundred dollars off after explaining myself. I called on and off all day today, and not once did I ever get a person, or even a response from the other end of the line. To the best of my knowledge, this has never happened before.

After the third failed attempt, I gave up on Progressive and began my hunt.

The parameters of my policy are fairly simple: $100k/$300k/$100k, $500 deductibles, two automobile accidents in the past year (one declared my fault, the other declared not), two speeding tickets in the past five years (no fines over $120us). This is all basic stuff that you have to bring to the table if you're going to get a policy, because they help the insurance company determine how safe a risk you are to protect their money. A lot of insurance boils down to gambling on the possibility that the customer won't need the insurance, and that the insurance company won't have a reason to pay anything out.

First of all, I called the Erie Insurance Group to see what they could do for me. I gave them the information that they needed to generate a price quote, but was then told that it would take them a couple of hours to crunch the numbers (!) and that they'd call me back, which in fact they did around 1500 EST5EDT. It should be noted that I'd originally called them around 0945 EST5EDT... The price they quoted me was $1296us for a six month policy, a hair more than Progressive was asking me to pay out. Needless to say, I sent the packing as nicely as I could.

My second call was to State Farm Insurance, whom I have renter's insurance from, in fact. They ran the numbers for me after I recited all of the information they asked for, and then offered me a 10% discount because I already had a policy through them, and a lower premium on a six-month policy because I take the Metro to work every day instead of driving. Ultimately, they offered me a price of $701 for a six month policy, which was comperable to what I paid Progressive the last time 'round, and certainly better than what I was facing, but I opted to do a little more hunting.

At Kash's advice I contacted Geico next. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself speaking to a young woman who asked me the usual batch of questions, as well as some unusual ones (such as "What's your highest level of education?"). After their software churned for a while, they offered me a premium of $513us on a six month insurance policy comperable in coverage to the current one, but with a higher car rental reimbursement ($750us) and full coverage of towing, on the off chance that the TARDIS has to be hauled someplace. They even let me negotiate a three-month payment plan to cover the premium payments, and on top of all of this, when I told them that I wanted to hunt around some more, they encouraged me to do so, gave me a few more leads, and saved my paperwork (and price quote) for later, in case I called back.

I made a few more calls, and tried to call my local Progressive office again, but later in the afternoon I called Geico back and accepted their offer. My new policy takes over at the moment that the old one expires.

Later today, I heard from Elwing that Progressive pulls the credit histories of all of their customers every six months, and they adjust their rates based upon their analysis of your credit history at that moment in time, and not so much your driving history. If they pull credit histories every six months, perhaps they saw the last time they pulled my credit history and took that into account...

I discovered something very helpful that I'd like to pass along to everyone, even though it seems like common sense: Don't buy insurance through the websites of insurance companies. Find the phone numbers and make the time to call them. Speak to real, live people - they're there to help you (most of the time, anyway) and are willing to work with you if you don't give them a hard time. Be nice to them and they'll be nice to you. I find that the policies' premiums are noticably lower if I do this, and sometimes can even be negotiated.