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5 mistakes to avoid when buying car insurance

Think 15 minutes can save you money on auto insurance? Think again.

When it comes to shopping around for car insurance quotes, you can fool yourself into thinking the lowest price is the best value. But buying the wrong type of coverage can cost you more in the end.

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car insurance mistakesYou may not buy enough coverage to protect your assets. You may go with a bargain-rate company that has poor customer service. Or you may not shop around because you assume that your current insurer offers the best prices.

"Invest time to make sure you're getting the best deal," says Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "It's a buyer's market out there, but it's an unpleasant way to spend a lunch hour."

Here are the five biggest mistakes people often make when buying car insurance.

Failing to shop around for car insurance quotes

You should review your auto policy every year. Most drivers, however, simply renew their policy without questions, failing to take the time to compare other insurers.

Only about one-third of all policyholders obtained an auto insurance quote in the past 12 months, according to a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey. Almost 70 percent automatically renewed their policy.

"We see a lot of people letting it ride, instead of making sure they are still getting the best deal," Bowler says.

To make sure you still have proper coverage at the best price, Bowler recommends you obtain at least three or four quotes when your policy is up for renewal.

Buying the minimum

Many car owners buy the minimum liability coverage required by law and assume that they have adequate coverage. Unfortunately, in some situations, that's not enough.

Christie Hyde, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association, recommends that you develop a good understanding of your assets and your financial risk in the event you became involved in a serious accident. If you have assets to protect, you should make sure your liability limits reflect what you’ve got to lose.

"If you hit a high-end vehicle, the minimum coverage will not cover the cost of a new one," Hyde says. "And I'm not talking about a Rolls Royce."

Stephanie Sheppard, spokesperson for Allstate Insurance, says many consumers believe that they can save money by increasing their deductibles. While that is true, it becomes a problem if you can't afford to pay your deductible after an accident.

Sheppard adds that many policyholders also drop collision and comprehensive coverage for older vehicles. But if you can't afford to pay for costly repairs or buy a new car, it may be more prudent to buy the coverage.

"In an effort to save money, consumers may cut corners in areas that help protect them and their families and cut put them at risk financially," Sheppard says.

Ignoring reputation

When you're shopping around for the best car insurance rates, it's important to make sure you don't sacrifice customer service.

While you may pay a lower premium, the insurer could give you unreasonably low damage estimates or force you to pay more for manufacturer replacement parts. Before you buy a policy, investigate the insurance company's reputation and the details of your policy.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners' website provides information on insurer complaint ratios.

Not understanding what you’re buying

Insurance companies have a reputation for offering products that their customers can’t understand. A recent survey by Siegel + Gale, a New York-based branding firm, found that insurance companies are at the bottom of its Brand Simplicity Index. In other words: We can’t figure out what we just bought.

Don’t wait until an insurance adjuster has to explain your policy to you after a crash. That only leads to rude surprises. Go over your policy terms and exclusions with your agent.

Lying to your car insurance company

Make sure you provide your insurance company with accurate information.

Drivers often lie about who drives their car, what the car is used for and where it’s parked at night. (Read the 5 biggest lies told to car insurance companies.)

You may think that fudging the facts in order to get a better rate is OK, but it could put your coverage in jeopardy if your misrepresentations come to light.

"Quick savings may come back to bite you," Bowler warns.

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