Getting new wheels can be exciting — and confusing. You’re trying to figure out what you want, what you need and what you can afford, comparing various models and features. And if you’re replacing a vehicle that has broken down for the last time or been totaled in an accident, you’re doing it on a deadline. Even if you’re not, it can seem like the decision is a long series of compromises. If you’re shopping for a new car, you may be able to compare various cars head-to-head and decide which best fits your needs.
But if you’re considering a used car, things can get more complicated. You may be choosing from whatever the dealer’s inventory happens to be. And if trying to remember what you liked about which test drive weren’t enough to keep up with, it would be really good if you did a little research on things like safety and reliability. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Maybe that accounts for why so many of us fail to check out the cost of insuring those new wheels. Almost half of us don’t even get a quote until the new car is in the driveway, according to a 2014 study of 1,010 adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.
Laura Adams, personal finance expert and spokeswoman for insuranceQuotes.com, said that if you already have a car, your current insurance provider is a good place to start. “People get so excited,” she said. “And they really focus on the price and the payments and they don’t think about the insurance part of it. But if you are planning a purchase, there is really no reason not to check.”
If you don’t check, and just call your insurance company with the new serial number, your new premium can come as a rude shock. And if you’re getting a newer car, the difference in the cost of insuring could be a painful surprise, particularly if you drive an older car with a lower value and have dropped collision and comprehensive insurance. (It’s not always true that insurance goes up — if you trade in your late-model two-door sportscar for a minivan, you may be pleasantly surprised at your new insurance premium.) If you’re trading an older car for a newer one that you will finance, you may also need different kinds of insurance (gap insurance, for example).
Why Some Cars Are Considered Bigger Risks
All other things being equal, among the things that result in higher premiums are vehicles that are worth more than your previous vehicle, cars that are popular with thieves and cars that are especially expensive to repair, according to insuranceQuotes.com.
While it’s fairly easy to compare car prices, it’s not as simple or as obvious to compare things like fuel prices and insurance. There are online tools that can help you, Adams says. The first thing to do is to know what you’re paying now. It gives you a baseline. insuranceQuotes has a tool that lets you compare the cost of insuring the car you’re considering against the car you’re driving now. If you’re trying to compare two new (or recent-model) cars against each other, Edmunds.com’s True Cost of Ownership tool might be useful.
How different could it be? Just for fun, we plugged in data for a hypothetical 45-year-old man who trades his 2004 Subaru Legacy Outback in for a much cooler (but still used) 2014 BMW 428i. Let’s assume the Outback was paid for. The BMW may come with a payment — and insurance costs are estimated to be 59% higher for the same coverage he had on the Outback.
It’s important to be sure your budget can accommodate both the monthly payment and any change in insurance costs. Adams cautioned that it’s smart to leave yourself some room for error, because some things — like your driving record or your state — can change, and those have a big impact on what your insurance will cost.
It’s also worth noting that your credit can affect both what you pay for car insurance and the interest rate you get if you finance your new wheels. Before you shop for a car, it’s a good idea to make sure your credit profile looks its best. If you have a bit of lead time, you can work to improve your credit if need be. (If you don’t know where you stand, you can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) Car shopping is supposed to result in a single hard inquiry on your credit report as long as you compare lenders over a short period of time, but our readers have told us it does not always happen that way. You may want to get financing approved through your bank or credit union before you shop for a car to give you leverage while at the dealership and to avoid the possibility of multiple inquiries and potential damage to your credit scores.
More on Auto Loans:
- Are There Car Loans for People With Bad Credit?
- What to Do If You Can’t Make Your Car Payments
- Top 5 Worst Car Buying Mistakes