You're probably paying too much for car insurance.

Most consumers stay with the same company year after year, often concluding that steep discounts they get for their loyalty or not having any speeding tickets or accidents means they won’t find better pricing elsewhere. That’s usually untrue. Although you might be getting a price break from your current company, its competitors will also likely happily offer low prices to lure you away.

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

  • Our illustrative couple with two cars living in Mountain View with clean driving records would pay $2,169 per year with Ameriprise, $2,539 with Wawanesa, $2,631 with USAA, or $2,684 with MetLife, compared to $3,744 with State Farm (the state’s largest insurer), and more than $5,000 with Liberty or Nationwide.
  • If that couple has a less-than-perfect driving record (e.g., one speeding ticket in the last year), they’d pay $2,763 with USAA, $2,895 with Ameriprise, or $3,131 with Wawanesa, compared to more than $5,000 per year with seven of the other largest insurers in California.
  • For a family living in the same area with clean driving records adding a teenager to their policy (gulp!), annual premiums are $2,934 with Esurance, $3,639 with Horace Mann, and $3,876 with Wawanesa, compared to more than $6,000 per year with Allstate, Farmers, Progressive, Travelers, State Farm, and several others, and a whopping $12,000+ with Infinity or National General.

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 switch. If you change companies, your old insurance company will refund the unused share of your premium. You also don’t have to forsake good service for a better rate: Our ratings reveal that some highly rated companies offer low rates.

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 $3,000.
  • 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 trust. Click here to go to our ratings of area auto body shops.