Click below to listen to our Consumerpedia podcast episode on how to shop for auto insurance.

Most drivers stick with the same auto insurance company year after year, and that’s often a costly mistake. They don’t shop for lower rates because they believe most companies charge about the same prices or conclude that the steep discounts they get (for their loyalty, or lack of speeding tickets or accidents) mean they won’t find better pricing elsewhere. But they’re wrong: Insurance companies charge vastly different rates for the same families and policies, and although you might be getting a price break from your current company, its competitors will also probably offer you deals to gain your business.

We compared prices charged by insurers operating in the Boston area for four illustrative policyholders and found that most area drivers can save hundreds of dollars every year by making better auto insurance choices—many will save more than $1,500. For example:

  • Our illustrative couple with two cars living in Hanover with one speeding ticket in the last few years would pay $641 per year with Quincy Mutual, $1,495 with The Hartford, or $1,540 with Hanover, compared to $3,536 with Amica, $3,633 with Esurance, and $3,806 with Allstate.
  • If they moved to Boston and added a teenager to their policy (gulp!), their annual premium would be $2,003 with The Hartford, $2,572 with USAA, or $2,880 with Hanover, but more than $6,000 with Cincinnati, Farmers, Green Mountain, or Plymouth Rock, and more than $7,500 with Chubb or Safety.
  • The older couple with clean driving histories sharing one car and living in Cambridge would pay $482 per year with Hanover, $523 with The Hartford, $742 with GEICO, or $744 with Grange, compared to $1,683 with Esurance, $1,715 with Amica, and $1,939 with Vermont Mutual.

You don’t have to wait until your current policy term expires to switch and save. If you change companies, your old insurance company must refund the unused share of any prepaid premiums. You also don’t have to forsake good service for a better rate: Our ratings reveal that some highly rated companies offer low rates.

We compare the companies for price and quality. Because we found that small differences in policyholder characteristics can have big effects on some companies’ premiums, be sure to check rates yourself.

You want to buy enough coverage to protect yourself—but not so much that you’re wasting money. We advise on that, too. The highlights:

  • Maintain the highest deductible amount with which you’re comfortable.
  • Be vigilant that your coverage doesn’t lapse.
  • Consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage when your car’s value drops below $5,000.
  • Find out how much more it will cost to raise limits beyond standard coverages. It is usually inexpensive to increase limits for liability coverage above standard amounts.
  • Carefully consider the extras. Some optional coverages aren’t worth much, but companies charge a lot for them.
  • For repairs, insist on using a top shop. Click here for our latest evaluations of auto body shops.