Our comparisons of prices charged by the California’s largest auto insurers found that most area drivers will save $1,000 or more a year by making a better auto insurance choice. Many will save $1,500 or more. For example:

  • Our illustrative couple with two cars living in San Mateo with clean driving records would pay $1,791 with Horace Mann, $1,985 with Wawanesa, or $2,186 with GEICO, compared to $3,103 with State Farm and $3,263 with Farmers (the state’s two largest insurers), and $4,089 with Liberty Mutual and $5,794 with Sentry.
  • If that couple has a less-than-perfect driving record (e.g., two speeding tickets in the last year), they’d pay $2,306 with USAA, $2,358 with Horace Mann, $2,729 with GEICO, or $2,813 with Wawanesa, compared to $3,943 with State Farm and $4,420 with Farmers, and more than $5,000 with Liberty Mutual, Sentry and 21st Century.
  • For a family that needs to add a teenager to their policy (God help them), premiums are $2,545 with Horace Mann, $2,900 with GEICO, or $3,179 with Esurance, compared to $5,336 with State Farm and a whopping $10,628 with Farmers.

Although it’s a bit of a pain to shop for auto insurance, most consumers would agree that spending a few hours to save $1,000 or more every year is worth the effort. Note that you don’t have to wait until your current policy term expires to take advantage of the savings you’d get from a switcheroo—when you switch to a lower-priced company, your old insurance company will refund the unused share of your premium. You also don’t have to forsake service for a better rate: We found that some highly rated companies offer low rates.

Check our auto insurance comparison tool to see how companies stack up for price and quality. Because 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 coverage when your car’s value drops below $3,000 or so.
  • When shopping for coverage, 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 repair shop you can trust. Click here to go to our ratings of area auto body shops.