six-tips-for-choosing-an-auto-insurance-policyInsurance ads are everywhere you look. They promise low rates, helpful service, and quality coverage. With so many options available, it can be difficult choose the right policy or even to know where to start looking.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

According to a 2010 survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), more than half of Americans don’t understand the basics of auto insurance, and only 45 percent are confident that they know how to make the best decision.

To help protect yourself and your car before you hit the road, do your research. Understanding exactly what you need, and what coverage may be unnecessary, could help save you lots of money—and headaches—over time.

Here are six tips to help you choose an insurance policy:

1. Know what type of coverage you need.

Bodily injury and property damage liability coverage are required for car owners in most states. However, while purchasing the minimum amount of protection is a good way to start shopping for auto insurance, you should also consider the value of your assets and how much you can afford to spend to keep them safe. Buying only the minimum amount of liability coverage could cost you if you are responsible for an accident.

Physical protection insurance covers the physical damage to your car. Most lenders require it until you own the car outright.

There are two main types of physical damage protection: collision protection and comprehensive insurance.

  • Collision protection compensates you for the damage to your car if you have an accident. Collision insurance can be costly, so you’ll have to consider its value if you have already paid for your car in full.
  • Comprehensive insurance covers damage to your car that is caused by almost anything other than a collision, such as theft or a severe storm.

2. Know what type of coverage is unnecessary.

Avoid paying for expensive insurance add-ons unless you really need them. Think carefully about whether items like rental car reimbursement, towing coverage, and special glass coverage are really worth the extra money. Remember, you can purchase certain kinds of extra protection as they’re needed.

3. Protect yourself against uninsured or underinsured drivers.

According to a 2011 analysis by the Insurance Research Council, approximately one in seven U.S. motorists are completely uninsured, while many others have inadequate protection. If you collide with one of these drivers, you could have to rely on your own insurance for coverage of medical attention.

Uninsured motorist coverage could help you avoid bearing the financial burden of someone else’s mistake. It is available from most car insurance companies for just a few dollars each month.

4. Shop around.

You often can find what you’re looking for online, but you may prefer the one-on-one interaction with an agent at a brick-and-mortar office. Ask your family and friends for recommendations. They may be able to offer you information about specific insurers or even recommend a capable agent.

If you’re comfortable with shopping for insurance online, doing so can be a quick and easy way to compare price quotes. Visit each provider’s website individually, or use an online third-party quoting tool such as Bankrate’s Insureme.com or Insurance.com.

5. Look for discounts.

Some auto insurance companies make their discounts hard to find, but if you’re willing to do some digging, you could save up to 20 percent on your policy. The offers for which you qualify could vary by your state, insurer, and personal circumstances.

As you shop, keep an eye out for these common deals:

  • multi-car discounts
  • discounts for people who have attended defensive driving school
  • good student discounts
  • discounts for vehicles with low mileage and good safety features
  • discounts for married couples and new parents

6. Reevaluate what you need over time.

It’s easy to stick with the same plan each year, but you may not be getting the best service or the best price. A good rule of thumb is to review your policy every six to 12 months, even if you’re satisfied with your protection overall. If it’s time to renew and another company gives you an appealing quote, don’t be afraid to switch or to ask your current provider for a better deal.

Ilyce Glink is the author of over a dozen books, including the bestselling 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask and Buy, Close, Move In! Her nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” appears in newspapers from coast-to-coast, and her Expert Real Estate Tips YouTube channel has nearly 4 million views. She is the managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog, publisher of ThinkGlink.com, and owner of digital communications agencyThink Glink Media. In addition to her WSB radio show and WGN radio contributions, she is also a frequent guest on National Public Radio. Ilyce is a frequent contributor to Yahoo and CBS News.