By CLAUDIA BUCK
The recession has run a few drivers off the road, at least when it comes to keeping their auto insurance coverage.
Pinched by pay cuts, job losses and other financial hardships, consumers are downshifting: cutting back on coverage, shopping for more competitive rates or, in some cases, letting their insurance lapse to save money.
Nationally, the number of motorists without auto insurance is expected to increase from 13.8 percent in 2007 to 16.1 percent in 2010, largely due to the sputtering economy, according to a study earlier this year by the Insurance Research Council.
There are money-saving routes on car insurance that stop far short of dropping coverage altogether. Here's a look at where you can start.
Even within the same community, auto rates can vary widely
among different insurers, which is why it pays to shop around.
There are myriad Web sites - such as www.bankrate.com
- that let you comparison-shop online among various insurers.
Or you can call insurance companies directly or contact a local broker-agent, who represents a number of individual companies and can quote comparative rates.
Brian Messer, a sales agent with John O. Bronson Co. in Sacramento, Calif., says a lot more clients are calling, asking how to shave costs.
"They don't even have to have a premium go up," Messer said. "With the economy, everyone is tight for money and they're trying to save wherever they can."
Be prepared to answer lots of questions about how much and what types of coverage you want. You'll also need to know the ages, marital status, annual mileage and driving record (accidents and moving violations) for every driver in your household. And for each vehicle you'll need the model year, purchase cost and any special equipment, such as stereo systems.
From good grades to short commutes, there are lots of ways to lower auto insurance rates. Here are a few:Multi-policy discounts.
If you have more than one type of policy with the same company, most firms will lower your premiums. "It's pretty significant," said Messer. "On a $1,000 homeowner's premium, you can save $250 just by having your house and auto policies together. If you have two different carriers, you're generally paying too much."Good Driver.
Usually there's a 20 percent discount if you have at least three years' driving experience, and no more than one point on your driving record for speeding tickets, accidents or other moving violations.Good Student.
If your son or daughter is a full-time student under 25 and maintains a "B" or better grade average, you can get lower rates. In most cases, you have to provide a grade transcript or proof of GPA.Low mileage.
If your daily commute is three miles or less, Messer says you can qualify for a "pleasure" rate, indicating you're mainly driving to pick up kids, grocery shop or run errands.Safe car.
If your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, air bags or approved alarm systems, you may get a discount.Job-related.
Certain professions -- firefighters, teachers, physicians, engineers, CPAs, for instance -- earn discounts from some insurers because they're considered to have lower claims or are a target market.Easy pay.
If you pay your premiums using automatic deductions from your checking account, some insurers will waive monthly billing fees or the initial down payment. You might also save by paying your annual premium as a lump sum, rather than monthly.Other ways to save:
If you're 55 and retired, if you your under-21 college student lives more than 100 miles from home, if you've taken "mature driver" or other safe-driving classes.What's it worth?
If your vehicle is near-clunker status, you might consider dropping collision and comprehensive. For a vehicle that's worth only a few thousand dollars, it might be cheaper to save that portion of the premium and pay out of pocket for any damage to your car. If you've paid off your vehicle, you may not need to continue the high levels of collision/comprehensive insurance required by the lender.
But don't do without. You can be fined or have your license revoked if you drive without proof of insurance. And you need to keep liability coverage in case your car -- no matter how new or old -- causes damage to other people or property.