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Car insurance companies employ armies of underwriters and actuaries who crunch insurance numbers all day, but it’s the auto insurance agents who really know the score. Agents know a company’s guidelines and products inside and out as they stand on the front lines and field questions from customers.

A lot of people are aware of some factors in car insurance rates, like that it will probably cost more to insure a sports car than a mid-sized sedan, but many aren’t aware that of other factors like location, credit history, gender, and even marital status playing a role in their car insurance rates,” shared Ashlee Tilford, Managing Editor at “This is where great insurance agents are such a valuable asset. They understand exactly how your personal situation will affect your car insurance.”

Ultimately, you can make a more informed decision on your own if you know what’s going on behind the scenes. Here are some of the things agents know that customers typically don’t.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurance agents offer a wealth of knowledge, as they understand details about car insurance coverage that the average policyholder largely overlooks.
  • Information you provide to the insurance company is double-checked, including reports on mileage, claims history and credit history.
  • The higher the ISO rating on a car, the higher the risk is for the insurance company. That translates into higher premiums for you.
  • Some traffic tickets affect your insurance rates, while others do not. An agent knows which types of tickets are bound to hike your costs, as he or she understands the complex formula that is used to determine rate increases.
  • An agent can help you obtain all the discounts that you are eligible for, so long as you take the time to ask.

1. They know which reports are pulled about you when you request a car insurance quote.

Insurance companies don’t operate on the honor system when you tell them how long your commute is, or whether you’ve gotten any speeding tickets. You probably suspect that insurers look at reports showing your claims history, motor vehicle record and credit history, but an agent also knows for sure which information the insurer will check. Typically, the carrier is likely to pull reports on your mileage, vehicle registration and undisclosed drivers who live with you. The agent also knows that the insurance company will check to see whether you’re a homeowner and the identity of your current insurance carrier.

And agents know whether the reports are used in the calculation of your insurance score, which is similar to a credit score. 

2. They know your vehicle’s ISO rating.

The  International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has a Vehicle Series Rating program that assigns a “symbol” to each vehicle within a vehicle series, which is defined by characteristics such as make, model and safety ratings. Insurers use these ratings to set premiums for a specific type of car based on the loss history of that vehicle. 

The higher the ISO rating, the greater the risk for the insurance company, which translates into larger premiums for you. There are ratings for the physical damage, liability and medical portions of a car insurance policy. You’ve probably never seen your car’s ISO rating, but your agent can easily see where your vehicle falls on the list.

Not all insurers use ISO symbols to set rates, however.

3. They know if a ticket will jack up your car insurance rates.

It’s the age-old question: Will that speeding ticket make my rates go up?

Not all traffic tickets are equal. An agent knows which types of tickets won’t affect your rates — typically parking, equipment and other non-moving offenses — and which ones will, and by how much. 

How do agents know? They are privy to your insurance company’s surcharge schedule, which outlines the offenses that trigger insurance points and the value of these points. The points are added up to determine how much your rates will rise. You can ask your car insurance company for a copy of its surcharge schedule, but you may still need an agent to decipher it for you.

Here are examples of surcharge schedules and rate increases.

4. They know when your tickets will drop off your driving record.

You may have forgotten when your last traffic ticket landed on your driving record, but your agent knows. Since your car insurance company pulled your driving record, your agent can see the violation date, and should also know when the infraction will drop off your record and can no longer impact your premiums.

If your state doesn’t remove traffic violations from your driving record, ask your agent when your car insurance provider will stop surcharging you based on the offense. Typically it can be three, five or seven years. Your agent also knows this: The surcharge won’t drop off until the next renewal term after the required time period has passed since changes like this aren’t made mid-term.

5. They know whether your rates will go up if you make a claim.

You rear-ended someone on the way to work, and now you’re wondering how long this at-fault accident will haunt you. How much does car insurance go up after an accident? Should you try to pay off the other driver or let him make a claim against you?

Car insurance companies have strict rules about when surcharges are applied after an accident or claim, and they vary by insurer. Your agent will know the details about which claims raise rates.

Even if you have a copy of your auto insurer’s surcharge schedule, you will probably still need your agent’s help to understand the complex formula used to determine a surcharge. The process is usually even more complicated if it is your second or subsequent accident or violation in recent years. The type of claim also plays a role. For instance, a bodily injury claim may hike rates more than a property damage claim.

All in all, you’re unlikely to know a claim’s impact until after you make the claim.

6. They know whether your crashed vehicle will be considered a total loss.

If your car’s frame is bent or the mechanic tells you it can’t be fixed, you can bet your car is going to be deemed a total loss by your car insurance company. But sometimes, what appears to be only minor damage can get your car totaled.

The criteria for determining whether a vehicle is a total loss varies from one car insurance company to the next, and state law also plays a role. While your car insurance agent isn’t a claims expert or adjuster, he is aware that your car insurance company will compare the cost of repair to your vehicle’s actual cash value, and then look at the total loss “threshold” to see if the car should be totaled or not.

If the repair costs are over a certain internally set or state-set threshold, your car will be totaled.

7. They know if you’re at risk for non-renewal.

You might think your third accident in as many years isn’t a big deal, but your agent knows the real score. Your agent is aware of the company’s guidelines for non-renewing a policyholder, and at a glance, they can see if anything in your file will result in a non-renewal notice at the end of your policy period.

Guidelines vary by state law and by company. A variety of issues may prompt an insurer to wave goodbye to you — too many accidents or claims within a certain period of time, a DUI, license suspension or revocation, multiple traffic offenses, a conviction for leaving the scene of an accident, or insurance fraud.

8. They know the insurance company is not “on your side” if you make a claim.

You know that your car insurance policy provides you with certain protections, but your agent is keenly aware that the policy is also an insurance contract with two sides – the policyholder’s and the insurance company’s.

This doesn’t mean that your auto insurer is your foe – although some would beg to differ — but the insurer will keep an eye on its bottom line when settling your claim.

9. They know that certain types of claims will be rejected.

As we noted earlier,  insurance agents are not claim adjusters. Still, they know that your policy has exclusions for certain actions of drivers. For example, if you tell your agent that your spouse purposely rammed your car, your agent knows that claim will be denied because the damage was intentional.

Other common exclusions encompass damage you do to your own property, damage caused while you’re off-roading or road racing, and damage due to wear and tear.

Your agent also knows you’re out of luck if you want to be reimbursed for personal items stolen out of your car. The theft of your car is covered under comprehensive coverage, but your car insurance policy doesn’t cover the theft of personal belongings such as your purse, purchases from a store or a computer.

If you want coverage for theft of items from your car, you most likely will find it in a homeowners or renters insurance policy. 

10. They know what you can do to lower your premiums.

Agents can do more than give you a car insurance quote or field your questions about your policy. They also know ways you can save on your premium.

Car insurance discounts aren’t always spelled out on a company’s website, but agents know what is offered. Your agent can tell you if your insurer offers a discount for taking a driver improvement course, or if you get price breaks when your child goes off to college, if you renew early and if you go paperless, just to name a few.

Your agent can also tell you which safety features on a vehicle earn you a discount, whether your insurer offers a discount for bundling your insurance plans (such as home and car) and what the mileage threshold is for getting a low-mileage discount.

Some car insurance companies also offer discounts for certain occupations and affiliations, but it’s hard for policyholders to get a complete list. Your agent should have such a list and seeing it can help you discover if you’re missing out on a discount, or if you can gain a price break easily by joining a listed organization.

Agents won’t always offer this information unless asked.’s car insurance discount tool also shows discounts in each state.

11. They know that you won’t be covered if you hire out your car.

If you want to make money giving rides in your car, your agent knows you’re likely voiding your car insurance coverage. An agent can point out to you the specific portion of your policy — which can be referred to as a “for hire,” “for a charge” or “livery” exclusion — that clearly states using your vehicle in the transportation of goods or people for payment is not covered. This means that if you get into an accident while doing these things, you will be held liable and have to pay for the damages. Agents also know that some auto insurance companies have amended policies to specifically exclude personal vehicle-sharing programs.

12. They know how much money they’re making off you.

While “captive agents” sell policies from only one insurance company — think of an agent working in a State Farm office– “independent agents” represent several insurance carriers. While independent agents make it easy to compare quotes from multiple companies, they’re not always objective. An agent might steer you toward a certain insurance company because he knows he will receive a higher commission, or he needs to sell more of that product to keep a certain insurer happy.

Independent agents can be helpful, but “regulators have not imposed suitability or lowest cost requirements” on them, Robert Hunter, the Consumer Federation of America’s insurance director, reported to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on insurance regulation in 2007. That allows them to possibly “place the consumer into a higher-priced insurer with a bigger commission rate,” he said.

13. They know you will pay more if you let your insurance lapse.

Paying your car insurance premiums on time is crucial to keeping your costs down. In fact, if you let your insurance coverage lapse, you might lose your driving privileges and then have to pay a fine to reinstate them. This amount varies by state, but in some places, it can amount to hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars. 

In addition, when you go to reinstate your insurance coverage, you may pay dearly thanks to the lapse. A lapse of 30 days can cause your rates to rise by 9% on average, a 60-day lapse can boost your rates by 13% and a lapse of longer than that can cause your costs to soar by nearly 50%, according to 

14. They know that you don’t carry enough liability insurance.

In nearly every state, you must carry a minimum level of liability insurance. But your agent knows — even if you do not — that the minimum level of coverage is almost never enough to ensure you are fully protected. 

If you are involved in an accident where you badly hurt or even kill someone, you could be sued for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. The minimum level of insurance coverage will not protect you, leaving you on the hook for a bill you likely cannot pay. 

At a minimum, most experts suggest carrying at least $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident. And you probably need more than that. In fact, if you have a lot of assets to protect, you might consider buying an umbrella liability policy that will provide you with an extra $1 million, $2 million or more in coverage. 

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Penny Gusner


Penny is an expert on insurance procedures, rates, policies and claims. She has extensive knowledge of all major insurance lines -- auto, homeowners, life and health insurance. She has been answering consumers’ questions as an analyst for more than 15 years and has been featured in numerous major media outlets, including the Washington Post and Kiplinger’s.