are dozens of car insurance companies out there, and no two are alike. The reason we encourage you to compare them is to make sure you’re getting the best deal for you, but we’re also looking to save you time. Every company has a different website with a different quote process, ask for different information and offer you quotes in different ways. We took the time to go through the quote processes for all of the major insurance companies, timed the process and took some notes. What follows is a brief rundown of the features of each of these companies, plus the time it took me to get a quote, from the minute I loaded their webpage to the time I had a dollar value on my screen.
Car Insurance Quote Process Review Panel:
- State Farm
- The General
- The Hartford
- National General
- Liberty Mutual
Let’s pretend my name is Emily Brooks, I’m a thirty-year-old woman who has never been married and rents my apartment in Fredricksburg, Virginia. I own my 2005 Dodge Neon SXT, which I bought new in 2004. I drive about 15 miles one-way to work five days a week, and my car has about 120,000 miles on it. It’s in pretty good shape, and has airbags for myself and my passengers.
Some other things about me that car insurance companies want to know:
- I’m employed as an HR Manager for a local business (not the government), and I have a bachelor’s degree. The reason my occupation is “HR Manager” is because one company asked me what I did for a living and a search under “dinosaur trainer” returned “HR Manager” as an option. It’s not as flashy, but it pays the bills.
- I have good credit, have car insurance, and have been insured by the same company (Erie Insurance) for the last three years.
- I have had three incidents in the last three years – two speeding tickets (more than 10 but less than 20 miles over the posted speed limit) and one accident that was my fault (I hit a car in an intersection. Our cars were damaged but our bodies weren’t).
About This Article
The goal was to go through the quote process for several car insurance companies to see what it takes to get a quote. Each quote process was timed with a stopwatch, so it doesn’t take into account any time I may have spent chatting with my coworkers or making coffee or replying to emails. It also doesn’t take into account the time it took me to look up my personal information. Insurance companies want a lot of information, and different companies ask the same questions in different ways. I had my accident history and insurance information handy because I made it up; if you’re a real person with a real driving record (presumably you are) you want to have that information at the ready so you’re not scrambling to find the answers while your session times out. You should have at the ready all of the information I list above plus the bullet points below – once you have that, make yourself a cup of coffee and settle in to type. Some things to get ready beforehand:
- Current insurance provider, how long you’ve been with them, what your coverage levels are, and when your policy expires.
- State minimums for where you live. See our state guides or check with your state DMV if you’re not sure.
- Accident and ticket history going back five years (everywhere requires three years; some want five). A company will pull your driving history before finalizing your quote, but to ensure accuracy be sure you have as much information as possible.
- Your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), located either on your dashboard or in the driver’s side door. How do I find it?
- Information about how far you drive to work, an estimate of miles driven yearly (the American average is 12,000), and miles on your car.
Comparing Auto Insurance Companies
For each company, I started from the beginning of the “Customer Journey” (CJ) and timed how long it took me to get a quote. Each company presented their information differently, and asked for mine in a different order. The below discussions are by no means exhaustive, but they do highlight some of the differences.
Progressive’s CJ is all about the add-ons. The first thing they asked was if I wanted to bundle my auto insurance with my home and life insurance (I said no). Before they’d give me my quote, they told me about Snapshot and asked if I wanted to enroll in that program (I didn’t).
The way their quote offer was structured was a little confusing, but they do give you lots of options. As you edit options, the price changes in real time, so you can see how different options affect your bottom line. Once you’ve decided, you have even more options – pay in full or in installments?
After they show you the quote, they require a little more information (this is pretty standard) – my VIN, license number, etc. They then check “reports” which may adjust your rate. My rate dropped by about $10 a month after they checked their “reports” – which was interesting, since Ms. Brooks doesn’t exist. They took me to a pay portal and gave me a .pdf of the policy to e-sign.
Allstate wanted more information from me than some other companies – what I do, what part of the city I live in – but it did take the initiative and calculate my yearly commute for me, which was appreciated.
As soon as I told them were I live, they showed me the picture of and phone number for my local agent – in case I prefer communicating with a person. I liked that personal touch.
There were all sorts of discounts offered to me, some of which I had to opt into and some of which were deducted automatically. It was all laid out very clearly, and everyone likes saving money.
The layout of the quote was easy to understand, and the side-by-side comparison of the packages offered was appreciated. After I selected my package, they asked a few more follow-up questions and sent me to the payment page.
In addition to the questions other companies asked, GEICO wanted to know specifically what I did for a living, and if I’d been a government employee, they would have asked what GS level I was (that is, what my salary is). This doesn’t seem like that should be relevant information for my insurance company, but given GEICO’s roots in insuring government employees, maybe there’s a reason for it.
The process of disclosing my tickets was exceptionally annoying – I had to go through the same process three times. If I were the kind of person who was ashamed of my made-up accents, I would have been extra annoyed at this repetition.
GEICO knew what the minimums were in my state and the dropdown to choose my coverage level didn’t offer me less than that. When it came to discounts, though, they only offered me affinity group discounts, and when it came time to pay, there was no benefit to paying in full upfront.
The quote was given to me as two options – any changes I made took me to a “build you own quote” tab. I had to provide them with an email and phone number before they let me see my quote.
Esurance’s quote process asks you if you want to take the “scenic route” or the “express lane.” Turns out they’ll pull your car information for you if you put in your date of birth and name, which sounds like it would be pretty cool…but all they really did was pull my vehicle information. Unless I missed something farther down the line, I’m not sure how much time the “express lane” actually saved me, if any.
The first page was the discount page, which put me in a good mood with its cheerful floating graphics and promises of a lower rate. Esurance didn’t need as much detail about my violations as the other sites (didn’t care about dates, for example), but they did want to know if I had a PayPal account, which I thought was a little weird. They also asked about my current deductible, which wasn’t something anyone else wanted to know.
The quote was clearly displayed and the option to customize the policy was immediate and apparent. They also gave me the opportunity to compare with other companies – clicking the links took me to the competitors’ pages, where I would have had to start over if I wanted to see a quote.
Before I purchased it reminded me what I was buying, and what it meant. If I were unfamiliar with the insurance industry, I’d appreciate this level of transparency and explanation.
I wasn’t able to access the pay portal because I’m a made-up person; my name didn’t match the Social Security Number I gave them.
Farmers annoyed me pretty much immediately because their home screen doesn’t register me hitting the ‘enter’ key as submitting my zip code. It took me a few second to realize this was what was happening, and I rolled my eyes at it.
Farmer’s was the first site to ask me if my vehicle uses alternative fuel (it doesn’t); I don’t know if that actually affects your insurance, since nobody else asked about it, but it’s nice that they’re thinking green.
On the violation section, they asked for more information about my accident, with weirdly non-mutually-exclusive options. The listing of available professions was also oddly limited, which I can only assume is because some occupations are more germane to insurability than others.
Farmers gave me one quote, with no customization options. I could adjust my coverage levels, so I played with that for a while. It showed me how much each aspect of my coverage (Bodily Injury, Property, Uinsured Motorist, etc) was costing me, and let me tweak those values and recalculate my policy. The only alternatives it gave me under ‘view more coverage options’ were more expansive packages with Farmers. There was no mention of comparing with other companies.
Of all the sites I visited, Farmers was the least user-friendly, but it still did its job and gave me an insurance quote.
State Farm made me a lot of offers – their “Drive Safe & Save” program, personal property and renters insurance – and an entire panel of discounts all located on the same page.
The process came to a rather abrupt halt after I’d entered all of my information; a second attempt was no more successful. I’m assuming they realized I was a made-up person and kicked me from their system rather than waste resources generating a quote I wasn’t going to use. I can respect that.
The layout of the site had no mascots, frills, or unnecessary images, which was a bit of a palate cleanser after five insurance companies. I like their no-nonsense design.
The General didn’t ask for my last name until after I saw the quote, which probably makes people feel more secure.
The first thing I noticed about The General was one of those “chat with a real life person” bubbles that are all the rage these days. Some other sites had them, but this one scrolled back and forth across my screen until I told it to stop. Other than that, the CJ was pretty simple – they didn’t want to know that much about my driving history (violation types, no dates), and very little personal information.
The way the quote information was presented was a little confusing, and their “compare other companies” page didn’t give me any more information than to link me to other insurance companies in my area.
Once I’d seen the quote, they wanted more information – last name, gender, email and street address, plus the standard questions about the vehicle. They also asked for the dates of my accidents at this point, so don’t think you can get away with not knowing. This added another five or so minutes to the quote process. Once they realized I wasn’t a real person, the process stalled out, but it looked like my quote didn’t change when I added more information.
If you don’t live in California, Infinity‘s website will redirect you to answerfinancial.com, which is an associated company that will show you comparison rates from other companies.
If you live in California, you get an entirely different website, which includes a little “live chat” bubble you have to chase across the screen to close.
The website was able to calculate how long I’d been licensed and let me alter the times in case there had been a lapse in my license or insurance status. They also gave me a ‘date unknown’ option for all of my violations. I’m not sure if they look it up for you or just approximate for the preliminary quote process, but I liked the flexibility.
Like other sites, Infinity offered me a handful of options and let me customize them if I wanted to. As soon as they failed to verify my identity, they kicked me out of their CJ.
Unlike the other sites, SafeAuto insisted that I give it a verifiable address before I could proceed. Fortunately, Google Maps shows me everything, so I was able to choose a random street to their satisfaction. They immediately asked for my full name, date of birth, and social security number, which would be a turnoff for me if I were concerned about data privacy (with my own data, I am). After filling out an initial panel of questions, they asked me to confirm my answers, because apparently I entered some information wrong. Given my answers, they couldn’t insure me, so they told me why, and pointed me to some companies that could. I liked that.
Their quote page gave me information about each element of the coverage and how it affected my quote but they didn’t offer to compare anything or show me alternatives.
Before I could get past the first page, Elephant asked me for my date of birth and phone number, and then asked about my current six-month premium, which isn’t information I’d normally expect to have to give. However, their next step was to show me the discounts that were available to me, which anyone would like to see.
In addition to their quote, they offered me comparisons – and seemed to encourage me to look at their competitors’ sites. When I added the second wave of information (VIN, license number, ownership status) the quote bumped up, but only slightly.
The Hartford promised me a quote in under 8 minutes, and they delivered, although it might take closer to 8 minutes if you need to look up information you don’t have handy.
Their process was similar to other websites’, with the addition of a chat window that I had to actually tell to go away, and they had an advertisement for their own style of the use-based discount (like Progressive’s Snapshot).
As with most sites, they offered me greater coverage, as well as customization of the policy they showed me. The “stronger” package was more than double the basic coverage, but they did a nice breakdown on why. They also encouraged me to save a percentage by bundling with renters insurance.
After providing further information, like my license number, they determined that they can’t give me a quote because I don’t exist and referred me to a handy help line.
As I went through National General‘s process, there was a prominently displayed quote number you could use if you wanted to leave and come back later. (If other sites did that, they didn’t do it in a way I noticed.) I also appreciated that they explained what the different “limits” mean, since most folks aren’t in the insurance industry and aren’t necessarily clear on what they do and do not need. National General also defaulted to the state minimums, which saved me the hassle of looking it up.
They were unable to verify my identity but gave me the benefit of the doubt and offered me a quote – it wasn’t as customizable as some others, but there were dropdown options.
The folks at Liberty Mutual seem to recognize that people are hesitant about giving out personal information, and explain to you exactly why they’re asking for each piece of information. I thought it was a little odd that they needed to know what college I went to; I assume it was in case they can offer me an affinity group discount, but apparently my college isn’t partnered with Liberty Mutual.
The buttons were massive and the site was really easy to navigate. The quote let me rollover words to see explanations/definitions of the various terms, which was considerate; it was so findable I discovered it totally by accident.
When they determined I wasn’t really a person, they asked to call me to confirm some details, or offered to call me when it was convenient.
Nationwide explained to me what the different types of usage are, which I appreciated since there’s room for confusion about a car you drive for work versus pleasure.
They offered a slew of discounts, and explained both what discounts I qualified for and what percentage I could save. In the maze of discounts and promotions and offers, I liked that no-nonsense approach to saving me money.
The quote page seemed a little bit drawn out; lots of scrolling, but the information was all there and it gave me the choice among three coverage plans or creating my own. Once I’d selected a plan, they took me to the pay portal without verifying that I’m a real person.
Like SafeAuto, Mercury asked me for my birthday and Social Security number immediately. Fortunately, it wasn’t my information, so I wasn’t worried. Mercury is the only company that allows you the option of setting your limits on everything, which is great if you’re extra insurance-savvy, but may be a problem for some less-educated folks. Insurance can be a complicated industry, and that much customizability may have a limit on usefulness.
Mercury was also the only company that included a question in the CJ about how you heard about them (others had feedback forms, but they were optional).
I can’t buy the policy online; they asked me to contact an agent who isn’t local, but their largest coverage area is California, so that’s not a surprise.
The bottom line
In order to gather the information for this article, I spent over one hundred minutes filling out the same information and looking at auto insurance quotes. That’s an average of about 7:15 per site. I know that may be someone’s idea of a good time, but I found it rather tedious – and I was getting paid for this. Factor in an hour or so to collect all of your relevant information, and you’re looking at a solid time investment. When I got quotes from compare.com, it took me 5:30. How you spend your time is your business, but before you go down the rabbit hole of different insurance carriers, why not compare auto insurance quotes with us?