NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's a double whammy for consumers: surging oil prices and high auto insurance rates.
But there is good news. Consumers can't do much about gas prices at the pump but annual car insurance premium increases are slowing down. In some states, insurers are actually cutting rates. As consumers reconsider their policies in this changing rate environment, keep a few helpful tips in mind. It may help save hundreds in premium.
You Better Shop Around
It's the most basic piece of advice you're going to get: compare auto rates with a number of insurers before making a decision. But too often consumers trust their policies – and their money -- to the first carrier they run across or, worse yet, stick with an insurer that they've used for years. Bad move, experts say.
"Every single insurance company's claims experience is vastly different and that drives rates," said Leslie Kolleda, spokeswoman for auto insurer Progressive. "Rates can vary widely from one company to another."
Kolleda said that in studies conducted by Progressive, rates varied as much as $500 between insurers every six months.
Some companies, like Progressive, provide consumers with an online comparison of rates with its competitors. Consumers can also do their own research on insurers Web sites or by contacting individual agents. And there are also online-shopping sites, such as Insure.com and InsWeb.com, which get price quotes and can arrange for you to purchase a policy from dozens of insurers.
Scope Out The Discounts
Many insurance providers provide discounts to policy seekers that are based on everything from a safe driving record to discounts based on good grades for student drivers.
While it varies from company to company, taking advantage of every special discount you're eligible for, could actually bring premiums down from between $1,200 to $1,300 to $800 or $900, said Carolyn Gorman, vice president at the Insurance Information Institute.
Some popular discounts include special rates for drivers over 50 to 55 years of age, those with anti-theft devices installed in their cars, vehicles with anti-lock brakes and airbags, and those that have low annual mileage on their cars. College students more than 100 miles away from home are often provided with discounts as are those with good grades.
And there are also special rates available for drivers that haven't had any accidents or moving violations in 3 years or those that have taken a defensive driving course.
Insurers are also more likely to provide a discount to policy holders that have multiple lines of coverage with the company. Doubling up on auto and home insurance from the same provider could bring premiums lower.
Select A Higher Deductible
While you're asking for discounts, it might be a good time to consider raising your deductible. Deductibles represent the amount of money you pay before your insurance company pays a dime. Most policy holders select a deductible of about $500 but experts said if that deductible was raised to $1,000 that could save hundreds in premiums.
The important thing to remember before taking this step is that deductibles come out of your pocket. If there's any concern that you won't be able to afford to pay $1,000 to repair your car in the case of an accident, then you should really stick to a lower deductible.
Maintain Good Credit
You knew that paying those bills on time was important. What you may not have known is that over 90 percent of all auto insurance companies use credit information to determine what kind of rates to charge.
Progressive's Kolleda said insurers have found that there is a high correlation between credit history and the likelihood that a person will be involved in an accident. While it varies by state and some ban insurers from basing rates on factors such as late payment on medical bills, insurers mainly look to see how long you've managed credit, how you've used the credit available to you and what kind of loans or leases you have.
It's a good idea to keep on top of your credit report to correct any possible mistakes that could put you at risk. Many online companies allow consumers to check their credit ratings and can provide tips to improve the score.
Review and Adapt Your Policy
Insurance experts suggest that consumers re-evaluate their auto insurance policy every year. Look to make sure that you're still getting the best rate and, if not, switch your policy to a more suitable carrier. There's no penalty for switching carriers repeatedly and it could save big bucks.
Also consider reducing coverage on older cars. At the most, insurance companies will reimburse a car at its current cash value. As cars depreciate in value as soon as they leave the lot, you may be spending more for collision and comprehensive coverage on a car than it's actually worth. Consumers can find the value of their cars through dealers or online sites, such as Kelley Blue Book.