The ideal way to save money is to make the effort once and automatically reap savings over and over again, every month. That's why examining your car insurance makes a lot of sense.
Auto insurance prices vary widely. On average, car insurance cost Americans $789 per vehicle annually in 2008, the most recent year of data provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Here are some ways to look at saving on what you pay.
Compare: If you think all auto insurance rates within a state are about the same, you're wrong. Premiums can be very different for the exact same policies, depending on what factors an insurer chooses to emphasize in its rate formula.
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"It's a calculated bet," said Des Toups, managing editor of CarInsurance.com. "The insurer asks, 'What's the least amount of risk we can take to make the most amount of money?' That's why the numbers are so different."
For the youngest drivers, comparison shopping could save about $1,100 a year, according to a study by the Web site. You might think you get better service from higher-priced insurers, but there seems to be no correlation, according to a study by the Consumer Federation of America.
You can request quotes by phone or online. For online quotes, you might want to set up a separate free email account at Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo to receive them so they don't litter your regular email inbox.
Bundling: Choosing an auto insurer is important, too, because you might want to get your home insurance through the same carrier. Auto rates vary more and probably are more expensive, so let that be the insurance that drives your decision.
Deductibles: A deductible is the part of the bill you pay out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in. The higher deductible you're willing to accept, the lower your premiums will be. Changing from a $200 deductible to $1,000 could save you 40 percent, says the Insurance Information Institute.
Personal finance experts typically advise choosing the highest deductible you can financially stomach if it will give you big price breaks on premiums.
Big brother devices: There are some new high-tech devices that insurers are starting to offer. For example, some devices will block the use of cellphones in a moving car, often used for teenage drivers, said Jim Fults, associate vice president of auto and personal insurance at Fireman's Fund Insurance.
Insurers are also starting to introduce optional "telematic" devices, which, once installed on a vehicle, collect data about your driving habits for the insurance company. You get a discount for agreeing to use one, and your rates are based on your driving habits.
People who drive less and drive slower might have lower rates than people who drive a lot at high speeds, for example.
Such devices are available from several insurers and are allowed in most states. Insurance companies say the devices are used only for discounts, not for raising premiums, Toups said.
Credit: You wouldn't think your proficiency at paying bills would have anything to do with whether you'll crash your car, but auto insurers insist there's a link. Drivers with problems on their credit reports are more likely to file claims, they say, and are charged higher insurance rates in states that allow tying rates to credit.
Discounts: Make sure you're getting all the discounts you're entitled to — for driving low miles every year, for example. A teen driver, who can raise rates 50 percent, can get a discount if he or she has good grades, typically at least a B average, Toups said.
Drop collision: It might be worth dropping collision coverage on older cars that aren't worth much. Consumer advocate Clark Howard said the time to consider dropping collision is when cars get to be about eight years old. His rule of thumb: If your annual, not monthly, premium for collision and comprehensive is more than 10 percent of your car's value, remove collision coverage and just pay the liability premium. Find your vehicle's private-party sale value at such Web sites as KBB.com and NADAGuides.com.