car insurance shopping around

the vexed question of motor insurance - and how to get the best deal.

Shopping around for insurance cover can pay dividends. It sounds an obvious thing to say but so few people do it. Many insurance companies are prepared to offer special packages for family cover, female owners and drivers, even for non-drinkers. You could be saving a packet, particularly if you ask for a selection of quotes before you decide.

The easiest way to do this is by using the Internet and the many comparison websites that are now readily available. You first have to supply the pertinent information like where you live, the make and age of car you drive, the engine size and other factors all naturally come in to play. You'll be expecting to answer questions about no claims bonuses, accidents, convictions, age, address and profession.

What you might not be ready for are the more searching questions some companies are now asking to gauge the `lifestyle` of potential customers. Have you a child?; do you smoke - and if so, how many a day?; is your home rented or mortgaged?

Once you've provided all the answers, you have to choose which type of cover you prefer. If you can afford it, fully comprehensive is always the best policy - insurance always seems expensive until you need it. Most of us will accept that premise, however ruefully after that first serious prang.

If your answers to these initial questions reveal that you're such an inoffensive, low risk person that you iron creases in your jeans or fold your pyjamas neatly, then you'll have no trouble at all in getting really good low quotes for your insurance. But let them sniff the first hint of a 'hot hatch', dubious postcode or a peccadillo in your driving youth and your premium can rocket, however careful you might think you are.

Even when you have a fairly ordinary request, the variation in quotes, no claims bonuses and excess options can produce a mystifying variation in quotes. When comparing prices make sure you are comparing like with like. Some Insurance companies, like Direct Line for example, do not participate in comparison websites but still offer very competitive insurance rates so make sure you check these out too!

If you are already with an insurance company and have just received your renewal notice, don't assume that you are already receiving their best rate. A huge proportion of motorists just renew their insurance without question each year. The Insurance companies know this and only offer discounted rates to new customers. What existing customers don't realise is that if you challenge the Insurance Company and ask why you don't get the same rate as new customers, they will almost certainly give you the lower rate without question. I know because I did it myself with Aviva and saved over £400 on my annual premium.

One sure way to keep insurance down is to select your car with the premium in mind. Next time you go out to buy a new one, don't just think about a budget priced alternative that's easy to service and cheap to run; ask about the insurance grouping too.

Life After L-Plates - The Options

Of course, the people who get hit hardest by the insurance companies are young drivers - those who can least afford the high premiums. If that's you, what can you do?

Well, if you only need a car to get out and about at weekends, you might well be able to share your mum's, especially if hers is the second car in the family. It will probably work out cheaper on insurance, too, as your parents should be able to add you to the schedule without too much trouble and without sending the premium through the roof. Providing of course, that the family car isn't a souped-up GTi or other sporty model.

Shop around all the same - the best deal for your parents alone won't necessarily mean the best overall when your name goes on the policy. The same will apply when you do finally get around to insuring your own car.

If you don't feel confident with all the jargon, go through the small print in the policy with someone who has more experience. Fully comprehensive insurance, as I suggested earlier, would obviously be the ideal cover, but you might not be able to stretch to that initially. If you can afford it however, it could be well worth paying out the extra, which would give you cover for damage to your car and to any other involved in an accident, whether you were at fault or not.

Nor should you have to find your annual premium in a lump sum. These days many Insurance companies are happy to arrange payment by monthly or quarterly direct debit if that would suit you better - though they may well charge you for the privilege. Get the best cover you can afford - and remember, insurance is expensive only until you need it.