We see ads and plugs for online car insurance estimators all the time! “Get quotes now!” … “Find the lowest rate!” But these claims are rarely put to the test. So, do they work?
The short answer is “yes,” at least for a ballpark figure.
How We Put Them to the Test
In this case, we used the author’s car: a late-model Honda Fit with several insurance-friendly extras, such as an anti-theft system. What we found was that quotes from online estimators were usually in the proper range, but did sometimes vary heavily depending on certain circumstances.
Comparison Sites vs. Insurance Company Sites
The problem with comparison sites is pretty simple: A lot of them don’t even do the comparison for you. Many of them, when we went to the site, just spat out a bunch of websites that offered insurance in the specified state and made us go through the quote process for each insurance company. While that can be useful if you’re not sure which insurance companies serve your state, it’s hard to see where they fit in for legwork that’s pretty easy to do yourself.
If you’re wondering why they do that: They make money every time somebody is referred from their site to an insurer’s, and in fact may make a little more if you buy a policy through that company.
So, on that end, we’d recommend avoiding these sites just because they add more time than they save looking for insurance, and you’ll just have to go through the whole quote process on each site anyway. You might as well cut out the middle man!
The insurance sites themselves, on the other hand, tended to be a lot more useful. The quote process was fairly quick. Just as importantly, the quotes themselves were fairly accurate… at least in a ballpark sense.
Here’s where we get to the nub of the matter: Many online insurance quote forms just aren’t that detailed. Really, they’re designed to get the general information of the customer and quote them a price range. We followed up on each quote with a phone call and quickly learned that prices can vary between the estimator and the actual price quote. Usually, the difference was fairly slight, and predicated on details such as that anti-theft system, so we’re willing to say your average insurance company has a website that can offer you a ballpark quote.
The one problem for those who guard their privacy is this: You have to hand over your name and phone number, along with a few other personal details, to get a quote. There’s a valid reason for this; they need to check your driving record. Nonetheless, those who don’t hand that information out lightly may be slightly less than thrilled.
In the end, we do recommend going to an insurance company’s website directly and using their estimator. It will give you a hard number to make your decision on. However, that decision should be which set of companies to call next and get a more specific number. But at least with the website, you’ll know what league you’re batting in.