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When you’re in the market for a specific car model, it’s important to understand its long-term costs. Many reviewers can give you a good sense of which models may break down, a specific model’s fuel economy, or how long its warranty lasts, among other cost-related factors. Insurance is another variable cost that can significantly affect your total ownership costs and the car buying process. And before you sign a financing agreement for a used or new car, you may want to call your insurance company and ask a few key questions.

Touching base with your insurance company

A person in a car potentially before buying a new car.
People in a car | Getty Images

What? You don’t have a current insurance policy. If not, you need to update your policy as quickly as possible. In all 50 states, it’s illegal to be driving without insurance. And if you get into an accident, you’re liable for all the costs of repairs and damages. If you injure someone else without insurance, you could be looking at costs that could bankrupt you.

Even if you don’t get into an accident, the longer you have a lapsed insurance policy, the higher your rates may eventually be. Insurers don’t like to see drivers with histories that include lapses in their policies, as they deem them a greater risk. Consistently maintaining a policy signals to an insurer that you likely follow other good habits and are less at risk of getting into an accident. A lapsed policy signals the opposite and will lead an insurer to charge you higher rates in the future.

Your insurance company can also be a great resource for you when it comes to a new car. After all, they insure hundreds of models for thousands of drivers. According to Erie Insurance, giving an insurance representative a call before you hit the dealership is a prudent step to ensure you’re buying the right vehicle.

What should you ask your insurer before buying a new car?

If you want to get a sense of your long-term ownership costs, the first question you should ask is how much it will cost to insure the vehicle you’re considering. Insurers base their rates on several factors, including the likelihood of you filing a claim and the likely size of that claim. So, your insurer may charge you more to insure a vehicle with notoriously poor reliability and a history of recalls. They also may charge you more if you’re buying a high-end vehicle, as future repairs will be expensive.

You’ll also want to ask whether buying a car will affect your rate. Generally, it depends on the type of car you’re buying. In addition to cars with reliability problems, and high-end cars, newer models typically cost more to insure as they often cost more to repair. But older cars with poor track records can also cause your premiums to jump. You’ll want to get on the horn with your insurance agent, and the specific two or three models you’re considering to understand how buying one may affect your rate.

Another question you’ll want to ask is whether you’re eligible for an auto discount. This is not only a question you’ll want to ask your insurance agent but one you’ll also want to do a little bit of digging into yourself. There may be some affiliate programs you’re a member of that the insurance representative doesn’t immediately mention, perhaps because they don’t quickly pop up on their system. Also, determine whether the discount is effective for a set period or throughout the life of the policy, which will affect your total ownership costs.

Other key questions to ask your insurance agent

Ask your insurer how the difference between estimates for parts and labor and actual work for parts and labor are handled. Often, drivers had found themselves getting stuck with a bill for labor or parts that deviates from the estimate your repair shop submitted to your insurer when you first approached them, especially if you’re buying a new, advanced car with unique components. While the additional work may have been necessary to repair the vehicle, you’ll want to have a clear understanding of how such deviations are handled.

Find out whether your new vehicle purchase will result in any coverage gaps. Again, insurers don’t like to see lapses in coverage. And while your insurer may not hike your rate based on a coverage gap of their own creation, an insurer you use in the future may do so.

Also, ask what kind of coverage you need, especially if you bought your coverage some time ago. There may be riders you no longer need – or those you do. Either could affect the size of your premium, so it’s a good idea to review your coverage before doing something that may affect it.

Finally, you should be clear about what you’ll receive if your new car is totaled. Typically, insurers either pay an agreed-upon value or the actual cash value (minus any depreciation). Understanding what you’ll receive upfront will potentially save you heartache later. And if there’s a big gap between what you think either figure will be and what you’re paying for your new vehicle, you may want to re-evaluate your purchase, insurance, or both.


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