Many consumers fall into the habit of sticking with their current auto insurance company year after year – and never bother to ask about better rates. While it’s good to become a loyal customer, and insurers typically reward such customer loyalty, it’s also highly recommended that you take the time to check and see what competitive rates are out there.

The question then becomes: How often should you check for better car insurance rates? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Before Annual Policy Renewal

The most obvious time to check to see if there are better rates available is a few months before your policy with your current insurer is up for renewal. Not that you’ll necessarily dump who you’re insured with for another company, but you give yourself the leeway to do so if you find something that’s more suited to your needs and comes at a lower price. By giving yourself adequate time to do your research and make any necessary follow-up inquiries, you won’t feel pressured to just send in the payment on your annual renewal.

Here’s another little-known fact. Some insurers will tack on a percentage increase to the policies of their long-time customers – even if there hasn’t been a claim. Consumers who automatically renew and don’t pay attention to any premium increase are doing themselves a disservice. Better to ask what the reason for the increase is, compared to the year prior, and ask if there’s something that can be done to reduce or eliminate the increase. It may not work, but it might. And, if you’ve shopped competitive rates and find a policy at a company that has excellent customer satisfaction, is rated highly by the ratings agencies (A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s) and J.D. Power and Associates auto insurance ratings, that also happens to be at a lower rate, you’ve got a back-up plan in place.

When Buying a New or Replacement Vehicle

Another time when it’s beneficial to check for better car insurance rates is when you buy a new or replacement vehicle. This also applies if you’re purchasing or leasing an additional vehicle for the household. Multi-car discounts may apply, as well as multi-policy discounts. Any time you can save money by bundling, you should. Keep in mind that your current car insurance company may not have all the discounts that a competitor does, so definitely shop around for multiple quotes when there’s a new vehicle being added to your household.

The same thing applies if the vehicle you’re looking at isn’t brand-new but used or certified pre-owned. Why pay more than you need to? Just because you’ve been with a company for years doesn’t obligate you to remain with them, all things being equal. And customers switch auto insurers every day. If you find that you want or need to switch, just line things up ahead of time and go for it.

Before Your Current Policy Expires

Shopping for better car insurance rates requires that you use some common sense. Never allow your current coverage to lapse or expire before you get busy looking for better car insurance elsewhere. The key is to do the research ahead of time and then make the switch. You don’t ever want to go without coverage. In that event, you’re not covered in case anything happens. And you know the old saying, “Accidents happen.” And they do, every day.

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